Townes Van Zandt is one of those musicians that you don’t know that you know.
His song have been covered by Emmylou Harris, Lyle Lovett, Nanci Griffith, Bob Dylan, Alison Krauss and Robert Plant, Guy Clark, Steve Earle and Willie Nelson did a little tune of his called Pancho and Lefty.
A little bit like the Texas version of Gram Parsons, Townes grew up in a wealthy family and headed off to college in the ’60s. He left school, partially to become famous and partially due to the onset of mental health problems that would plague him the rest of his life.
He began singing and playing the coffee shops, though he focused more on his songwriting than the recording or performing of the songs. These songs include If I Needed You, Snowing on Raton, Tecumseh Valley, Colorado Girl, To Live is To Fly, White Freight Liner Blues, and Rex’s Blues.
His circle of friends was made of other singer-songwriters like Guy Clark, Billy Joe Shaver, and Steve Earle (who would name his oldest son after Townes). Steve has declared that Townes was “the best songwriter in the whole world and I’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that.”
Like many of his contemporaries, Townes was a heavy drinker and heroin user which unsurprisingly added to his unpredictable nature and his early death in 1997 at the age of 52.
The 2004 documentary film about Townes called Be Here To Love Me features first-hand accounts from both his family (all three ex-wives and his children) and friends like Guy Clark, Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson.