“I don’t think you can ever do your best. Doing your best is a process of trying to do your best.” — Townes Van Zandt
He was born into East Texas Oil royalty. His great-great-great grandfather was a prominent leader of the Republic of Texas and his great-great grandfather was a founder of Forth Worth. His father, a corporate lawyer traveled extensively for his job, and the family moved frequently when Townes, his brother Bill and sister Donna were growing up.
When he was 12 he got a guitar for Christmas and he taught himself to play. He wanted to be like Elvis, who he saw on Ed Sullivan, because Presley had “all the money in the world, all the Cadillacs and all the girls, and all he did was play the guitar and sing.” [Townes Van Zandt] He did well in school and scored very high on standardized test. He went to the University of Colorado at Boulder for a while, but his parents pulled him out because of his depression and binge drinking. They had him hospitalized for manic depression. The treatment he received left him with out much of his long-term memory. He tried going back to school for pre-law and tried to join the Air Force, but neither panned out.
So he turned to music. By 1965 Van Zandt was playing regularly in local Huston venues. He was influenced largely by folk (Dylan) and Blues. At first he performed mostly covers, but then he started to write his own songs.
He never hit the big time (though other artist had #1 hits with his songs). He was on the constant grind of touring, writing and recording. There was a lot of drinking a substance abuse interspersed amongst the touring, writing and recording. Still he put out some pretty awesome music in the 30 years he performed, and he was a big influence on performers to come… and his voice — one part gravel, one part yodel, one part whiskey — breaks your heart.
Here’s Pancho and Lefty
and here’s Colorado Girl
By 1996 years of hard living had caught up with him. He fell down a flight of concrete steps and hurt his neck and hip on December 19 or 20th, but he refused medical treatment until December 31st. X-rays revealed a fractured hip. Faced with detoxing and a series of operations Van Zandt left the hospital with his ex-wife. He died the next day, on January 1, 1997. He was 52 years old.
For the Sake of the Song – 1968
Our Mother the Mountain – 1969
Townes Van Zandt – 1969
Delta Momma Blues – 1971
High, Low and in Between – 1972
The Late Great Townes Van Zandt – 1972
Flyin’ Shoes – 1978
At My Window – 1987
The Nashville Sessions – 1993 (recordings from the aborted Seven Come Eleven album, recorded 1972)
No Deeper Blue – 1994
The art of Townes Van Zandt reveals itself a little at a time. Every hearing brings forth something you can’t believe you missed all the other times, or something that rings even truer today than back. [Townes Van Zandt Central]
In 2004 director Margaret Brown made a documentary about the singer called Be Here To Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt, for Real to Real films.
And believe it or not… there’s a Townes Lego! (What no lego cigarette or guitar?)