A Deeper Blue
The Life and Music of Townes Van Zandt
Publication Year: 2008
Published by: University of North Texas Press
Series: Lives of Musicians
List of Photographs
In 1999, I returned to Texas for the first time in twenty-five years. My mother was celebrating her seventy-fifth birthday and the fiftieth anniversary of leaving her Galveston home and moving east. I was as happy as she was to see Galveston again, where I had spent many hours as a child, collecting shells on the beach, ...
Introduction: High, Low, and In Between
Townes Van Zandt was a songwriter and a traveling minstrel—a folk singer, no less—in an era when practicing these crafts had long since become anachronistic, evocative of a long-gone era in American life—of Jimmie Rodgers riding the rails of the great American West; Woody Guthrie tramping the highways ...
1. Many a River: The Van Zandts of Texas
When Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821, the Mexican government began to encourage settlement in what was then Mexico’s northernmost province, Coahuila y Tejas. Within a short time, there was a steady flow of norteamericano settlers into the province, led officially by Stephen Austin and his famous colony. ...
2. No Lonesome Tune
John Townes Van Zandt grew up between the end of World War II and the coming of Elvis Presley, a great cusp of the old and the new in America. It was on this cusp that the boy, who went by his middle name, formed his first impressions of the world, gathered his first memories, and began to try to make sense of his life. ...
3. Where I Lead Me
Within a few years, the guitar became for Townes Van Zandt the key to the form of expression that was to become his life’s work. Learning the instrument and playing and singing along with the radio and with records quickly became for him something more than just entertainment. Once he’d learned “Fraulein” ...
4. No Place to Fall
After graduating from Shattuck and surviving summer in the West Texas oil fields, much to his relief, Townes Van Zandt was accepted at the University of Colorado at Boulder in September 1962, the fall after his sister Donna graduated. He loved Colorado, loved the Boulder area, and, short of following in his parents’ footsteps...
5. Sanitarium Blues
UTMB-Galveston was in the 1960s and still is one of the best medical and psychiatric facilities in the country. In 1964, the physical plant at UTMB was a collection of Victorian brick buildings mixed with some drab additions from the 1930s and the early 1950s, nestled into a palm-shaded campus in the northeast corner ...
6. Waitin’ for the Day
After his stay at Galveston, the Van Zandts took their son back home to Houston. They would not allow him to return to Colorado, but encouraged him to attend school locally, at the University of Houston. Fran had returned to Boulder to finish the year at the University of Colorado, but her and Townes’ strong desire ...
7. For the Sake of the Song
Stranger things have happened in the annals of the record business, but the story of Townes Van Zandt’s first record deal is bizarre even by industry standards. Mickey Newbury, a native of Houston, was at this time one of Nashville’s most prolific and successful songwriters and one of the artists who was breaking away ...
8. Don’t You Take It Too Bad
“Townes claims that he was the one that introduced me and Guy,” Susanna Clark recalls, “but I think Townes met my sister first somehow. I met Guy and Townes both exactly at the same time…. I was living with my sister. And apparently they had become friends with my sister…. I walked in and they were both sitting on the couch. ...
9. Highway Kind
The new album, called High, Low and In Between, was released in the fall of 1971. It was a heady time in popular music, seeing the release of a seemingly endless slew of great records such as the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers, Who’s Next, Rod Stewart’s Every Picture Tells a Story, Led Zepplin IV, Van Morrison’s Tupelo Honey ...
10. White Freightliner Blues.
For years, to maintain a sense of balance and perspective, and to escape—or at least quiet—some of his more pressing demons, Townes had sought and found comfort in the mountains of Colorado. Townes would base himself with one of a network of his Colorado friends, including Bob Myrick near Aspen, ...
11. Dollar Bill Blues
The actual genesis of Townes' decision to move to Nashville came during his last trip to the Rocky Mountains. Out in the wilderness for a week-long ride, he and Cindy made a serious, sober assessment of his career. Townes knew that, artistically, things were stagnating for him. He felt that he had some responsibility to ...
12. Still Lookin’ for You
As Van Zandt toured the club circuit throughout 1979, he repeatedly circled back to his old stomping grounds in Houston and Austin, where he revived some old friendships and fell into some new business relationships. John Cheatham had been part of the Clarksville scene a few years before, and Townes often stayed at ...
13. No Deeper Blue
The call of the road did not cease for Townes after the birth of his second son; indeed, it grew stronger, just as it had around the time of the birth of his first son. Once again, Townes’ self-destructive behavior was alarming his friends and family, as he was made explicitly aware of through the intervention they attempted before his mother died. ...
14. Flyin’ Shoes
At a hotel in Dublin, while on tour at the end of October 1990, Townes printed on a sheet of wrapping paper, in his usual all-capital-letter style, the lyrics to a song he titled “Ruester’s Blues,” then he signed it, wrapped a package with the paper, and sent it to his friend Danny “Ruester” Rowland in Kentucky. ...
15. The Blue March
That spring of 1996, TOWNES was surprised to hear from Steve Shelley, the drummer for the New York band Sonic Youth, that members of the group were interested in making a record with him. A major label, Geffen, was backing the project through its Ecstatic Peace imprint, which was an outlet ...
The first posthumous Townes Van Zandt tribute show was held a few weeks after his death, at the Cactus Café in Austin on two nights when Townes had been booked to play his “home club.” Friends and fans gathered to hear Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely, Kimmie Rhodes, J.T. Van Zandt (who attended a number of tribute shows and has ...
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