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I'll Be Here in the Morning

The Songwriting Legacy of Townes Van Zandt

Brian T. Atkinson; Forewords by "Cowboy" Jack Clements and Harold F. Eggers Jr.

Publication Year: 2011

The writer of such influential songs as “Pancho and Lefty,” “To Live’s to Fly,” “If I Needed You,” and “For the Sake of the Song,” Townes Van Zandt exerted an influence on at least two generations of Texas musicians that belies his relatively brief, deeply troubled life. Indeed, Van Zandt has influenced millions worldwide in the years since his death, and his impact is growing rapidly. Respected singer/songwriter John Gorka speaks for many when he says, “‘Pancho and Lefty’ changed—it unchained—my idea of what a song could be.”   In this tightly woven, intelligently written book, Brian T. Atkinson interviews both well-known musicians and up-and-coming artists to reveal, in the performers’ own words, how their creative careers have been shaped by the life and work of Townes Van Zandt. Kris Kristofferson, Guy Clark, Billy Joe Shaver, Rodney Crowell, Lucinda Williams, and Lyle Lovett are just a few of the established musicians who share their impressions of the breathtakingly beautiful tunes and lyrics he created, along with their humorous, poignant, painful, and indelible memories of witnessing Van Zandt’s rise and fall.   Atkinson balances the reminiscences of seasoned veterans with the observations of relative newcomers to the international music scene, such as Jim James (My Morning Jacket), Josh Ritter, and Scott Avett (the Avett Brothers), presenting a nuanced view of Van Zandt’s singular body of work, his reckless lifestyle, and his long-lasting influence. Forewords by “Cowboy” Jack Clement and longtime Van Zandt manager and friend Harold F. Eggers Jr. open the book, and each chapter begins with an introduction in which Atkinson provides context and background, linking each interviewee to Van Zandt’s legacy.   Historians, students, and fans of all music from country and folk to rock and grunge will find new insights and recall familiar pleasures as they read I’ll Be Here in the Morning: The Songwriting Legacy of Townes Van Zandt.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi

I met Townes around 1966.1 I wanted to help a friend of mine who worked for RCA make some money on the side, so I paid for a trip down to Houston and went to see a guy who owned the studio there. He kept talking about this guy named Townes Van Zandt. He played us some tapes, and we thought they were really good. We wound up signing ...

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pp. xiii-xiv

I met Townes in 1967, the year my brother Kevin signed him to his label, Poppy Records. We worked together over a span of twenty years. I started off as his road manager in 1976 and eventually became his manager, agent, and business partner. My music education was in the school of Townes, through the eyes and thoughts of this extremely intense and ...

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pp. xv-xix

The tall, sleepy-eyed young man pulling drafts stepped out from behind the bar later that evening. He quietly took the stage. Cracked a corny joke. After all, we were in Galveston, Texas, raising glasses at the Old Quarter’s sixth annual Townes Van Zandt Wake on New Year’s Day 2003. Then, as I wrote for No Depression magazine, Hayes Carll coaxed Van Zandt’s ...

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pp. 1-4

Townes Van Zandt simply never fit this earthly world.1 After all, the Fort Worth native, a cult figure at best outside the Texas and Tennessee music communities during his lifetime, knew his time here would be short. “I don’t envision a very long life for myself,” a youthful Van Zandt says early in Margaret Brown’s 2005 documentary Be ...

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Prelude: Vince Bell

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pp. 5-6

Vince Bell, born September 16, 1951, in Dallas, Texas, is one of several Texas artists who learned about songwriting from Townes Van Zandt in the 1970s. While Bell has not achieved widespread commercial success in his own right, many musicians including Nanci Griffith (“Woman of the Phoenix”) and Lyle Lovett (“Sun ...

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Guy Clark

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pp. 7-18

Guy Clark’s autumnal renaissance arcs further toward his folk- singer roots with every measure. The legendary songwriter’s earthy Grammy-nominated album Somedays the Song Writes You (2009), which includes a version of Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You,” liberates unforeseen introspection (“Somedays You Write the ...

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Ray Wylie Hubbard

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pp. 19-24

Ray Wylie Hubbard, born November 13, 1946, in Soper, Oklahoma, initially gained widespread recognition as the songwriter behind the Jerry Jeff Walker hit “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother,” from Walker’s groundbreaking 1973 album ¡Viva Terlingua! ...

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Peter Rowan

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pp. 25-30

Peter Rowan often matches Guy Clark’s sharp storytelling with Townes Van Zandt’s nonlinear dreamscapes (for instance, “Panama Red” and “Midnight Moonlight”). Rowan, who developed interest in bluegrass, rock, and social protest music at an early age, gained intimate access into one of ...

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Rodney Crowell

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pp. 31-36

Rodney Crowell topped mainstream country music charts a quarter century ago, but in many ways he’s always been a workaday songwriter at heart. After all, it was Crowell’s writing that elevated him to iconic stature, earned a Grammy Award for the song “After All This Time” (1990), and notched ASCAP and Americana Music ...

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Kris Kristofferson

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pp. 37-40

Kris Kristofferson, born June 22, 1936, in Brownsville, Texas, has quite an eclectic and impressive resumé that includes Golden Glove boxer, Rhodes scholar, helicopter pilot, and movie star (Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, A Star Is Born, Lone Star, and dozens of others). However, songwriting remains his most potent creative anchor. As a ...

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>em>Verse: Cory Chisel

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pp. 41-42

Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons’ debut EP Cabin Ghosts (2008) weaves corresponding measures of Billy Joe Shaver’s grit and Townes Van Zandt’s grace through six portraits of infinite motion. The album’s closing song “Home in the Woods” provides Chisel’s mission statement of searching and solitude: “Don’t mess with me, ...

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Billy Joe Shaver

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pp. 43-49

Billy Joe Shaver’s earthy yarns link sacred and secular with a devil’s grin. “Faith gets in there almost every doggone time [I write a song],” he says. “I don’t want to say anything bad about it, man, but it kind of gets me looking like some kind of preacher. Waylon [Jennings] called me a Bible-thumper. I said, ‘I’ll thump you, ...

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Chip Taylor

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pp. 50-56

Chip Taylor, born James Wesley Voight on March 21, 1940, in Yonkers, New York, adopted his golfing nickname as a young songwriter. His seventh solo album Hit Man (1996), which bridged his careers as a briefcase country songwriter and traveling folksinger after a long absence from music, captures him better. Janis ...

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Tom Russell

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pp. 57-61

Tom Russell, born March 5, 1953, in Los Angeles, California, has an eclectic background that includes criminology student, taxi driver, folk artist, art collector, and regular correspondent with late Los Angeles poet Charles Bukowski, detailed in the book Tough Company (2008). In Bukowski, who wrote frankly and often comically ...

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Graham Leader & Heartworn Highways

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pp. 62-68

Many music critics consider the documentary Heartworn Highways (1981) to be a primary reference point for the 1970s New Country music movement.1 The nonlinear film draws parallels between the songwriting communities in Austin and Nashville by highlighting clear emphases on art rather than commerce. ...

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Steve Young

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pp. 69-73

Steve Young, born July 12, 1942, in Newnan, Georgia, appears to be skimmed over in many country music compendiums, but the singer-songwriter played a key role in the Outlaw Country movement of the 1970s. His debut album Rock, Salt & Nails (1969), which features prominent guests such as legendary country-rock singers Gram ...

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Verse: Jay Farrar

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pp. 74-75

As a founding member of the influential bands Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt, Jay Farrar, born December 26, 1966, in Milstadt, Illinois, played an important role in the alternative country movement of the 1990s. In fact, music critics and historians frequently cite Uncle Tupelo’s albums No Depression (1990) and Anodyne (1993) and ...

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Ramblin' Jack Elliot

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pp. 76-81

Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, born Elliot Charles Adnopoz, on August 1, 1931, in Brooklyn, New York, has been a rodeo rider, street musician, student of Woody Guthrie, and mentor to Bob Dylan. At eighty, he retains a steel-trap memory. Elliott can recognize a city by area code, recite concert venues within its ZIP codes, and recount ...

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David Olney

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pp. 82-88

David Olney, born March 23, 1948, in Providence, Rhode Island, remains largely a mystery outside Nashville, but he’s quite highly regarded within its scope. “Nobody else in the whole world knows when Mac’s gonna open the Radio Café, but we do—and we tell each other,” Todd Snider says in “From a Rooftop,” a spokenword ...

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Todd Snider

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pp. 89-92

Todd Snider’s increasingly political songwriting crested during the George W. Bush Administration (“Conservative Christian, Right-Wing Republican, Straight, White, American Males” and “You Got Away with It: A Tale of Two Fraternity Brothers”) and peaked with the pointed anti-war EP Peace Queer (2008).1< However, Snider, a ...

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Shawn Camp

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pp. 93-97

Shawn Camp, born August 29, 1966, near Perryville, Arkansas, has achieved significant commercial success as a songwriter for mainstream country artists. Most notably, the longtime Nashville resident has cowritten Number One hits for superstars such ...

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Chorus: Ben Nichols

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pp. 98-101

Ben Nichols, born August 2, 1974, in Little Rock, Arkansas, has fortified his band Lucero’s seven studio albums—including Lucero (2001), Nobody’s Darlings (2005), and Rebels, Rogues & Sworn Brothers (2006)—with young, working-class narrators striving for better days. His hardscrabble barroom vignettes frequently highlight ...

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Jame McMurtry

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pp. 102-105

James McMurtry turned those words into weapons on his album Just Us Kids (2008). “You keep talkin’ that shit like I never heard,” McMurtry sings on the collection’s blunt centerpiece “God Bless America.” “Hush, little president, don’t say a word.”2 McMurtry’s politically provocative songs (“The Governor” and “Cheney’s Toy,” for instance) may diverge ...

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Lucinda Williams

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pp. 106-111

... throughout her childhood served as a primary influence. “I always love when people bring their kids to my shows,” Williams said at a 2005 concert at Denver’s Botanic Gardens. “It reminds me of my parents, who introduced me to people like Charles Bukowski when I was young.”1 Lucinda Williams, born January 26, 1953, in Lake Charles, Louisiana ...

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Lyle Lovett

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pp. 112-116

Lyle Lovett’s Step Inside This House (1998) directly salutes his favorite Texas songwriters. Lovett’s covers collection honors mentors close in sentiment (Guy Clark’s “Step Inside This House”), spirit (Willis Alan Ramsey’s “Sleepwalking”), and style (Vince Bell’s “I’ve Had Enough”). He nods most frequently (four times each) ...

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John Gorka

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pp. 117-121

John Gorka, born July 27, 1958, in Edison, New Jersey, discovered Townes Van Zandt while studying at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in the late 1970s. “His seem like perfect songs with such beautiful lyrics,” Gorka says. “It didn’t seem like anyone could write a song like that, like it’d always been there.”1 ...

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Bridge: Bianca DeLeon

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pp. 122-123

Bianca DeLeon, born near Corpus Christi, Texas, met Townes Van Zandt while he was playing the Houston folk club circuit “somewhere around 1966.” She says they formed a “deep, lasting connection that remains central to her life” today.1 DeLeon included a version of Van Zandt’s “Waitin’ Around to Die” on her album ...

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Michael Timmins

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pp. 124-130

... Timmins.1 The Canadian quartet repaid creative fires fueled by offering the songwriter widespread exposure. At the height of their popularity, the Cowboy Junkies invited Van Zandt as tour support on a twenty-five-city route in 1990, exposing his music to a new and likely receptive audience. By the band’s account, Van Zandt remained mostly sober and performed ...

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Kelly Joe Phelps

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pp. 131-134

Townes Van Zandt cross-examined a young Steve Earle with that challenge at the original Old Quarter in Houston in 1972.1 Kelly Joe Phelps later walked the walk with Van Zandt. In early 1995, Van Zandt invited his opening act at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, California, back onstage ...

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Steve Turner

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pp. 135-138

Some say Mudhoney begat grunge rock.1 At least, the Seattle quartet played an important role in developing the early 1990s movement. While bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains earned national recognition for pioneering the form, which mixes elements of punk, rock and roll, and heavy metal, ...

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David Broza

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pp. 139-145

For the past thirty-five years, David Broza, born September 4, 1955, in Haifa, Israel, but raised in Great Britain and Spain, has played an important role in popularizing the poetry of several major international writers, including Elizabeth Bishop, Federico García Lorca, Percy Bysshe Shelly, and Walt Whitman, by adapting their ...

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Michael Weston King

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pp. 146-151

... before their journey’s opening concert at Union Chapel, which was later released as the landmark double-disc set Townes Van Zandt Live at Union Chapel, London, England (2005).1 “Townes was this tall, road-weary character with a raincoat and Davy Crockett hat,” Weston King says. “He had these great moccasins on. He said he’d swapped his cowboy boots ...

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Verse: Jewel

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pp. 152-153

Jewel’s confessional lyrics typically favor rustic idylls rather than dark recesses. However, the singer-songwriter, born Jewel Kilcher on May 23, 1974, in Payson, Utah, but raised in Homer, Alaska, clearly appreciates Townes Van Zandt’s multilayered poetry. After all, she named her first born son Kase Townes in July 2011. ...

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Dave Alvin

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pp. 154-157

Dave Alvin’s stark vignettes slice life from both sides of the gas station counter. Many of his blue-collar narratives, equally informed by Dust Bowl balladeer Woody Guthrie and acoustic blues progenitor Lightnin’ Hopkins, suggest that Alvin carves their essence from experience in each position (for ...

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Josh Ritter

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pp. 158-161

Josh Ritter’s first three albums—Josh Ritter (1999), Golden Age of Radio (2001), and Hello Starling (2003)—showed a talented young balladeer growing exponentially as an artist. During that time, Ritter was turning descriptive phrases that split the difference between the Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt catalogues, such as ...

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Scott Avett

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pp. 162-166

Scott Avett’s theoretical last will winnows earthly import to a chill. “Don’t bother with all my belongings,” Avett sings in “Murder in the City,” the unifying nucleus of the Avett Brothers’ 2008 EP, The Second Gleam. “Make sure my sister knows I loved her / Make sure my mother knows the same / Always remember there was nothing ...

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Jim James

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pp. 166-170

My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, born James Olliges Jr., on April 27, 1978, in Louisville, Kentucky, focuses on angles less frequently examined. While critics and songwriters exhaust superlatives on Townes Van Zandt’s lyrics, James finds his natural aura more compelling. “It’s the whole tone of his voice, his delivery; the way it sounds ...

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Adam Duritz

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pp. 171-174

Adam Duritz, born August 1, 1964, in Baltimore, Maryland, and Counting Crows earn day wages as a popular modern rock band deeply influenced by folk and country songwriters. In concert, Counting Crows has performed songs written by such Americana artists as Steve Earle (“Fearless Heart,” “CCKMP”), John ...

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Kasey Chambers

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pp. 175-179

Kasey Chambers’s confessional lyrics typically favor dark recesses rather than rustic idylls. Chambers, born June 4, 1976, in Mount Gambier, South Australia, learned early lessons from kindred spirits under the freedom of an open sky. “Our family sang Hank Williams and Gram Parsons songs to each other,” says the ...

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Chorus: Darden Smith

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pp. 180-181

Darden Smith, born March 11, 1962, in Brenham, Texas, immediately divided his musical tastes when he first discovered Townes Van Zandt. “Everything else up to that time was put in one box,” Smith says. “Townes was in another.”1 Albums such as Trouble No More (1990), Circo (2004), and Field of Crows (2006) have helped ...

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Kevin Russell

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pp. 182-186

Kevin Russell’s colorful narratives (such as “El Paso” and “Lower 48”) and nonlinear country blues (“Hooky Junk” and “Cranky Mulatto”) accurately represent the mystique of Austin, Texas. After all, the capital city’s unofficial motto is “Keep Austin Weird.” While living in the heart of South Austin, one of the city’s primary gathering ...

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Terri Hendrix

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pp. 187-192

Terri Hendrix’s album Cry Till You Laugh (2010) showcases the singer-songwriter’s vast musical diversity. Bluesman Sonny Terry (on the song “Hula Mary”), country troubadour Rodney Crowell (“Slow Down”), and jazz icon Ella Fitzgerald (“Take Me Places”) all haunt the collection Hendrix fashions as the “yin and yang of life.”1 ...

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Butch Hancock

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pp. 193-197

Townes Van Zandt’s poetry illuminates the Cactus Café at least once a year, thanks to Butch Hancock. “Townes’s songs have a magic to them,” says Hancock, who has hosted Van Zandt’s birthday celebration at the venerable listening room every spring since the songwriter’s death in 1997. “Sometimes a song or two gets repeated ...

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Jack Ingram

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pp. 198-204

As a student at Southern Methodist University, Jack Ingram, born November 15, 1970, in The Woodlands, Texas, decided he was “more interested in being Jerry Jeff Walker than Joe College.”1 Accordingly, Ingram began performing at legendary Lone Star honky-tonks such as John T. Floore’s Country Store in Helotes ...

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Coda: Grace Potter

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pp. 205-206

Grace Potter laughs righteously. She speaks jovially. Streams thoughts like an overfed water main. The youthful singer-songwriter, born June 20, 1983, in Waitsfield, Vermont, channels her buoyant traits into a modern musical hybrid that blends classic rock swagger and punk rock attitude with soul music’s deep ...


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pp. 207-236

Selected DIscography

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pp. 237-240


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pp. 241-250

E-ISBN-13: 9781603445276
E-ISBN-10: 1603445277
Print-ISBN-13: 9781603445269
Print-ISBN-10: 1603445269

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 58 b&w photos. Discography. Index.
Publication Year: 2011

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Subject Headings

  • Country music -- History and criticism.
  • Musicians -- United States -- 20th century -- Interviews.
  • Lyricists -- Texas -- Biography.
  • Van Zandt, Townes -- Influence.
  • Country musicians -- Texas -- Biography.
  • Van Zandt, Townes.
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