Last night, my final night in San Antonio, I celebrated by devouring an amazing 20 oz. steak at the Granary ‘Cue and Brew restaurant at the Pearl Brewery and a few pints of their local brews. Of course, I may or may not have pooped a small mini bus in the middle of the night afterwards – but it was all worth it. And now I’m on my way home. My final Texas music tribute this trip is by one of the true masters of the live singer-songwriter craft, the late Townes Van Zandt.
This particular performance was originally made at the Trysull Village Hall in Staffordshire, U.k. (October 15th, 1990). Born in Fort Worth, Texas, into a wealthy oil family, Townes Van Zandt was a third-great-grandson of Isaac Van Zandt (a prominent leader of the Republic of Texas) and a second great-grandson of Khleber Miller Van Zandt (a Confederate Major and one of the founders of Fort Worth). Van Zandt County in east Texas was named after his family in 1848.
While alive, Van Zandt had a small and devoted fanbase, but he never had a successful album or single and even had difficulty keeping his recordings in print. In 1983, six years after Emmylou Harris had first popularized it, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard covered his song ‘Pancho and Lefty’, (which would definitely appear on my list of Desert Island songs had I had one), scoring a #1 hit on the Billboard country music charts. Despite achievements like these, the bulk of his life was spent touring various dive bars, often living in cheap motel rooms, backwoods cabins, and on friends’ couches. Van Zandt was notorious for his drug addictions, alcoholism, and his tendency to tell tall tales. When young, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and insulin shock therapy erased much of his long-term memory.
Sadly, Van Zandt died on New Years Day 1997 from health problems stemming from years of substance abuse. However, the 2000’s saw a well-deserved resurgence of interest in Van Zandt and his music has been covered by such notable and varied musicians as Bob Dylan, Nanci Griffith, Norah Jones, Lyle Lovett, Steve Earle, Cowboy Junkies, Guy Clark, Robert Plant, Alison Krauss, and Gillian Welch. His own major influences included Lightnin’ Hopkins, whose songs were a constant part of his repertoire. He also cited Bob Dylan and Hank Williams as having had a major impact on his music as well as Muddy Waters, The Rolling Stones, Blind Willie McTell, Tchaikovsky, and Jefferson Airplane as influences.
It’s the perfect way to round out this particular trip. Hard to believe that tomorrow I will be riding 100k as part of the Big Move. No rest for the weary I suppose.