Medium 9781574413298

A Deeper Blue: The Life and Music of Townes Van Zandt

Views: 2661
Ratings: (0)

Like Jimmie Rodgers, Woody Guthrie, Robert Johnson, and Hank Williams, Townes Van Zandt was the embodiment of that mythic American figure, the troubled troubadour. A Deeper Blue traces Van Zandt's background as the scion of a prominent Texas family; his troubled early years and his transformation from promising pre law student to wandering folk singer; his life on the road and the demons that pursued and were pursued by him; the women who loved and inspired him; and the brilliance and enduring beauty of his songs.

List price: $14.95

Your Price: $11.96

You Save: 20%

Remix
Remove
 

33 Slices

Format Buy Remix

Introduction: High, Low, and In Between

PDF

2

A Deeper Blue: The Life and Music of Townes Van Zandt

anymore—the embodiment of the troubled troubadour. He was certainly a troubled man.

Townes Van Zandt was troubled throughout his life by alcoholism and manic-depressive illness, and he was constantly battling the demons associated with these conditions. He made attempts to settle down into family life, but it was always a struggle. He made attempts to pursue commercial success with his music, but mostly those attempts came up short. He had a spiritual bent that always trumped his material concerns— and, for better or worse, those of his family. He said he lived for the “hum of the wheels,” and in hope of hitting “that one note” that would connect with “just one person,” and save that person’s life. He was deeply serious about this goal—which he believed without question was his life’s calling—to the extent that he “blew off everything” to pursue it, refusing to compromise. In an interview published October 17, 2002, in the Houston Press, his oldest son, J.T., succinctly summed up his view of the price they both paid for his father’s single-minded pursuit of that goal: “As a father he had a lot of unforgivable shortcomings that can’t be excused by his music.”

 

1. MANY A RIVER: THE VAN ZANDTS OF TEXAS

ePub

1

Many a River:
The Van Zandts
of Texas

OF ALL THE SOURCES FROM which Townes Van Zandt drew nourishment and influence, none was more nourishing or more influential than the Texas soil from which he sprang and in which his roots grew so deep.

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. By 1830, there were 30,000 American settlers in Texas. Rapidly mounting tensions between the settlers and the Mexican government led to revolution, beginning in 1835 and followed rapidly by Texas’ Declaration of Independence on March 2, 1836, then ending the next month with the surrender of Mexican forces and the capture of General Santa Anna on the battlefield at San Jacinto, with Texas thereby established as an independent republic. Throughout the next decade, AngloAmerican settlement of the region continued. From east of the Sabine, more and more men and their families lit out for the new territory, lured by the well-advertised prospect of cheap land and abundant work. Often with little or no notice, these pioneers left their old lives behind them, along with signs saying simply, “Gone to Texas.”

 

Many a River: The Van Zandts of Texas

PDF

8

A Deeper Blue: The Life and Music of Townes Van Zandt

March 2, 1836, then ending the next month with the surrender of Mexican forces and the capture of General Santa Anna on the battlefield at San Jacinto, with Texas thereby established as an independent republic. Throughout the next decade, AngloAmerican settlement of the region continued. From east of the

Sabine, more and more men and their families lit out for the new territory, lured by the well-advertised prospect of cheap land and abundant work. Often with little or no notice, these pioneers left their old lives behind them, along with signs saying simply, “Gone to Texas.”

One of those pioneers was Isaac Van Zandt, son of Jacob and Mary (Isaacs) Van Zandt. The Van Zandt family originally sailed from Holland prior to the American Revolution, settling in New York then migrating to North Carolina. Jacob took his family to Franklin County, Tennessee, in 1800. Isaac was born there on July 10, 1813.1 When Isaac married Frances Cooke Lipscomb in December 1833, he and his father were proprietors of a store in Maxwell, Tennessee, near Salem. When Jacob died in

 

2. NO LONESOME TUNE

ePub

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.

Harris and Dorothy Van Zandt provided a solid family-centered environment, strongly rooted in the extended Van Zandt and Townes families in Fort Worth and Houston. While there were branches of both sides of the family that were considered wealthy, Harris and Dorothy lived relatively modestly. “We were the Dido Van Zandts,” says their second son, William Lipscomb Van Zandt. Bill was born in 1949, namesake of the grandfather who had originally moved his branch of the family out to the small farming community of Dido. There always “seemed to be enough” money for the family to be comfortable, but “there was never a bunch” of money, sister Donna recalls. “I remember my dad telling stories about how the Depression had absolutely no effect on his family, except all of a sudden their neighbors were as poor as they were.” She remembers her father telling the family how he had never had ice cream until he was in college, then adding, “you don’t miss it if you’ve never had it.”1

 

No Lonesome Tune

PDF

2

No Lonesome Tune

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.

Harris and Dorothy Van Zandt provided a solid family-centered environment, strongly rooted in the extended Van Zandt and Townes families in Fort Worth and Houston. While there were branches of both sides of the family that were considered wealthy, Harris and Dorothy lived relatively modestly. “We were the Dido Van Zandts,” says their second son, William Lipscomb

Van Zandt. Bill was born in 1949, namesake of the grandfather who had originally moved his branch of the family out to the small farming community of Dido. There always “seemed to be enough” money for the family to be comfortable, but “there was never a bunch” of money, sister Donna recalls. “I remember my dad telling stories about how the Depression had absolutely no effect on his family, except all of a sudden their neighbors were

 

3. WHERE I LEAD ME

ePub

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” for his father, he began diligently soaking up the music around him and seeking out more.

“My musical influences were Elvis, Ricky Nelson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and the Everly Brothers … it started off with country, then Elvis and those guys …” Van Zandt said.1 Later, he started listening to jazz and blues, then to folk music. But his grounding was in the great, vital melting pot of country and western and early rock’n’roll that bubbled with such creative fervor in America in the 1950s and early ’60s. Townes had been absorbing it all with great interest and enthusiasm since he was a child and would ride with his father as he drove across the countryside visiting the oil fields, listening to Lefty Frizzell, Ernest Tubb, Hank Williams, and Roy Acuff on the car radio. According to Van Zandt, while Elvis had inspired him to take up the guitar, “In the long run, Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell probably inspired me more, they probably went in deeper to my consciousness.”2

 

4. NO PLACE TO FALL

ePub

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 to the University of Texas, CU was an obvious choice for Townes. The Van Zandts had just moved back to Texas, to Houston, where Harris had accepted a position as vice president of the Transwestern Pipeline Company— something less stressful, hopefully, than his work with the giant Pure Oil—and Townes naturally liked the idea of staying far from home. He signed up for a general liberal arts schedule at Colorado. “I hit that place like a saddle bronc hits the arena—coming right out of military school and all,” Townes later said.1

His dramatic description is only partially misleading. Before hitting CU “like a saddle bronc,” Townes had a false start and quietly withdrew from school on October 8, after barely a month of classes. He had first phoned his parents and told them that he was uncomfortable, and that he was sure he just wasn’t ready to get serious about college. They thought they had convinced him to stick out the semester. Instead, Townes dropped out and hitchhiked to Minnesota, where he stayed with an old girlfriend near Shattuck. After a couple of days, Townes wandered onto the Shattuck campus and went to see his old acquaintance, the headmaster, who decided to try to help Townes’ cause.

 

Where I Lead Me

PDF

3

Where I Lead Me

ITHIN 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” for his father, he began diligently soaking up the music around him and seeking out more.

“My musical influences were Elvis, Ricky Nelson, Jerry Lee

Lewis, Johnny Cash, and the Everly Brothers … it started off with country, then Elvis and those guys …” Van Zandt said.1

Later, he started listening to jazz and blues, then to folk music.

But his grounding was in the great, vital melting pot of country and western and early rock’n’roll that bubbled with such creative fervor in America in the 1950s and early ’60s. Townes had been absorbing it all with great interest and enthusiasm since he was a child and would ride with his father as he drove across the countryside visiting the oil fields, listening to Lefty Frizzell,

 

No Place to Fall

PDF

4

No Place to Fall

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 to the University of Texas, CU was an obvious choice for Townes. The Van Zandts had just moved back to Texas, to Houston, where Harris had accepted a position as vice president of the Transwestern Pipeline Company— something less stressful, hopefully, than his work with the giant

Pure Oil—and Townes naturally liked the idea of staying far from home. He signed up for a general liberal arts schedule at Colorado. “I hit that place like a saddle bronc hits the arena—coming right out of military school and all,” Townes later said.1

His dramatic description is only partially misleading. Before hitting CU “like a saddle bronc,” Townes had a false start and quietly withdrew from school on October 8, after barely a month of classes. He had first phoned his parents and told them that he was uncomfortable, and that he was sure he just wasn’t ready

 

5. SANITARIUM BLUES

ePub

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 of the city. The old main building, a monumental redbrick known as Old Red, was built in 1891 and survived the Galveston Storm of 1900. Just west of Old Red was the Galveston State Psychopathic Hospital (later renamed the Marvin Graves Building), the first building in Galveston built to house psychiatric patients. Dr. Titus Harris was the first Director of Psychiatry there, and his colleague Dr. Abe Hauser was the Assistant Director. Together, they had established the Titus Harris Clinic for psychiatric inpatients in 1929.1

Grace Jameson is a psychiatrist who has been on staff at the Titus Harris Clinic since the early 1950s. According to Dr. Jameson, “By the early 1940s, people all over Texas knew about Dr.

 

Sanitarium Blues

PDF

5

Sanitarium Blues

TMB-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 of the city. The old main building, a monumental redbrick known as Old Red, was built in 1891 and survived the Galveston Storm of 1900. Just west of Old Red was the Galveston State Psychopathic Hospital (later renamed the

Marvin Graves Building), the first building in Galveston built to house psychiatric patients. Dr. Titus Harris was the first Director of Psychiatry there, and his colleague Dr. Abe Hauser was the Assistant Director. Together, they had established the Titus Harris

Clinic for psychiatric inpatients in 1929.1

Grace Jameson is a psychiatrist who has been on staff at the

Titus Harris Clinic since the early 1950s. According to Dr. Jameson, “By the early 1940s, people all over Texas knew about Dr.

 

6. WAITIN’ FOR THE DAY

ePub

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 to be together was the central tenet of their frequent, ongoing discussions of the future.1

And it seemed that the future was all that Townes was equipped to discuss. “He virtually had no memory of his childhood,” Fran says. She recalls that Townes’ mother, distraught by this unexpected after-effect of his treatment, would go through the family photo albums repeatedly with Townes, telling him stories to reinforce his memories and to help him rebuild them.

“When somebody would ask him a question, he would answer and then realize that the only reason he was saying that was because somebody had told him. It was like rote memory, not a picture memory,” Fran recalls. “I think it started coming back over time, but he never trusted that it was a real memory.” Hence, Townes and Fran did not discuss Galveston. “Townes had total honor for his parents,” Fran says. “So there was no resentment, no anger, only the constant sense of not knowing whether he really remembered.”

 

Waitin’ for the Day

PDF

6

Waitin’ for the Day

FTER HIS STAY AT G ALVESTON , 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 to be together was the central tenet of their frequent, ongoing discussions of the future.1

And it seemed that the future was all that Townes was equipped to discuss. “He virtually had no memory of his childhood,” Fran says. She recalls that Townes’ mother, distraught by this unexpected after-effect of his treatment, would go through the family photo albums repeatedly with Townes, telling him stories to reinforce his memories and to help him rebuild them.

“When somebody would ask him a question, he would answer and then realize that the only reason he was saying that was because somebody had told him. It was like rote memory, not a picture memory,” Fran recalls. “I think it started coming back over time, but he never trusted that it was a real memory.” Hence,

 

7. FOR THE SAKE OF THE SONG

ePub

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 from the staid, straight “Nashville Sound” and paving the way for the more progressive music of Roger Miller, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and others. Newbury had been writing songs for Nashville’s most prominent publishing company, Acuff-Rose, since 1963, and had had his songs recorded by Elvis Presley, Eddy Arnold, Ray Charles, Tom Jones, Joan Baez, and dozens of others, as well as recording his own albums, first for RCA, then for Mercury, and finally for Elektra. Newbury’s success as a songwriter peaked in 1968 with a song not at all characteristic of his work, but one that remains one of his best known: “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Is In),” recorded by Kenny Rogers & the First Edition. With his wide experience in the business and a strong artistic ear, Newbury knew a good song when he heard it, and during this period he had the clout to do something about it. In addition to writing and recording, he was producing records with his partner Jay Boyett in Houston at a small facility called Jones Studio.

 

8. DON’T YOU TAKE IT TOO BAD

ePub

8

Don’t You Take
It Too Bad

TOWARD THE END OF THE year, during a trip to Oklahoma City to play some coffee-house gigs with Guy Clark, Townes and Guy met a woman who was to become a major part of both of their lives.

“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. And boy, did they look bedraggled. I introduced myself, and the first thing I did was offer Guy a vitamin pill. They both had hair down past their shoulders, and skinny as rails, both of them. My easel was set up in the living room, where they were sitting, and I was painting a painting. Townes was just still very, very quiet. And I was painting away and trying to kind of chat with them, and I said, ‘I just don’t know what to do with this foreground. I just don’t know how to bring it forward. I just don’t know what to do.’ And Guy said, ‘You know what to do.’ And I thought to myself, ‘Well, I can’t drop my artistic hanky in front of him, because he ain’t going for it.’ And he got up and started showing me these things to do. So I really liked Guy because he knew about painting.1

 

For the Sake of the Song

PDF

For the Sake of the Song

73

tion My Condition Is In),” recorded by Kenny Rogers & the First

Edition. With his wide experience in the business and a strong artistic ear, Newbury knew a good song when he heard it, and during this period he had the clout to do something about it.

In addition to writing and recording, he was producing records with his partner Jay Boyett in Houston at a small facility called

Jones Studio.

As Newbury recalls, Van Zandt came to Jones Studio to record a demo record at the beginning of 1968, a step that he decided he needed to take if he were to advance his career beyond small clubs. Newbury recalls, “Jay brought me [Townes’] stuff and asked me if I thought we could do anything with him. I said, ‘Hell, I don’t know, but he sure deserves it.’ When I heard it, it just knocked me totally down. I can remember ‘Tecumseh

Valley’ was one of them…. It seems like, if I’m not mistaken, even that far back, I want to say ‘Our Mother the Mountain’ was one of them. I know that within that first year or two, he wrote

 

9. HIGHWAY KIND

ePub

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, and the Allman Brothers Band’s Live at the Fillmore East. Still spinning on many turntables from the previous year were the swansongs of the Beatles (Let It Be) and Janis Joplin (Pearl). Recent work from singer–songwriters included Joni Mitchell’s Blue, Leonard Cohen’s Songs of Love & Hate, John Prine’s first album, and Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush. All in all, a formidable field.

High, Low and In Between explored a vein that ran through many of the prominent recordings of the day and that was the inevitable result of a generation coming of age. A seriousness of purpose had been coalescing among so-called “pop” artists and musicians that signaled the end of the innocence of the sixties. Significantly, many of these artists were reaching their thirtieth birthdays. Townes had turned twenty-seven that spring. By fall he must have felt that he was more than ready to close out this particularly hard year, and the new record reflected this.

 

Don’t You Take It Too Bad

PDF

Don’t You Take It Too Bad

93

what to do with this foreground. I just don’t know how to bring it forward. I just don’t know what to do.’ And Guy said, ‘You know what to do.’ And I thought to myself, ‘Well, I can’t drop my artistic hanky in front of him, because he ain’t going for it.’

And he got up and started showing me these things to do. So I really liked Guy because he knew about painting.1

“When I met Townes,” Susanna Clark says, “he had decided to leave home and decided not to call home for help for any reason whatsoever, and to be completely self-sufficient. And, by hook or by crook, he did it, even though we were all starving to death.”

Shortly afterward, Susanna’s sister died unexpectedly, and Susanna decided to move to Houston with Guy. “Townes came over practically every day in Houston, whenever he was in town,” Susanna recalls. “I remember one time that there were a lot of people down there I didn’t know. And Townes came up to me. He recognized my forlorn-ness; I had just lost my sister and I was quite lost…. Townes came over to me and put his arms around me, and then held me by both shoulders and stood back and looked at me, and he said, ‘If Guy loves you, I love you.’

 

Load more


Details

Print Book
E-Books
Slices

Format name
ePub
Encrypted
No
Sku
B000000054974
Isbn
9781574413298
File size
1.4 MB
Printing
Allowed
Copying
Allowed
Read aloud
Allowed
Format name
ePub
Encrypted
No
Printing
Allowed
Copying
Allowed
Read aloud
Allowed
Sku
In metadata
Isbn
In metadata
File size
In metadata