Yesterday was Townes Van Zandt's birthday.
In the tradition of other Texas musicians Bob Wills and Willie Nelson, Van Zandt has influenced two generations of singer/songwriters. In 1973, Doc Watson had a hit with "If I Needed You," as did Emmy Lou Harris. The song was also featured in the movies "Stepmom" and "Crazy Heart."
Willie and Merle (Haggard) hit the top of the charts with Townes' "Pancho and Lefty." Guy Clark rarely cuts a record without a Townes song. Steve Earle, who patterned his career after Townes, won a Grammy for "Townes," his tribute CD to his mentor.
Van Zandt died on Jan. 1, 1997, (44 years to the day that Hank Williams died) but his songs endure.
Here's a clip of Steve Earle performing "Fort Worth Blues," a song he wrote for Townes. The clip comes from the "Austin City Limits" tribute to Townes. Note Guy Clark and Nanci Griffith on stage. When the camera closes in on Griffith at the 2:51 mark, there are tears running down her cheeks. Earle cracks at the end of the song, too. I believe the young man sitting next to Griffith is J.T. Van Zandt, Townes' oldest son, a gifted songwriter in his own right.
Emmy Lou Harris, Willie Nelson and Rodney Crowell were also on the stage that night. Townes might not have had commercial success, but he was admired and respected by his peers.
Here's a 21:05 interview Earle did in Canada when he was touring behind "Townes."
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