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 Fuller Up, The Dead Musician Directory
Townes van Zandt
Townes van Zandt
January 1, 1997
Age 52 
      
Heart Attack after Hip Surgery

   
OBITUARY  
BIOGRAPHY   
LINKS
 
 
 
 

OBITUARY 
        
       
      From Townes Van Zandt Memorial Page
      Leonard Coop coopl@bcc.orst.edu
      Update from Jeanene - Jan. 4, 1997 part 1

      I called Jeanene Van Zandt to get an update to post on this webpage. I mentioned that I would be faxing copies of the conference postings that are still coming in. She relayed the whole story of Townes death in detail to share on-line, which I will do partly here, the rest by tomorrow.  

      A couple of important items were that Jeanene was concerned about some of the stories circulating that are false and more than a little wild, like that Townes "was pushed from a train" - she laughed at that one. The true story is the same one that has been shared in less detail on the web and in the papers - that Townes was at home with his family, recovering from hip surgery.  

      Another point is that Townes wanted to be cremated, which was done today. He wanted some of his ashes to be spread over 
      Fort Worth, and Van Zandt County, founded by his ancestors.  

      A last point is that Townes died happy and suddenly, and the last face he saw was his young daughter Katie Belle's, and the last one he spoke with was son Will, and Jeanene had just kissed him and told him to eat his supper.  

      The Memorial Service for Townes is open to the public and will be held at THE BELMONT CHURCH 16th Ave. South at Grand in Nashville, Tennessee on Sun. Jan. 5, 1997, at 3:00 p.m. 

      During a part of the service, many of Townes musician friends will speak and some will play songs. These include Steve Earle as M.C., Nanci Griffith, Rodney Crowell, and perhaps Guy Clark (Townes best friend) if he is able to.  

      Townes' oldest son John (J.T.) will speak on behalf of the immediate family, and may play a song also. 

      I will try to finish this report up tomorrow, time has run out for now. 

      -- 
       Update from Jeanene - Jan. 4, 1997 part 2
      Report from Jeanene Van Zandt 1/4/97 part 2 
      Jeanene volunteered this story over the phone to help clear up rumors about how Townes died. I have tried to record it accurately, but there may be errors - LC. 

      Townes fell and hurt his hip on Christmas eve, and didn't want to see a doctor or anyone. So they rented him a wheel chair and he stayed at home over the holidays without medical attention. Finally Jeanene talked him into going to the hospital (after 8 days) on New Years Eve, when they x-rayed and found that it was a broken hip. They decided to perform surgery that same 
      night, so at 1:30 a.m. New Years Eve (New Years' day actually by then), they operated and put a pin in. The next morning Townes did not look too good, and had the shakes that he is known for; Jeanene referred to them as the D.T.s. Jeanene decided to get him home, and signed the papers for early release from the hospital. They got him home, where he rested in his wheel chair for a couple hours, and was in good spirits, laughing and joking. Jeanene fixed Townes a plate of cheese and crackers and ham and was getting him to eat when the phone rang. It was Suzanna Clark calling so Jeanene talked to her on the phone and left Katie Belle and Will to watch him. Will had just asked Townes if he needed anything, went to the bathroom, and after 4 minutes or so came back in and saw that Townes appeared to be dead. Katie said "Daddy had a fight with his heart". Jeanene went in and saw Townes looked dead.  She called 911, and started CPR on Townes. A fire rescue person arrived after 15 minutes or so and continued the CPR. Then the paramedics came and attempted to get his heart going again using the defibrillator, and got a little bit of a heart beat briefly, 
      but it was not enough. They took him to the hospital but when Jeanene arrived soon after she knew from the look on the ER personnel's faces that Townes could not be revived.  

      There is no coronor's report yet, they think a blood clot from his hip moved to his heart and caused a heart attack.  

      Townes had wanted to be cremated, and for his ashes to be spread over Fort Worth and over Van Zandt County (which is East of Dallas). The courthouse has statues of Townes' great-great-great grandparents Isaac and Francis Van Zandt, among the founding fathers of Texas.  

      Townes had just started a recording project with Geffen records, and had been in the studio with producer Steve Shelly, where perhaps they had put down 4 or 5 songs. As Townes was there during the week with his broken hip, Jeanene is not sure how the songs will come out.  

      The live album Hiway Kind that Townes and Harold Eggers put together will be out from Sugar Hill in a couple months. Sugar Hill is also reissueing Rear View Mirror soon. The long awaited 60 song CD compilation is also still in the works.  

      Jeanene is thankful that Townes died with his family at home and not on the road somewhere alone.  She said Hank Williams was Townes' idol, and that they died on the same day.  


      http://www.orst.edu/Dept/entomology/coopl/tvzindex.html
       
       
       
              
      Friends of Van Zandt come to praise him in song
       
      By Chris Riemenschneider 
            American-Statesman Staff 

            "Tell my friends to mourn me not," Kelly Willis sang with an extra dose of emotion at the Cactus Cafe on January 23. 

            Those words, written by Townes Van Zandt long, long before he died, were indeed adhered to by his friends throughout two tribute shows at the Cactus. 

          Billed as the "Houseboat in Heaven" performances, the shows were actually fill-in dates left vacant. The scheduled singer, you see, had passed on. But what he left behind was a songwriting legacy well worth recognizing, and even celebrating, it seemed. 

             The concerts were remarkably joyous occasions. Not that Van Zandt wasn't a jovial guy, but the celebratory tone came as somewhat of a surprise. After all, he had died too young (age 52) of a heart attack just three weeks earlier on New Year's Day, and the countless songs he left behind couldn't exactly be termed pick-me-ups. But just as Van Zandt showed in his music, where there's tragedy and the blues, there's also beauty and spirit. Those elements were largely on display both nights. 

            The emotional highlights of both shows came at the end, when Van Zandt's son J.T. came out to perform. The younger Van Zandt, half the age his father was, caused a silence in the audience both times he took the stage.  For one, he was a mirror image of his dad in looks and sound, but you also had to worry about the guy breaking down on stage. 
       

          'TOWNES IS STILL AROUND'
            But J.T. quickly showed he's got his father's disarming wit, and on Wednesday, he told a laughable tale about bringing his father's ashes by that night. He couldn't do it, he said, so he burned up some newspaper articles on Townes and brought those ashes instead. 

            On Thursday, in between touching performances of "If I Needed You" and "Flying Shoes," J.T. did turn serious -- for a while. 

            "Most people, when they die, they just die," he said. "I'm not denying he's dead -- he's definitely dead. But Townes is still around." 

            He added, with a smile, "He moved some stuff around my apartment the other night." 

            Such mix of emotions were displayed in short and long tales told by nearly everyone who played. On Wednesday, Joe Ely talked about what an honor it was having Van Zandt record one of his songs, "Indian Cowboy," even though Townes had admitted, "I never really liked circus songs." 

            Ely replied, "I never did either." 

            Jimmie Dale Gilmore also remarked how honored he was by Van Zandt on Wednesday when Townes had told him his version of "White Freight Liner" was the favorite cover ever recorded of one of his songs. Gilmore jubilantly played that tune, as well as a moving "Tecumseh Valley." 

            While there's no question Van Zandt's songs were the stars glimmering that evening, it was a treat to hear some of the players offer their own songs they associated with Townes, such as Ely's. Earlier that night, Kimmie and Gabe Rhodes performed "I'm Gonna Fly," the duet Van Zandt recorded with them on Kimmie's "West Texas Heaven'' album last year. Also on Wednesday, George Hensley played a song he wrote about Van Zandt, poignantly  singing, ''He's a troubadour/lost in his song/about the road we're traveling on.'' 

            It was also nice seeing a younger group of performers turn out to pay tribute. Beaver Nelson nervously but  bravely fumbled through "Mr. Gold and Mr. Mud'' on Wednesday, but the next night he nailed the rather difficult number with the help of "Scrappy'' Jud Newcomb. Bruce Robison, Will T. Massey, Troy Campbell and Darden Smith were also on hand, with Smith giving the fitting description that, for singer-songwriters like himself, ''Opening for Townes was like opening for Noah at a boat-builders convention.'' 

            Plenty of Van Zandt's old friends were on hand as well, handling their tributes to him in different ways. On 
      Thursday, his drinking pal Roxy Gordon decided to just skip performing and instead told rambling stories about the time he won $50 from Townes by flipping quarters or when he smuggled the singer a bottle of vodka before he was about to play a gig billed as the "Alcohol and Drug-Free Concert'' on an Indian reservation. 
       

           SOME PERFECT MOMENTS
            Things got a little crazy when Rich Minus played a shakey version of "No Lonesome Tune'' and then fell over backward into the stage curtain. The friend who ran to help him up then began cursing at the audience members for snickering, which they weren't. It wouldn't have been a Townes show if something didn't go wrong, though, to contrast all the perfection. 

            And there were plenty of perfect moments, from Mandy Mercier and Champ Hood's ''Fraulein'' on Wednesday to Michael Fracasso's duet with Nelson on "Loretta'' and Jimmy LaFave's "Ain't Leavin' Your Love'' on Thursday. 

            Friends and fans kept commenting that Townes probably still made it to the Cactus both nights. If that's the case, let's hope he comes back as often as he did when he was alive. 
       

       
 

OBITUARY
BIOGRAPHY
LINKS TOP
 
 
 
 
 

 
BIOGRAPHY
 
 
 
Townes Van Zandt
(7March 1944 -1 Jan 1997)
    A country and folk-blues singer and guitarist, Van Zandt is a native Texan and great grandson of one of the original settlers who founded Fort Worth in the mid-19th Century. The son of a prominent oil family, Townes turned his back on financial security to pursue the beatnik life 
    in Houston. First thumbing his way through cover versions, his acoustic sets later graced the Jester Lounge and other venues where his ‘bawdy bar-room ballads’ were first performed. Although little-known outside of a cult country rock following, many of his songs are better publicized by the covers afforded them by Merle Haggard, Emmylou Harris, Don Gibson and Willie Nelson. This gave songs such as Pancho And Lefty and If I Needed You the chance to rise to the top of the country charts. Much of Van Zandt's material was not released in the UK until the late '70s, though his recording career actually began with FOR THE SAKE OF A SONG, released in the US in 1968. His media awareness belies the debt many artists, including the Cowboy Junkies and Go-Betweens, profess to owing him. Steve Earle went further: ‘Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world, and I'll stand on Bob Dylan's coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that’. Interest is still alive as the 
    recent re-issue of the LIVE AND OBSCURE (albeit re-titled PANCHO AND LEFTY) on Edsel proves. Van Zandt continues to live a reclusive life in a cabin in Tennessee, recording occasionally purely for the chance to 'get the songs down for posterity'. 
Music Central '96
 

 
Rough Guide
TVZ Biography
  
    As such self-effacing album titles as The Late, Great Townes Van Zandt (1973) and Live and Obscure 
    (1985) indicate, the countrified singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt does not take the record business entirely seriously. You sense that as long as big names continue to cover his songs, he's content to lie back and collect the money. If this is a false impression, and Townes is consumed with frustrated ambition, then he has fooled many with his wry drawl, delicate finger-picked guitar style, and reflective ballads that make J. J. Cale seem positively hyperactive. He also happens to be a member of one of Fort Worth's oil dynasties.  Maybe royalties don't even matter.  

    But they do accrue, from songs such as "Pancho and Lefty", a tune tailor-made for Willie Nelson, also covered by Emmylou Harris and taken to the top of the country charts by Merle Haggard. "If I Needed You" was another smash recorded both by Harris and by Don Williams at the height of his fame. These two songs illustrate the contrasting strengths of Van Zandt's output - the sentimental rural narrative toughened by an ironic streak, and the deceptively straightforward love song.  

    Among Van Zandt's close friends during his early career was fellow Texan songwriter Guy Clark; between them, they helped define the 70s' manifestation of 'new country'. The first such manifestation came, arguably, in the 50s, when Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins put a blues backbeat to hillbilly songs. A later wave - the Garth Brooks/George Strait generation, which was really the old wave in new hats - was also a raging success. But the Texans took a relaxed, anti-establishment route, which has led to cult status rather than superstardom.  

    Van Zandt began writing while in the Peace Corps and performed early on in the Delta Mama Boys, a 
    tongue-in-cheek name more suggestive of an old-time gospel group than the brand of cough syrup it actually 
    came from. His first album, For the Sake of a Song, was recorded in 1968; releases came fairly regularly over the next decade. The Late, Great Townes Van Zandt included the original version of "Pancho and Lefty" and was co-produced by Jack Clement, a legendary figure from Sun Records. No album really broke out, as all were released on small labels (eg Tomato) which had a bad habit of going out of business. Van Zandt, however, is not an artist who could flourish amid the corporate mentality of a major label, and he still affiliates himself with local set-ups whenever he's inspired to record.  

    More recent efforts include Live and Obscure, recorded in Nashville and re-released in the late 80s by Edsel 
    as Pancho and Lefty, and the 1987 album At My Window, also co-produced by Clement. Road Songs (Sugar Hill; 1994) was an understated live album of cover versions he'd performed on tour in '93-'94 and No Deeper Blue (Sugar Hill; 1994) was to be his last studio recording. 

    Since his tragic and unexpected death, Van Zandt's reputation has grown and the reissue of his 1969 classic 
    Our Mother The Mountain (Charly, 1998) might go some way toward explaining the delicious appeal of this 
    quintessentially maudlin balladeer.

 
 

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 LINKS
  
editor's note:
There are many folks paying vigilant tribute to TvZ,
choose these links and if you need more they have 'em:
 
     
 
 

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