Townes Van Zandt Influence Continues Today

The late Townes Van Zandt is often referred to as the most influential Texas songwriter of the 20th century. Musician Steve Earle says he was "the best songwriter in the world."

In celebration of the 75th anniversary of Van Zandt’s birthday March 7, his family’s record company, TVZ Records, along with Fat Possum Records, are releasing a new album, Sky Blue.

This collection of unreleased songs is a time capsule that Van Zandt created 46 years ago and shows the artist working out some of his most iconic songs in an intimate, comfortable setting.

Sky Blue includes 11 unreleased recordings made in early 1973 when Van Zandt was splitting his time between Texas, Colorado, and a shack outside Franklin, Tennessee: an itinerant life that informed many of his most famous and beloved tunes.

Sky Blue tracklist includes:

01. All I Need

02. Rex’s Blues

03. Hills of Roane County

04. Sky Blue

05. Forever, For Always, For Certain

06. Blue Ridge Mountain Blues (Smoky Version)

07. Pancho and Lefty

08. Snake Song

09. Silver Ships of Andilar​

10. Dream Spider

11. The Last Thing On My Mind

"All I Need" is one of two unheard songs from the collection, along with "Sky Blue." The album also includes early raw takes of some of Van Zandt’s most famous songs including "Pancho and Lefty" and "Rex’s Blues" and covers of songs by Richard Dobson and Tom Paxton.

The work was conceived by Van Zandt’s surviving family — his former wife and literary executor Jeanene, and children J.T., Will, and Katie Bell — to illuminate his songwriting process and evolution.

"Townes always said that he did not measure his success by the charts, but by how many learning institutions will be studying his work 100 yeas from now," Jeanene says. "My job is to make sure that all the material is there. This new record is one more step in that direction and we are delighted to present these lost gems to the world."

Fans can hear "All I Need" on YouTube and can purchase the entire album on townesvanzandt.com.

While Van Zandt’s songs are considered masterpieces of American music, he never quite managed to master his personal life. He suffered from a series of addictions and other health issues.

He died January 1, 1997, at the age of 52 from cardiac arrhythmia while recovering from hip surgery. He is buried in the Van Zandt family plot in Dido Cemetery near Fort Worth.

Townes Van Zandt came from a long line of Texas nobility. His three times great grandfather, Isaac Van Zandt, was a prominent leader of the Republic of Texas and the namesake of Van Zandt County in the Upper East Side of Texas. His great, great uncle Khleber Miller Van Zandt was one of the founders of Fort Worth.

Although he was born into an affluent family, he endured poverty and often sang of folks living on the edge.

He was a poet and songwriter beloved by his many fans and peers. Don Williams and Emmylou Harris had hits with his song "If I Needed You." Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard reached No. 1 with their version of his song "Pancho and Lefty."

His influence on Americana music is immense and continues today. Artists who cite Van Zandt as a source of inspiration include Bob Dylan, Neil Young, John Prine, Lyle Lovett, Guy Clark, Norah Jones, Robert Plant, Alison Krauss, and Garth Brooks to name a few.

Today’s singer-songwriters continue to be inspired by his music as well and a group of them are planning a Tribute to Townes Van Zandt from 6-10 p.m. March 7 at The Forge Bar & Grill in Ben Wheeler in Van Zandt County, Texas. For more information go to theforgebenwheeler.com or call (903) 833-5970.

All I Need

By Townes Van Zandt​

Tried everything to set me free

But my chains keep playing tricks on me

And all I need is a place to lay ‘em down

My friends, they speak

and their words ain’t lies

Like clouds of fish, they fly

And all I need is a boat to take ‘em home

And girls I see, and they see me

Then we say goodbye​

All I need is a bed to call my own

Ah, my baby’s eyes, see how they shine

Will his life be like mine

All I need is a way to take his load

Ah, but when good times

come falling over me

Breath turns to melody

All I need gonna fall away like dreams

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