The Misunderstood Genius Townes Van Zandt

The American musician, singer, and songwriter Townes Van Zandt set the style for today’s country and alternative country scene. Although, he was one of the outstanding musicians of his time, he never received the recognition he deserves. However, this did not affect his status. Many stars see in him a formative influence that has significantly shaped their work. It is quite possible that Van Zandt actively hindered his rise to stardom; after all, nothing interested him as little as success throughout his life. His fans especially appreciated his authenticity, originality, and the literary quality of his songs.

A Relentless Rebel

Van Zandt was born to one of the leading families in the state of Texas. She had been in the oil business for several generations. One of his descendants was the leader of the original Republic of Texas. No wonder, then, that a strict father would do everything to have a son follow in these footsteps. But Van Zandt had other plans. After experimenting with intoxicants, he was declared dead at short notice as a teenager in boarding school. He lost most of his front teeth. After trying to see what it felt like to fall off the fourth floor, the doctors declared him mentally ill. The military career that his family had hoped for came to an end. According to him, the prescribed therapy erased all childhood memories.

Bob Dylan Admired Him

He subsequently focused on his career as a singer/songwriter and retired to a cabin in the woods. The inspiration to become a singer came from Elvis Presley. Van Zandt had seen him on a TV show and wanted to emulate him. But the outsider could never achieve real hits. These others ended up for him. Willie Nelson was just as successful with his songs as Lyle Lovet or Emmylou Harris. Even Bob Dylan was considered a great admirer of his songwriting art. Although the two never worked together, Dylan arranged a meeting so that he could see Van Zandt playing live. In a private recording that was circulating years ago, one could see what the singer was capable of. When he met up with friends, he picked up the guitar, played a song, and moved the older men who were listening to him to tears.

Death At 52

Despite numerous albums and many great songs, he never had a commercial breakthrough. Nonetheless, he became a cult figure. His 1978 album Flyin’Shoes is considered his best album. The title song is undoubtedly one of his most famous singles. His fame comes mainly from the numerous cover versions of great stars. These made Townes Van Zandt’s songs classics and standards of country and folk. He died after a long illness at the age of only 52 in the middle of a tour through Europe. The aftereffects of an operation on his hip and his alcohol addiction led to a heart attack on New Year’s morning 1994. He followed his great idol, Hank Williams, to the day exactly 44 years after his death.