Tales from the Troubadour
Introduction to “Rex’s Blues”:
I had a friend, a teacher. His name was Townes. He was a songwriter, a folksinger, the best I ever saw.
He was a migratory beast. He summered in Colorado, did his winters in Texas and Tennessee. Those of us who lived along his migratory path, well we just waited with baited breath until he’d come around again next year.
He had a horse named Amigo, he kept in the Bronco Newcomb stable in Aspen, Colorado. Every summer he’d pick him up and he’d ride him across the mountain at Crested Butte. I was 17 years old when I met Townes. I thought that was the coolest thing that I’d ever heard of. Actually, I’m fifty-four and a half now, and I still think that’s the coolest thing.
But then the Seventies wound down. Times got hard, I guess. And Townes had to let Amigo go. It’s my belief that he began to die that day.
Several winters back, I made the trip backwards, from Crested Butte over to Aspen. Fifty-eight miles as the crow flies, but I ain’t no crow. It’s a hundred seventy-five, a hundred eighty by the highway. But we ran into a particularly tenacious little snowstorm, you know the kind. It took us eight and a half hours to make the ride. I couldn’t sleep so I wound up in the shotgun seat. Whilst the snow was blowing across the highway and the headlights looked like low flying ghosts, I swear to God I saw Townes and Amigo come over the mountain five times that night.
I thought I’d make me a record of Townes Van Zandt songs. This ain’t on it.
Intro to “Pancho and Lefty”:
Now when a fella’s gonna make him a record of Townes Van Zandt songs, you know you got your work cut out for you. I mean, the night before I started recording I had twenty-eight songs on the short list. I have no idea how I got it down to fifteen.
I met a guy from North Carolina that built guitars, and he said that you just kind of cut away everything that didn’t look much like a guitar. It was probably a similar process to that.
But I did know, once I decided to do this, what I was going to record first. You have to apply your own life experience to these things. The first day in jail, what you do, you go out in the yard, and you pick out the biggest motherfucker out there, and you knock him out. If you get away with that, then you get to keep your radio. So, applying that theory, I decided to record this first.
Intro to “Brand New Companion”:
If aliens were to land in West Hollywood tonight, and one walked straight up to me and stuck his raygun into my head, and said, “Quick, tell me about Townes Van Zandt,” I would say “Townes Van Zandt was a blues singer, sir.” By that I don’t necessarily mean that all of his songs consisted of an opening line that states an issue or problem, followed by a second line that reiterates the issue, followed by a third line that fails miserably to resolve it.
Townes and myself, and my other teacher Guy Clark, we can say that we were in Houston, Texas in the early 1970’s, and we saw Mance Lipscomb and Lightnin’ Hopkins in the same room at the same time on more than one occasion. That, my friends, is a very big deal. If you don’t believe me, google it.
Townes used to say that there’s only three kinds of music. There’s the blues, and there’s zippity do da. This, my friends, is not zippity do da.
Intro to “Gold”:
I met Townes Van Zandt in 1972, eastern Texas. I’d been stalking him for a couple of years. We’d been in the same room on two occasions, but I was kind of shy.
I was playing the Old Quarter in downtown Houston, and I headed downstairs for my second set and Townes was sitting in the front row. Or to be more accurate, there were six people there that night, and Townes kind of was the front row.
He didn’t make a sound when I was actually singing and playing, but as soon as I finished a song he would yell “Play ‘The Wabash Cannonball'”. And despite his reputation for being all quiet and sensitive and everything, he could really be fucking loud sometimes.
He’d listen until the songs were over with, politely along with everyone else, and then immediately, “Play ‘The Wabash Cannonball.’ You call yourself a folk singer and you don’t know ‘The Wabash Cannonball?'”
In self-defense I played this.
Intro to “Marie”:
Townes grew up with a lot of money. He had a hard time dealing with it. He went to college, and fucked it up. Went again, someplace else, and fucked it up again. He could have gone a third time. His parents would have definitely paid for it. He didn’t understand why he had so much that he didn’t feel like he had earned.
He was notorious for bringing homeless people home with him, which contributed heavily to the demise of his first marriage. He continued that habit into the period when I met him, when he basically homeless himself, which meant that he was just traveling around staying with friends for about seven or eight years, in a barely big enough circle not to wear his welcome out. So that meant when he brought people home he was bringing them to other people’s houses. You could wake up in the morning and find Townes fucking gone, and somebody you didn’t know in your refridgerator or worse.
I hit a pretty rough spot myself a few years later, and before it was over I was homeless. Before it got to that point… I mean I should have known that it’s not a good sign if Townes Van Zandt shows up at your house to give you a temperance lecture.
The door was standing wide open. I never locked the place because everything that was worth anything, or just about everything, was already at the pawn shop.
Townes was playing the last guitar that I had, sitting on the couch, when I walked in the door, and he said, “You look like shit.” I said, “I know.” He said, “Your arms really look like shit.” I said, “I know.” He said, “Well, you got clean needles?” I said, “Yeah,” which was true. He said, “Every time?” I said, “Yeah.” [He said,] “All right then, let me play this song that I just wrote.”