I'll Be Here in the Morning: The Songwriting Legacy of Townes Van Zandt

I'll Be Here in the Morning: The Songwriting Legacy of Townes Van Zandt

I'll Be Here in the Morning: The Songwriting Legacy of Townes Van Zandt

I'll Be Here in the Morning: The Songwriting Legacy of Townes Van Zandt


The writer of such influential songs as "Pancho and Lefty," "To Live's to Fly," "If I Needed You," and "For the Sake of the Song," Townes Van Zandt exerted an influence on at least two generations of Texas musicians that belies his relatively brief, deeply troubled life. Indeed, Van Zandt has influenced millions worldwide in the years since his death, and his impact is growing rapidly. Respected singer/songwriter John Gorka speaks for many when he says, "'Pancho and Lefty' changed--it unchained--my idea of what a song could be." In this tightly woven, intelligently written book, Brian T. Atkinson interviews both well-known musicians and up-and-coming artists to reveal, in the performers' own words, how their creative careers have been shaped by the life and work of Townes Van Zandt. Kris Kristofferson, Guy Clark, Billy Joe Shaver, Rodney Crowell, Lucinda Williams, and Lyle Lovett are just a few of the established musicians who share their impressions of the breathtakingly beautiful tunes and lyrics he created, along with their humorous, poignant, painful, and indelible memories of witnessing Van Zandt's rise and fall. Atkinson balances the reminiscences of seasoned veterans with the observations of relative newcomers to the international music scene, such as Jim James (My Morning Jacket), Josh Ritter, and Scott Avett (the Avett Brothers), presenting a nuanced view of Van Zandt's singular body of work, his reckless lifestyle, and his long-lasting influence. Forewords by "Cowboy" Jack Clement and longtime Van Zandt manager and friend Harold F. Eggers Jr. open the book, and each chapter begins with an introduction in which Atkinson provides context and background, linking each interviewee to Van Zandt's legacy. Historians, students, and fans of all music from country and folk to rock and grunge will find new insights and recall familiar pleasures as they read I'll Be Here in the Morning: The Songwriting Legacy of Townes Van Zandt.


I met Townes around 1966. I wanted to help a friend of mine who worked for RCA make some money on the side, so I paid for a trip down to Houston and went to see a guy who owned the studio there. He kept talking about this guy named Townes Van Zandt. He played us some tapes, and we thought they were really good. We wound up signing Townes to a contract.

Townes was fun to work with, but he didn’t think much of the recording process. He just wanted to have some action going. His weren’t ordinary songs that people were singing. I knew they wouldn’t be easy to get recorded, but I knew they had merit. At My Window was my favorite album, probably his most successful record and the best that I did with him. We did that here in the studio in my house. That picture of Townes at the window was taken in my kitchen. He was more mature by then, and we got along good.

Townes was a good guy. People loved him and still do. He wasn’t morbid all the time. He had a great sense of humor. He wasn’t like everybody else, and I like that. I always try to be different. Townes didn’t have to try. He just was.

He has gotten a lot of respect along the way. I think his career will grow, even though he’s passed away. Enough of his songs got out that he’s pretty well known by now, and I think his legacy will endure. Endurance is important. Townes kept writing and believed in himself, believed that they were good songs. They were. He had faith. He never had a great amount of success, but his songs are still there. People remember them.

January 2011 . . .

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