The Top 10 Greatest Ever Americana Artists: Number 8 – Townes Van Zandt

Arriving at Number 8 today, the keenly observant amongst the AUK readership will notice that the great Townes Van Zandt sits on 30 points – the same tally as Jason Isbell yesterday. So how have we separated them? We used the number of nominations, of which Townes had one more than Jason – think of it as the AUK equivalent of goal difference.

Despite being nominated by many, the highest placing by an AUK writer for Townes was my own third place. This what I said about him at that time:

“Everybody else on this list are in some way included because of their longevity. They are for the most part, still making great records, or at least were doing so until their passing. Townes does not fit that mould. He produced six albums of breathtaking songwriting in just four years between 1968 and 1972. He then released just four more new albums in the next 35 years before his death on New Year’s Day 2007. Even then ‘The Nashville Sessions’ (1993) was actually recorded in 1972. It had been intended as his seventh album under the title of ‘Seven Come Eleven’. However, a dispute between his manager Kevin Eggers and producer Jack Clement over payment for the sessions led to Clement erasing the master tapes leaving only an Eggers’ cassette copy of the rough mixes in existence. If you therefore remove that from the equation, you’re down to just three albums in 35 years.

There were very many live albums released both during Van Zandt’s lifetime and after his death which are of varying quality. By far the best of them is ‘Live at the Old Quarter, Houston, Texas’ released in 1977, but recorded in 1973. It is prime Townes, free from some of the overblown production of the studio albums, it features just Townes solo performing many of his greatest songs. Its simple organic nature makes it in my opinion, his best album.

Throughout his most creatively successful period Townes Van Zandt was only a minor artist commercially. It was only when others picked up on his songs and cited his influence that he began to get the full recognition that he deserved. The latter part of his life was marked by drug and alcohol problems that affected his voice and his coherence. When I saw him perform twice in the 1990s he was something of a sad shambling wreck – but it was Townes – and I still felt thrilled and honoured to see him play.

Townes Van Zandt was a songwriting colossus, a shaping influence on many within the americana genre, and even if his period of creativity and genius was relatively short, he was a hugely important artist whose ability with words set the songwriting bar higher than most mere mortals could dream of achieving”.

Tomorrow we reveal Number 7 – Who could it be? Has your pick come out yet? or will it make Top 5 next week? There’s only one place to find out.

About Clint West 319 Articles
From buying my first record aged 10 and attending my first gig at 14, music has been a lifelong obsession. A proud native of Suffolk, I have lived in and around Manchester for the best part of 30 years. My idea of a perfect day would be a new record arriving in the post in the morning, watching Ipswich Town win in the afternoon followed by a gig and a pint with my mates at night,
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Jim McKay

Line the rest up how you like and split them both however you like too but Townes and Guy are numbers 1 and 2, surely?!! They showed everyone else how it was done, and still do.