Unusually Townes Van Zandt’s ‘White Freightliner Blues’ first appeared on his ‘Live at the Old Quarter, Houston, Texas’ album. So, in that same spirit I have chosen three live covers to feature on top of the Townes original. There were many that I could have chosen but the rules of this particular feature say three covers only. However, it is worth investigating live covers by The Flatlanders, Gillian Welch & David Rawlings, Steve Earle and Billy Strings as well as those that are featured here.
Townes Van Zandt
Although it was released in 1977 ‘Live at the Old Quarter’ was actually recorded in 1973 and as such captures Townes in his prime. The double live album is arguably, no make that definitely, his best. It spotlights just Townes and his guitar, playing to what is clearly a quite small crowd. His voice is good (something that becomes increasingly rare on later live performances) and his playing demonstrates what an accomplished guitarist he was, something that he is perhaps not always given credit for. However, on ‘White Freightliner Blues’ Townes keeps it fairly simple as the audience claps along in appreciation.
This wonderful performance of our song dates from 2017. Colter Wall’s rendition shuffles along with a bit more energy and pace than Townes’ version. Wall’s husky growl is the perfect instrument for delivering Townes’ dark lyrics which are purported to be an allegory for his use of cocaine, and there’s some damn fine fiddle playing thrown in too.
Molly Tuttle and Golden Highway
Somehow, somewhere along the line ‘White Freightliner Blues’ became a bluegrass tune. Indeed, if you hear the song being played live today it’s quite likely that you’re at a bluegrass show – a reminder too at this point to check out the Billy Strings live version. Even Steve Earle on his ‘Townes’ tribute album covers the song as a bluegrass tune. With all that in mind a bluegrass version was just about compulsory and who better to provide it than Molly Tuttle? Recorded not much more than a year ago at the Ossipee Valley Music Festival in Maine, this version highlights not just Molly’s vocal interpretation of the song but also her stunning musicianship and that of her band. Glorious.
Austin City Limits Hall of Fame
In 2015 Townes Van Zandt was inducted into the Austin City Limits Hall of Fame. Also inducted that year were Guy Clark, Loretta Lynn, Flaco Jiménez and Asleep at the Wheel. At each induction a star-studded musical tribute also takes place. Lots of great artists in this clip but rather than list them, it will be much more fun to allow you to spot them for yourself. Happy spotting and good luck!