vinyl review

Taking a Look at Townes Van Zandt

I remember a time where I would stop in random record shops in search for gems on vinyl. For me, there's something about stopping in a local record store and shopping to collect more muses for my musical arsenal.  It's an experience that touches the core of my soul, something that can't be achieved by shopping online.  Since I live in the desolate town of Jackson, Wyoming with no record shops, anytime I travel, I always find myself researching the city for the best local stores to purchase vinyl.  A great find is always Townes Van Zandt. 

Townes Van Zandt spent most of his musical career playing local dive bars, and during July 1973 he played a string of shows over five sweltering nights Live at the Old Quarter in Houston, Texas where he recorded a live album of the same name.  On these night he played in an intimate setting to a few 100 folks in the audience.  It was so packed that waitresses could not take drink orders in the crowd.  The folks would pass money hand over fist in hopes that a cold beer would find it's way to them while watching the show. Townes played numbers such as the well known "Poncho & Lefty" and "If I Needed You" to a crowd that weren't that familiar with the tunes.  Most actually recognize "Poncho & Lefty" as it was later covered by well known acts such as Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, & Merle Haggard. 

Along with the songs I mentioned earlier, some of my personal favorites on this live album include "Lungs", "To Live Is To Fly", "Cocaine Blues", "Waiting 'round To Die", "Tecumseh Valley", and a cover of Bo Diddley's "Who Do You Love".  Townes Van Zant's songs feel like poetry in its purest form. Meant to be enjoyed and listened to, his songs grow with you every time you give a listen.  Townes spent most of his time in the 70s living in a simple shack with no electricity or a phone.  He suffered from drug addiction, alcoholism, and bipolar disorder.

When I was first introduced to Townes Van Zandt by a dear friend of mine, I remember asking him what I should be on the lookout for when I was spending countless hours at various record stores looking for finds.  He always responded, "anything Townes!"  Since then I've collected some of his most prolific work spanning from 1968 to 1973.  These records include For the Sake of the Song, Our Mother the Mountain, Townes Van Zandt, Delta Momma Blues, Low and In Between, and The Late Great Townes Van Zandt.  As he is no longer with us, one can only wish that they could time travel back to where they could pay $10 to see this master at work.

Live At The Old Quarter, Houston Texas Track Listing: 

Side One

  1. Announcement
  2. Pancho & Lefty
  3. Mr. Mudd & Mr. Gold
  4. Don't You Take It Too Bad
  5. Two Girls
  6. Fraternity Blues
  7. If I Needed You

Side Two

  1. Brand New Companion
  2. White Freight Liner Blues
  3. To Live Is To Fly
  4. She Came And She Touched Me
  5. Talking Thunderbird Blues
  6. Rex's Blues
  7. Nine Pound Hammer

Side Three: 

  1. For The Sake Of The Song
  2. Chauffeur's Blues
  3. No Place To Fall
  4. Loretta
  5. Kathleen
  6. Why She's Acting This Way

Side Four

  1. Cocaine Blues
  2. Who Do You Love?
  3. Tower Song
  4. Waiting 'Round To Die
  5. Tecumseh Valley
  6. Lungs
  7. Only Him Or Me

On the Hunt for Nuthin' Fancy

I'm always chasing down new vinyl.  I recently purchased Nuthin' Fancy, a 1975 album by Lynyrd Skynrd.  The third studio album, it was their first to reach the Top 10, peaking at #9 on the U.S. album chart.  It was certified Gold on 6/27/1975 and Platinum on 7/21/1987.  This album was drummer Artimus Pyle's premiere with the band. After being replaced by guitarist Steve Gaines, it was the departure of lead guitarist Ed King who was most notably known for co-writing their hit "Sweet Home Alabama". 

Co-written by King and Van Zant, the opening track "Saturday Night Special" is an instant hit, punching the critiques of the band right in the mouth! The perception of Lynyrd Skynyrd was often a bunch of substance abusing, gun slinging roughnecks.  The song's lyrics, "So why don't we dump 'em, people, to the bottom of the sea?" sets a powerful anti-gun course to belied the southern rock kingpins pistol-packin' image.  The second track "Cheatin' Women" is reminiscent of a drug & booze filled man who is at his wits end, tying off another late night, with the final conclusion of how to deal with his unfaithful counterpart.  Then there's "I'm A Country Boy" written by Allen Collins & Ronnie Van Zant, a rock & roll heater that signifies the pride in which the band feels being born down on the Dixie line.  The tune "On The Hunt" has been a centerpiece of many a road trips of my own.  It was a permanent fixture in the playlist that my friends and I shared during our late night debauchery.  This song premiered in Paris in '74 and in my humble opinion is one of the focal points on the album.  Gary Rossington lays down some tasty licks during this bluesy number.  "Am I Losin" is a intimately personal tune by Rossington & Van Zant.  It was written about original drummer Bob Burns leaving the band due to being overwhelmed by life on the road.  (Bob Burns is credited with the band's debut album Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd as well as Second Helping.) While this song would be something desired in any Skynyrd fans set list, it has only seen the light of day a handful of times.  Closing the album and written by Billy Powell, King, & Van Zant, "Whiskey Rock a Roller" focuses on the band's time spent on the road.  Ronnie came across what he called a stupid writer who asked him, "What are you man?"  Van Zant responded he was a "Whiskey Rock a Roller."  There one thing for certain, Lynyrd Skynyrd was in their prime while releasing Nuthin' Fancy.  There is no telling where the band could have gone if the plane would have landed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on October 20, 1977.**

**Note: Neil Young wrote the song "Powderfinger" for Lynyrd Skynyrd, but the three band members passed in the plane crash before they could ever record it.  This is interesting to note as some thought there was bad blood between them.

Track Listing:

Side One:  
1. "Saturday Night Special" (E. King, R. Van Zant) – 5:08
2."Cheatin' Woman" (R. Van Zant, G. Rossington, A. Kooper) – 4:38
3."Railroad Song" (E. King, R. Van Zant) – 4:14
4."I'm a Country Boy" (A. Collins, R. Van Zant) – 4:24  

Side Two: 
1. "On the Hunt" (A. Collins, R. Van Zant) – 5:25
2."Am I Losin'" (G. Rossington, R. Van Zant) – 4:32
3."Made in the Shade" (R. Van Zant) – 4:40
4."Whiskey Rock-a-Roller" (E. King, R. Van Zant, B. Powell) – 4:33