No. 69 (Winter 2017)
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Since he released his first album in 1968, and especially since his death in 1997, Townes Van Zandt has been a prototypical cult figure. Though his songs have been recorded by the likes of Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle and the Cowboy Junkies, Van Zandt never sold many records himself, and he battled addiction and depression for decades. His songs, at once lyrical and unsentimental, depicted love, and life itself, as experiences to be enjoyed free from all (inevitably disappointed) expectations. In the world of literate songwriting, to announce yourself as one of Van Zandt’s fans helps establish your critical discernment — and, by implication, indicts an undiscerning public that allowed a genius to die essentially unknown. In this remembrance of Van Zandt, Geoffrey Himes imagines a different career arc for the singer-songwriter and poet, and provides commentary on his 10 best songs, including “Pancho and Lefty,” “If I Needed You,” “To Live Is To Fly” and “Tecumseh Valley.”
It’s difficult to believe Delbert McClinton has been performing and writing songs for more than 50 years. It was in 1959 that the bluesman had his first single in Fort Worth, under the name Mac Clinton. In the early ’60s, McClinton hooked up with the Straitjackets and later created the Ron-Dels and Delbert and Glen. He played harmonica on Bruce Channel’s 1962 No. 1 pop hit, “Hey, Baby,” and worked his way through the rest of the ’60s and ’70s, moving to Austin, where, despite his brief stay, he made an impact on the local scene. But that’s just half the story.
No one was more surprised than Shawnee Kilgore to receive notice that a Hollywood writer and director, Joss Whedon, had donated $1,000 to her Kickstarter campaign. “Wait,” she texted a friend, “who is that again?” Turns out Whedon is a Hollywood heavyweight, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, co-writer of Toy Story, writer and director of The Avengers … and, Kilgore would soon find, a part-time lyric writer. Thus began an intriguing collaboration that resulted, ultimately, in a new album, Back to Eden, the latest installment in Kilgore’s promising career.
Q & A: Robert Earl Keen
Spotlight: Sweet Spirit
Spotlight: Frog Hair
Texas Tales: Tejano Idol
Pioneers: Ella Mae Morse
Story Behind The Song: Charles Brown
Book Reviews: Guy Clark
Plus: album reviews, festival calendar and much more