John Townes Van Zandt (March 7, 1944 – January 1, 1997), best known as Townes Van Zandt, was a country-folk music singer-songwriter, performer, and poet. Many of his songs, including "If I Needed You," "To Live's to Fly," and "No Place to Fall" are considered standards of their genre. AllMusic has called him "one of the greatest country and folk artists of his generation."
While alive, Van Zandt was labeled as a cult musician: though he had a small and devoted fanbase, he never had a successful album or single, and even had difficulty keeping his recordings in print. In 1983, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard covered his song "Pancho and Lefty", scoring a number one hit on the Billboard country music charts. Despite achievements like these, the bulk of his life was spent touring various dive bars, often living in cheap motel rooms, backwoods cabins and on friends' couches. Van Zandt was notorious for his drug addictions, alcoholism, and his tendency to tell tall tales.
Van Zandt died on New Years Day 1997 from health issues stemming from years of substance abuse. The 2000s saw a resurgence of interest in Van Zandt. During the decade, two books, a documentary film and a number of magazine articles about the singer were created. Van Zandt's music has been covered by such notable and varied musicians as Bob Dylan, Norah Jones, and The Meat Puppets.
Townes Van Zandt was born in Fort Worth, Texas to an oil-wealthy family. He was the third-great-grandson of Isaac Van Zandt, a prominent leader of the Republic of Texas and one of the founders of Fort Worth. Van Zandt County in east Texas was named after his family in 1848. Townes' parents were Harris Williams Van Zandt (1913 - 1966) and Dorothy Townes (? - 1983). He had two siblings, Bill and Donna. Harris was a corporate lawyer, and his career required the family to move several times during the 1950s and 1960s. In 1952, the family transplanted from Fort Worth to...