|Singer Townes Van Zandt dies at 52|
NASHVILLE, Tenn. Singer Townes Van Zandt, who wrote the country hits If I Needed You and Pancho and Lefty and gained a cult following for his blues-inspired recordings about lifes losers, has died. He was 52.
Van Zandt had returned to his Smyrna home to recuperate from hip surgery last week. He died Wednesday night of an apparent heart attack with friends and family nearby.
His young daughter, Katie Belle, came running in and said, Daddys having a fight with his heart, said Beverly Paul, a Sugar Hill Records spokeswoman. They rushed into the room and Townes was already gone.
The gaunt Texas native began releasing albums in 1968, becoming one of a hard-living group of folk troubadours in that state that included Guy Clark, Jerry Jeff Walker and Mickey Newberry.
While he was the son of a prominent oil family, his songs often told stories of prostitutes, bums, gamblers and other losers. But he said he wasnt always so somber as the desperate people who lived in his lyrics.
I have a lot of heavy-duty songs, he said in a 1996 interview. Ive always thought if you took enough of them or any particular one seriously enough if you took it seriously enough, youd be in trouble.
In the song A Song For, Van Zandt wrote,
Theres nowhere left in this world where to go
My arms, my legs theyre a tremblin
Thoughts both clouded and blue as the sky
Not even worth the rememberin.
Don Williams and Emmylou Harris had a hit with If I Needed You, which reached No. 3 on the country charts in 1982, and Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard teamed up the following year on a version of Pancho and Lefty that reached No. 1. Harris also recorded Pancho and Lefty.
Van Zandt himself never had a hit as a singer, but released a series of albums on independent record labels like Tomato, Poppy and Sugar Hill. His most recent was No Deeper Blue, in 1994.
He did not try to mold his talents for mass market success, preferring to emulate the bluesmen he grew up admiring, especially Lightnin Hopkins.
Latter-day artists like Steve Earle, Hal Ketchum, Robert Earl Keen, the Cowboy Junkies and Rodney Crowell all cited the influence of Van Zandt.
On the liner notes for Van Zandts 1987 album At My Window, Earle wrote: Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world and Ill stand on Bob Dylans coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that.
© 1996 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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