The earliest known recordings by late Texas songwriting legend Townes Van Zandt have been unearthed and will be released as In the Beginning by Compadre Records on April 22nd.
The ten-song collection features demos recorded by Van Zandt in 1966 after fellow Texas songwriter Mickey Newbury urged him to move from the club circuit in Houston to Nashville. The songs on Beginning were recorded two years before the release of his first album, For the Sake of the Song (later retitled First Album). The songs, which feature Van Zandt both unaccompanied and backed by a band, were thought to be lost for years. His widow, Jeanene Van Zandt, said that he told her about the recordings, and while she had lyrics for the songs, the tapes weren't found until recently by Jack Clement, his first publisher and old friend.
The recordings capture Van Zandt just two years after he quit college to pursue what would become a romanticized thirty-year career as a hard-living, rambling, gambling poet and songwriter. Van Zandt died of a heart attack in 1997. His stark yet beautiful songs have made him a cult favorite in the Seventies and inspired his own and the subsequent generation of songwriters -- from country rock maverick Steve Earle to Emmylou Harris (who had a hit cover of Van Zandt's "If I Needed You") to the Cowboy Junkies, who toured with Van Zandt in the early Nineties.
"He influenced everything I do," Earle said last year. "Anytime I'm playing an acoustic guitar, it's real obvious how those he influenced my playing and my approach to songwriting and performing. Those guys made a huge imprint there, and I'll never escape it, and I don't really want to."
According to Junkies' guitarist/songwriter Michael Timmons, the band has been toying with the idea of covering an entire album of his songs. "The songs are so powerful lyrically that you can do them in a lot of different ways," he says. "The hard part is that there's so many songs to choose from with Townes. His ballads are beautiful."
While Van Zandt would occasionally recycle music in the late Sixties and early Seventies, recording songs in different formats for different albums, the ten songs on In the Beginning are largely represented for the first time on this collection, save "Waitin' for the Day," which appeared in a different format on an import-only Van Zandt box set.
In other Van Zandt news, reissues of four of his late Sixties/early Seventies recordings for Tomato Records -- 1968's For the Sake of the Song/First Album, 1969's Our Mother the Mountain, 1971's Delta Momma Blues and 1978's Flyin' Shoes -- are due later this winter.
Track listing for In the Beginning:
Black Widow Blues
Hunger Child Blues
Waitin' for the Day
Black Jack Mama
When Your Dream Lovers Die
Big Country Blues
Black Crow Blues