Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version



Great Plains Quarterly 29(4), Fall 2009, pp. 339-340


Copyright 2009, Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska- Lincoln


Townes Van Zandt was a founding member of the modern Texas singer-songwriter tradition and influenced or played with everyone from Bob Dylan to Norah Jones. His spare, evocative lyrics, coupled with his beautiful, articulate guitar playing, developed a particularly loyal and eclectic fan base. His songs have been covered most famously by Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Emmylou Harris, but also by a host of great and lesser-known performers. He was a major influence on the "Outlaw" Country movement.

Van Zandt wrestled with inner demons. His eccentricities, mental illness, and the resulting heavy substance abuse, combined with often poorly produced studio albums, ensured that his fame was never as great as his talent. His influence and his legend continued to grow after his death on January 1, 1997, forty-four years to the day after the death of his hero Hank Williams.

Ten years passed before a biography of Van Zandt appeared. Musician, writer, poet and professor of music at Manhattan College and the College of Mount St. Vincent, John Kruth published To Live's to Fly in 2007. In addition to a biography of jazz musician Rahsaan Roland Kirk, he has also written for the New York Times and Rolling Stone.