“Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world and I’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that” – Steve Earle
His story is of a small and devoted fanbase while alive with little success sales-wise. He was notorious for not promoting himself and had issues with substance abuse. His most famous song “Pancho and Lefty” was recorded by Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Emmylou Harris, leading to a number one hit on the Billboard country music.
Van Zandt died on New Years Day 1997. Renewed interest in his body of work surfaced in the 2000’s. Two books and a gripping documentary film (Be Here To Love Me) have now been released. According to Wikipedia, Van Zandt’s music has been covered (in addition to Nelson, Haggard and Harris) by Bob Dylan, Nanci Griffith, Norah Jones, Lyle Lovett, Steve Earle, Cowboy Junkies, Wade Bowen, Guy Clark, Andrew Bird, Robert Plant, Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch, Laura Marling, The Avett Brothers, Frank Turner and Devendra Banhart.
If you want a taste of his best songs, try this for size. American Songwriter magazine has listed his top twenty songs and you can listen to each one as you go.