Rock Cesario Column May 22, 2009

New Steve Earle CD prompts memories of GJ concert in ’91

Back in 1991, fewer than 200 folks, including myself, were treated to what is still one of my all-time favorite concerts.

My friend and former classmate, Ron Wilson of Sandstone Concerts fame, put together an incredible show featuring three Texas singer/songwriters and brought them to what was then the Hilton Hotel (it’s now the DoubleTree).

The show was outdoors and featured a young Robert Earl Keen, who was just getting started with his career, and two popular and well-established singer/songwriters in Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt.

If you could put those three together now, Avalon Theatre would not be big enough to hold them!

Thanks to Ron, I had the opportunity to spend some time with each of the three artists.
Triple Play Records then was only a couple of years old, and it was one of the first times I had ever met any singer/songwriter.

It was a real thrill to meet all three of them. Each was very cordial, but it was Van Zandt who made the biggest impression on me. He told a hysterically funny story about writing his most famous song, “Pancho and Lefty,” After the show, when I had a chance to talk to him one-on-one, he was very accommodating.

I only wish I had taken a tape recorder for when I was talking to each of them, especially Townes, who passed away in 1997 at the too-young age of 52.

Of course, I acquired autographs from all three, and on the “At My Window” LP from 1987 that Townes signed, there was a sticker with a quote from Steve Earle, another up-and-coming singer/songwriter at that time.

“Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the world and I’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in my cowboy boots and yell that,” Earle said.

Now, flash forward to last week, when Earle released his new CD, an ultimate tribute to his
hero Van Zandt. It’s titled “Townes.”

Earle recorded this new CD in the same style as his last, the great “Washington Square Serenade,” in the sense that it is a tribute to many different kinds of folk music styles as well as a tribute to Earle’s idol.

“Townes” opens with “Pancho and Lefty,” a song covered more than 150 times by the likes of Emmylou Harris, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Rodney Crowell, Delbert McClinton and Hoyt Axton.

Earle does a great job with it, but in my opinion Harris’ version from 1977 is the quintessential version.

There are 15 tracks on “Townes,” with classic tunes such as “White Freightliner Blues,” “Delta Momma Blues,” “Lungs,” “Loretta” and “To Live is To Fly,” as well as some not so well-known songs handpicked by Earle.

On the CD, Earle is joined by Tim O’Brien on mandolin, Darrell Scott on banjo and Shad Cobb on violin. For a limited time, there is a version available with a bonus CD featuring just Earle and his guitar performing incredible solo versions of 11 of the songs on the first CD.

It was a great way to showcase the legacy of a legendary singer/songwriter who is no longer with us, by another great singer/songwriter whose legacy grows with every new release.

Rock Cesario owns Triple Play Records, 530 Main St., and hosts “Acoustic Sunday” from 9 a.m. to noon Sunday on Drive 105.3 FM. E-mail him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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