Music Monday: Townes van Zandt and The Rolling Stones

Shazam to the rescue once again.

I was walking through a store the other day, and the song playing over the speakers caught my attention. Since I didn’t recognize it, it was time to fire up my Shazam app, and within a couple of seconds, I discovered the song was Dead Flowers, performed by Townes van Zandt.

I’ve heard of Townes before, but really can’t admit to knowing any of his music, but this was good. Here’s the song:

So I thought it was time to learn a little about Townes, so I headed over to Wikipedia; here’s what it had to say:

John Townes Van Zandt (March 7, 1944 – January 1, 1997) was an American singer-songwriter. He wrote numerous songs, such as “Pancho and Lefty”, “For the Sake of the Song”, “Tecumseh Valley”, “Rex’s Blues”, and “To Live Is to Fly”, that are widely considered masterpieces of American songwriting. His musical style has often been described as melancholy and features rich, poetic lyrics. During his early years, Van Zandt was respected for his guitar playing and fingerpicking ability. In 1983, six years after Emmylou Harris had first popularized it, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard covered his song “Pancho and Lefty”, reaching number one on the Billboard country music chart.. Much of Van Zandt’s life was spent touring various dive bars, often living in cheap motel rooms and backwood cabins. For much of the 1970s, he lived in a simple shack without electricity or a telephone.

He sounds like an interesting guy, who lived for his music, and not fame and fortune.

As it turns out, the song Dead Flowers was not written by Townes, but by the Rolling Stones. I’ll share their version at the end, but before I do, I thought I’d share one of Townes’ own songs, Pancho and Lefty:

Something about him reminds me a bit of John Prine.

And finally here’s the Stones singing Dead Flowers:

I think I’ll go with the Townes version…

*image from Wide Open Country

49 thoughts on “Music Monday: Townes van Zandt and The Rolling Stones

  1. Not really my genre. I like some of the modern country music, but this is a little too twangy for me. I need to get that app and try it out.

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  2. I loved this. I was not aware of the background to Pancho and Lefty, or this songwriter. Sounds to me like he barely scratched out a living. However, I checked out the wiki article myself, and it appears he had substance abuse problems, which is what eventually killed him. So maybe he made a lot of money, but was blowing it on drugs. What a sad life for someone with such great talent.

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  3. I didn’t recognize the song until the Little Suzy part. The two versions of the song are so different. Townes is a great guitar player and songwriter but not much of a singer. Sad that he passed at an early age.

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  4. thanks for enlightening me about townes, and it sounds like he was one of those special people, always kind of living on the fringe of life. i like his version better as well

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  5. I had not heard of Townes, he could certainly play the guitar but I am a Stones fan and prefer their version…I am not a great country fan I don’t mind some of the newer ones…However…The Stones win this one for me 🙂 x

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  6. For once I’m going to disagree with you: I think Townes was better with his own songs, and much prefer the Stones version of this one. There’s a great cover of Pancho by EmmyLou Harris, and another by Steve Earle on his tribute album, ‘Townes.’ By amazing coincidence, I’ve just posted another Stones song from that same concert 😊

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    1. The Stones version is good; I just like the country sound that Townes brings to it.

      just listened to the EmmyLou version – she makes every song sound great..

      and the Steve Earle version was great as well – you had made me aware of him last year, and this is another example of his talent…

      by the way, what do you think of Paul McCartney’s comments about the Stones as just being a blues cover band?

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      1. The Stones’ live version is a bit heavier than the one on the record – Jagger and Richards were friends with Gram Parsons, who got them interested in country music, and there is a country feel to several of their songs, this one included. GP, by the way, was EmmyLou’s boyfriend. She does indeed make everything sound great, and Steve Earle cited Townes as one of his main influences, hence the tribute album.

        I saw that comment, and wasn’t sure if he was being serious – without the context it’s hard to be sure. I think the fact that the Stones are still making great music nearly sixty years on, and the Beatles stopped after eight years of recording, rather speaks for itself as an answer if he did mean it. They were friends, so I hope not!

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      2. Gram Parsons is another artist I have heard a lot about, but I really do not know any of his music.

        I am hoping it’s just a friendly little competition between McCartney and the Stones…

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      3. GP is credited with being the man who led the creation of country rock. Was briefly in The Byrds, the main influence behind their Sweetheart Of The Rodeo album, then made a couple of solo albums before his death at 26. His duet with EmmyLou on Love Hurts is heart rendingly beautiful.

        I suspect it was a joke. You can see how moved he was in his tribute to Charlie Watts, the bands had been friends since way back when and that’s the little bit of mickey taking you’d expect after all that time.

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      4. Another of those taken by addictions and the lifestyle. His death had a strange after story – it was made into a movie, Grand Theft Parsons. Some have slated it but I enjoyed it – the black humour fitted the situation well.

        I bet those two could tell a few stories!

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  7. Thanks for sharing Jim! I always enjoy learning about a music artist, who is new to my ears. I agree with your thoughts about “Dead Flowers.” Townes’ version is more genuine to its musical roots. My wife and I use her Shazam app a great deal in the car.

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    1. I was not familiar with that song, but I just listened to it. Beautiful. I then watched a duet with Nanci and Townes performing this song. Thanks for the suggestion…

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