Townes Van Zandt (March 7, 1944 – January 1, 1997), was a critically acclaimed American singer-songwriter.Much of Van Zandt’s musical canon—songs such as "Pancho and Lefty", "For the Sake of the Song", "Tecumseh Valley", "Rex's Blues", and "To Live is to Fly"—are widely considered masterpieces of American folk music. His musical style is often described as melancholy in sound and delivery with rich and poetic lyrics. During his early years, Van Zandt was widely 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 backwoods cabins. For much of the 1970s, he lived in a simple shack without electricity or a phone.
His influence has been cited by countless artists across multiple genres, and his music has been recorded or performed by numerous artists, including Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Norah Jones, Counting Crows, Steve Earle, Robert Earl Keen Jr., Nanci Griffith, Guy Clark, Gillian Welch, Pat Green and Natalie Maines.
He suffered from a series of drug addictions and alcoholism, and was given a psychiatric diagnosis of bipolar disorder. When he was young, the now-discredited insulin shock therapy, erased much of his long-term memory.
Van Zandt died on New Year’s Day, 1997 from cardiac arrhythmia, caused by health problems stemming from years of substance abuse..