On Townes van Zandt’s guitar playing…
I find it interesting that Townes’ guitar playing is so rarely commented upon. I suppose it is because he was so often surrounded by a band of stellar musicians, or else because his songwriting was so absolutely stellar that you tend not to pay attention to his musicianship skills. Whatever, his solo acoustic album “Live at the Old Quarter”, recorded in Houston in 1974, is a MUST for all acoustic players.
Townes spent a lot of time listening to Lightnin’ Hopkins, and while I am not sure who his fingerpicking influences were, his guitar playing on that album is just super. Listen to White Freightliner Blues…OK we have all covered it at our gigs and perhaps we are tired of hearing it…but the tone he gets out of the pick is beautiful, his playing is very percussive for a solo guitar, and I don’t know how he manages to move his left hand pinky as accurately and quickly as he does…also his timing is spot on, and the audience is clapping and stomping along after two bars.
And listen to “Rex’s Blues” for an example of his fingerpicking. I have transcribed every single note and lick but I am still amazed at his phrasing and his awareness of which notes to play louder and which to lay back on. Pancho & Lefty, same thing…obviously a masterful Travis picker but he gets away from that an still stays in perfect time.
I would put “Live at the Old Quarter” up there with the “must” acoustic CDs to own, along with Dylan’s “Freewheelin”, Dwight Yoakam’s “Acoustic.net”, and Paul Simon’s “Paul Simon”…what are yours? Love to know!!!