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.
His influence has been cited by countless artists across multiple genres, and his music has been recorded or performed by Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett, Merle Haggard, Norah Jones, Emmylou Harris, Counting Crows, Steve Earle, Robert Earl Keen Jr., Nanci Griffith, Guy Clark, Wade Bowen, Gillian Welch, Pat Green, Colter Wall, Jason Isbell, Calvin Russell, Natalie Maines, and Frank Turner.