about-townes: Seeing Townes for the first time ... 
          Wed, 26 Feb 1997 14:45:16 +0100
          Glenn Christmas 


I first heard Townes back in 1968 or '69 when I was working as a DJ in
Stockton, California.  The programing director was sick one day and I took
delivery of the new batch of albums.  Along with Jethro Tull, Frank Zappa,
Quicksliver Messenger Service, and a Richard Pryor comedy album, there was
this album with some guy in a cowboy hat on the cover.  The title was "Our
Mother The Mountain" on Poppy Records.

The title "Snake Mountain Blues" intrigued me so I fired up the turntable and
set the tone arm on to this cut.  I was not prepared for what I was about to

The tiny, cramped studio in which I was sitting may have been small in size
but it had state of the art JBL Studio speakers and an amp that could have
provided enough power for a mid-size Mid-Western town.  Unbeknownst to me, the
person who had used that room before me had been listening to Jimi Hendrix at
ear splitting volume.  Fortunately the room was so acoustically dampened that
no matter how loud it was inside, anyone passing by would hear only the sound
of their own footsteps.

I hadn't bothered to check the sound level before putting on "Snake Mountain
Blues" so when it began I was almost knocked to the floor with the ghostly
picking of a guitar and bass.  Wild and untamed and darn near shredding the
speaker cones.  You could even hear the hammering of the picks on the face of
the guitar. Then came this voice.  I didn't hear it. I didn't feel it.  It
came not from the speakers, but from within my oun body.  It was as if the
singer was inside me and trying to claw his way out.  I wanted to cover my
ears before they started bleeding but I could barely raise my arms.

I was trapped in my stool and being lashed by the steel strings some seedy
madman was torturing.  I gasped for breath but the air was too thick to
breath. I clawed like a castrated rottweiler to hit the mute switch on the
control panel but whenever I extended my arms this shaman, this mad man, hit
me down, kicked me in the gut and jerked me back up and down in my seat.  I
wanted to rip open my skin and let him flee but his singing was only becoming
more and more madding!

After an eternity of this pain devouring me inside out came the last gasp
yodel of Jimmie Rodgers ghost screeching, "Snáke Mountain Bluuuuuueeesssssss"
and a few spasmodic jerks later it was over.  I had no idea where I was and no
idea where I had been.  All I knew is I wasn't where I was before and I
couldn't go back again.

I took the album home with me that night and played it over and over and over.
 Even now, as I write this, almost THIRTY years later, I am still listening to
it over and over and over.  "Our Mother The Mountain" is my second favorite
album of all time.  Only Van Morrison's "Astral Weeks" ranks higher (and then
only by a few microns).  My favorite song is on "Our Mother The Mountain";
"Second Lovers Song".

I was fortunate enough to see Townes perform a number times.  The first was in
Los Angeles in late '69 or early '70 at the Whisky A-Go-Go of all places.  I
had arrived early with my wife for his first set anticipating hordes of
people.  There were less than ten.  Townes strolled out on the stage and
quipped that he was just the warm up act for Johnny Rivers.  He started to
play some tune on his guitar but the sound in the empty room must have seemed
as lonely to him as it did to us in the audience.  He turned off the
microphone and walked down to the floor.  He pulled up a chair next to my wife
and beckoned for everyone to gather 'round.  Everyone was already pretty much
gathered 'round anyway but we just packed in tighter.

For the next hour and a half or so we sat there in a circle like a bunch of
weary cow-punchers at the end of a long drive listening to Townes strip away
first his own and eventually our foibles and fears and façades.  We had become
one, the ten of us and this thin man with his shy smile and corny, corn ball

He paused to take a drink and asked my wife to hold his guitar please.  She
took it and after a grin from Townes she began to pick the chords to the
Peter, Paul and Mary song (written by John Denver), "Leaving On A Jet Plane". 
Townes threw a look at her and she almost stopped but when he burst out
laughing (well, burst out for Townes anyway) she kept on and everyone joined
in for a sing-a-long.  Surprisingly (or not surprisingly) Townes knew all the
words.  When she had finished Townes asked me if I had a request.  I have no
idea what possesed me but I wanted to hear "The Ballad of Davy Crockett". 
(You know the song; "Born on a mountain top in Tennessee, the greenest state
in the land of the free..").

Townes motioned for my wife to set the guitar down and he began to clap the
rhythm to "Davy".  We all joined in clapping and Townes and I sang the whole
darn song all the way through!!  He didn't know all the words of the third
verse (Went off to Washington to serve a spell..) but he knew all the rest and
sang it with such, dare I say, gusto!!  It was one of the great evenings of my

(A few years later I was in Las Vegas in the winter when a blizzard blew in to
town.  Snow was knee deep on the streets.  You could walk through almost any
casino and hear yourself think.  B. B. King was playing a lounge act and in
fact that was why I was in Vegas, to see him.  When he came on stage with his
band to play there were six - 6 - of us in the seats.  He could have walked
off then and there, but he gave one of the most exciting shows I have ever,
ever heard in my life.  Even thinking of it excites me to this day.  The
thrill is not gone.)

I saw Townes all over the country.  Texas, Wisconsin (or was it Michigan),
Oklahoma, various places in California and for the last time in Seattle around
'84 or so.  Each and every time I saw him it was great.  Not a flawed show. 
Ever.  Not ever.