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Dead, Not Buried

Townes Van Zandt left behind great songs for people to fight over

"The catalog was a mess when we signed him," says Bug's Nashville-based vice president, Dave Durocher. "Then he died, and it got even more messy. It's been an ongoing process to get the licenses issued properly. Eggers isn't paying any mechanical royalties because he claims he owns the masters. He doesn't do the right thing with the publisher. Jeanene has been going after him for Tomato royalties for years. If it wasn't so messy, it'd be easier to talk about. Even after 15 years, it's not resolved."

Jeanene, who spent the '80s and '90s trying to dry out and clean up Townes, says she merely wants what is coming to her and her children -- especially William, whose lower torso was crushed a few years ago by a truck that backed over him. Living in Nashville, she says she has spent every day of the past several years chasing down what she believes belongs to her and the children, not to a man she insists swindled her late ex-husband out of his money and legacy.

"What I have is this little handful of recordings," she says. "I don't give a crap about the money. I want all his masters back. I don't care. We wanna get Townes back home to the people who love him and his career. We want to get Kevin null and void. I usually get up in the morning, get to the computer till I get tired and go to bed. Nobody pays me or anything. I do this for nothing. I do this for the family. I do this for Townes."

If Townes Van Zandt were alive today, even he might not know what belongs to him anymore.
Wood Newton
If Townes Van Zandt were alive today, even he might not know what belongs to him anymore.
Everyone says they're fighting for the sake of Van Zandt's songs. Are they really?
Wood Newton
Everyone says they're fighting for the sake of Van Zandt's songs. Are they really?

And she has been doing it for years, since well before Van Zandt died; letters from their Nashville-based attorney, Sawnie "Trip" Aldredge, to Eggers date back to October 1990. Their theme is always the same: Tell us how many albums you've sold. Tell us how much money you've made. Then give us the money and the master recordings you owe. Or else.

"There's a lot of animosity between Kevin and Jeanene, and it's not fair," Aldredge says. "I don't think it's fair on his part because it's not about Jeanene. She's the executrix of the estate, the mother of two of Townes's children. That's a mother's job, to get the money for the kids."

Aldredge began working with the Van Zandts in 1989, when Townes was negotiating with Eggers to record a fresh anthology of his old songs -- some duets with famous fans and songs with updated arrangements using modern technology. It was to serve as a reminder, of sorts. The songs were ultimately recorded, but only a few have been released as the album Texas Rain: The Texas Hill Country Recordings, featuring duets with Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Doug Sahm and others. Tomato issued the disc to critical acclaim in 2001 -- against Jeanene's wishes.

Aldredge says before Van Zandt would agree to make the collection, he wanted to clear things up with Eggers, who had first signed Van Zandt to his Poppy label, then its successor, Tomato. They came up with what is ominously referred to as the "get-even agreement."

Jeanene's and Eggers's accounts of this arrangement differ substantially. Jeanene says Eggers agreed to account for domestic and international sales. That, she insists, was the only way Van Zandt agreed to work with his old friend again. Eggers's take is just the opposite. He insists he agreed to wash his hands of the $400,000 he spent recording and distributing and promoting Van Zandt during their years together. Like all things in Townes Town, every explanation has a counterpart that is its exact, maddening opposite.

Only last week, Aldredge received a call from Nashville attorney Jay Bowen, who represents Eggers. Aldredge believed Bowen was calling to straighten out this sordid mess. "Maybe somebody, somewhere, is trying to make sense out of this all," Aldredge said not long after he got the call, which he had not returned before we spoke.

He will discover, if he hasn't already, that Bowen has been retained by Eggers not to straighten out issues of copyrights and royalties, but to straighten out Jeanene.

"He's put them on fuckin' notice to stop the slander, and also to challenge all their shit," Eggers says from New York City, where he has long lived in the Chelsea Hotel. "That's what he's doin'."

Eggers certainly doesn't act like a man trying to hide money, from Jeanene or anyone else. In recent years, Tomato has filed federal lawsuits in California district court to get the money and music he says others have swindled from him.

In 2001, Tomato Music Works sued Fuel 2000 Records, a subsidiary of music giant Universal, to stop the release of its double-disc Anthology: 1968-1979, which consists of 40 Van Zandt songs. Tomato insisted Universal had no rights to the recordings because they were already in the hands of another company that had reissue rights. Tomato claimed it had already struck a deal with a different North American distributor. Fuel 2000 countersued that year, stating in court documents that "this action presents an all-too-typical case of unscrupulous business tactics." Eggers denied that, and in the end, the case was settled, and Universal pulled Anthology from its catalog, though it's still available from Charly, as are dozens of other Van Zandt albums. That's why Eggers says he's getting ready to sue Charly in federal court; he insists Charly was supposed to release only three albums, not more.

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