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As a good friend of the late Townes Van Zandt and a decades-long friend of (and former longtime roadie for) Steve Earle, my former stepfather Chip Phillips has plenty of good tales from the old days, such as this one from about 1978 that he told me in 2009.
Back then Townes was living in the hills outside of Nashville in an unheated country shack with no running water at the end of two dirt roads. He shared this retreat with his red-haired teenage bride Cindy, his hyper-intelligent wolf-dog Geraldine, a cat, the hens Eenie, Meenie and Miney and the rooster Moe. Not to mention whatever guests would crash there on any given night.
413 20th St., Galveston
Galveston, TX 77550
Category: Music Venues
The 15th Anniversary Townes Van Zandt
Sunday, January 1, at the Old Quarter Acoustic Cafe, 413 20th Street, Galveston, 409-762-9199 or www.oldquarteracousticcafe.com.
Often enough it was Steve and Chip, as it was on the night this crazed tale took place. In the wee small hours, Townes made a grave announcement.
"Y'all are gonna have to shoot Moe," he told Chip and Steve. "He crows before dawn. I just can't take it any more."
"Townes, I can't do that, man," Chip said. "Plus, I know Cindy loves Moe."
"No, she's cool with it," Townes assured. "She's sick of getting woken up too. Plus, my cat just had kittens and I'm out of cat food. Moe will make a nice meal for her, and she needs one."
Chip and Steve agreed to take part in the murder of Moe, but only if Townes, who had one arm in a sling from a recent truck wreck, would be the actual triggerman.
"All right, here's what we'll do," Townes said. "Steve, you flush Moe out in the open. I'll prop the shotgun on the porch rail here and shoot him. Chip — you take this hatchet and give him the coup de grace."
Amazingly, the plan went off without a hitch, and soon enough, Moe was plucked and boiling in a pot on the wood-burning cook-stove.
Which is about when Cindy started to wake up, and Townes's trademark wicked, if hilarious, cruelty kicked in. He picked up one of Moe's claws, carried it over to the groggy Cindy and said, "Hey Cindy, Moe wants to say goodbye." He pulled Moe's tendons to make the gruesome claw look like it was waving.
Cindy shot awake, lunged for the shotgun at the side of the bed and chased the laughing Townes out into the gray dawn. Obviously, she hadn't been in on the plot after all.
Somehow, things calmed down a bit. Chip remembered that later that morning a journalist — he thinks it was Chet Flippo — had made the pilgrimage out to interview Townes. Townes was showing Flippo around his rural eden — "Here's my morning glories, here's the outhouse," and so on.
And then he comes to the henhouse. "We've got three hens — Eenie, Meenie and Miney," Townes said.
"Where's Moe?" asked the journalist.
"There ain't no Moe," Townes cracked.
"To this day," Chip insisted to me, "I think Townes concocted that whole horrible scene just to set that one-liner up."
Here's one from Houston freelance writer/man about town Igor Alexander. It took place at the West University Place home my uncle Joseph Lomax inherited from his parents John and Mimi Lomax. Townes was attending a party there:
"People were looking through Joseph's album collection and putting things on the turntable," recalls Alexander. "A lot of the albums were without their sleeves and covers. Finally, Townes knelt down on the floor and began to look through the albums, carefully selecting one and putting it reverently onto the turntable. My friend Hobart Taylor III was watching all of this with bated breath. What would the great man select for us to hear? The needle touched down onto the surface of the record and out through the speakers came — Zero Mostel's basso voice singing "If I Were a Rich Man" from Fiddler on the Roof."
Singing for Supper
And then there's this one from Jeff Liles, the manager of Dallas music/arts venue the Kessler Theater:
"Townes was very good friends with the late Roxy Gordon, an amazing poet and recording artist who lived on Oram Street in East Dallas during the mid-'80s. Roxy's house was at the corner of Oram and Matilda, right behind the old Poor David's Pub, a club where Townes would often perform. One evening my ex-girlfriend and I were walking home from dinner and we heard music coming from behind the screen door on Roxy's front porch. We were invited in for a beer, only to realize that it was Townes sitting in the corner doing the singing.
"It went on for a half hour or so, until Roxy got up and headed to the kitchen for more liquor. I seized that moment to jump up and follow him in there, then thank him profusely for letting us witness this impromptu concert happening in his living room. I will never forget the first words out of Roxy's mouth: 'Damn it, Jeff. Can you take him with you? He's been here a fuckin' week. He thinks all he has to do is sit there and sing every night and he can just stay here as long as he wants!'"
I was at the Old Quarter one night in 1974, when Townes and Rocky Hill were in there getting high upstairs. The police came up outside, and Townes and Rocky left quickly out the back. My girlfriend and I walked out the front door into a cloud of tear gas or whatever the cops were using to subdue a drunk on the sidewalk. I remember also Townes introducing Mickey White as "Egg" White, since he'd only been laid once!
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Anybody know/remember where the Old Quarter was?
Before my time and just curious...Google's not too helpful on this.
It was on the corner of Congress & Austin. Last time I checked, the building was still there--as a law office. It shows up on one of those 19th century "aerial views" of Houston.
Then, there's the Old Quarter in Galveston. http://www.oldquarteracousticc... (Hi, Wrecks!)
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Thanks for sharing the memory of Townes' "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" lyrics revelation. Only a true poet/word smith would catch that or find its alternative interpretation. It's deep and sweet!
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