Townes Tales # 61 (From  The Mosquito Diaries: My Adventures With Townes Van Zandt)

Townes Van Zandt Camper Van Blues: 

This is a ROAD SONG! It’s a true story with all the sordid details left in so the listener can better understand what it was like to be on the road with Townes. Being on the road with Townes was like being on the road with the French poet Arthur Rimbaud. Townes was every bit as  brilliant a poet as Rimbaud was and he didn't play by the rules and neither did we so there wasn't the strictures of the phony  "music biz" to get in the way and it only served to heighten the drama. As beautiful as poetry is, being a poet isn’t always pretty! I wrote the song in June of 2005 or I should say it came back to me in a flash 28 years later! TVZ Camper Van Blues chronicles a road trip with TVZ in my ‘71 VW camper van from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia with an overnighter for a show with George Thorogood in New Hope PA and finally ending up at the Main Point in Bryn mar PA. Townes told me that George agreed to do the job for NOTHING just for the privlage of being on the some bill with Townes that’s how much he admired TVZ.  After it was over Townes always referred to it as: “A BLOCKBUSTER of a road trip” and it WAS!!!! We were a band of Gypsy’s. Me and my friends Dennis, Roundman,Twilight (that wasn’t her real name - Townes gave her that name) and Townes. We were all musicians (except Twilight) and we all kind of fused together as a unit. The VW camper played  a big role too. Townes really like it. It was equipped with a dinette and a refrigerator and stove, sink and pop-top. It was loaded, the full deluxe model. He kept talking about how his friends Guy and Susana Clark used to have one and how cool it was. Finally, I should also tell you we were going pretty heavy on the sauce. In true Townes Van Zandt tradition we were on the hooey the whole way! I mean Charles Bukowski would have been proud of us!  I’m a songwriter and the way I saw things me and Townes were colleagues. He listened to my stuff and was impressed. He especially liked MEXICO and PANAMA. (Townes liked to joke with me that I was a "Country" singer!) (He also told me that he did the same thing in his songwriting, "continued themes like I was doing") He kept asking me to sing MEXICO throughout the road trip and we all sang on the chorus. It became our sound track for the trip. As far as the drinking was concerned me and my friends didn’t need any coaching from Townes in that department. We were all existential space cowboys down in the same groove. This is an abbreviated encapsulation of the journey at best but you get the idea. There’s lots more to the story but the song will have to do for now. Looking back on this after all these years makes me wonder. Maybe that's why I've been singing TVZ's "Waiting Around To Die" for nearly thrity years....


PS Nobody knows who Twilight was or where she came from. Maybe Townes magically conjured her up for the trip?
PPS A note about the recording. When the urge hit me I just ran up to my little attic studio and flipped on the Adat and recorded it in one pass as it came out of my head. I figured it would serve as a demo and I’d refine it and work on it but that never happened. I would like to have recorded it with acoustic bass and mandolin and violin but those guys never showed up. Or better still with George Thorogood blowin' down some bad blues licks! In lieu of that me and  my friend Heather worked to add some keyboards and bass and it is what it is. (But I would still like to rerecord it someday to give it a Mississippi dirt road feel)  I’m not trying to win a Grammy just tell a story. Music is Alchemy!

Townes Van Zandt Camper Van Blues (circa 1977)
(flight of the jabberwockies)

Flyin' down the road in my camper van
Dennis is counting cash and were crossing the land
Townes is at the wheel wearin' my cowboy hat 
Twilight and Roundman were sleeping in the back

Midnight on La Clair Street and we had a good time
We left John in the Burgh looking for some coke
And I was passed out 'cause I drank too much wine

I’ve got the Townes Van Zandt Camper Van Blues

We were heading East through the Pa hills 
Had to get to New Hope cause we were on the bill
We stopped in Carlyle just to take a whiz
Being on the road keeps free and clean 
Now I think I know what those words really mean

I’ve got the Townes Van Zandt Camper Van Blues

We rolled into town we’d come pretty far
Slept in the train yard I slept the club car
Riding down main street in the little camper van 
Pop-top was up and we were going real slow 
Everybody looked real strange singing old Mexico

I’ve got the Townes Van Zandt Camper Van Blues

It was George Thorogood who opened the show
A real nice guy with his friends in tow
We all watched but what happened next nobody knows
The Roundman got rowdy and Twilight started to glow
A fan had a party and we trashed that place
Bagged his cigarettes and food and we made our escape
Down the road radio was playing Nothin' as we checked into Ho Jo's

I’ve got the Townes Van Zandt Camper Van Blues

No time to hang around no time to say goodbye
Back on the road another town and another show 
But I remember those days so long ago
Flying down the road in my camper van 
Singing that song about ol' Mexico, ol Mexico

Words and Music by: Frenchy Burrito Copyright 2006 Red Banana Music BMI 

MANNS HOTEL PERFORMANCE (Frenchy & Townes sing Hank in 500 words or less)

One of the two times Townes was in Pittsburgh, my long time friend the late Rodd Willings was playing a gig at a place called Manns Hotel out near McKeesport PA. Back in the old days Manns was a stagecoach / Pony Express stop on the way out to the wild west. In the 1977 when Rodd was playing there in The Lighting Bar Blues Band, Mann’s had gone from a Stagecoach stop to biker bar. A rough place. Rodd new I was hanging with Townes while he was in town and he suggested that I bring TVZ out to the gig after he finished his show at Antoninos. I think that was the time Tracey Nelson was in town. Townes and Tracy were on the bill together. TVZ did his show and I told him about the Manns Hotel thing. The first thing Townes wanted to know was, was it safe? I told him I thought it would be all right and since by the time we got there (because of the distance we had to drive and how late it would be when he was finished with his show) we would probably just make it at the tale end of the last set. TVZ agreed to go. We hopped in Roundmans Chevy and headed for Manns. By the time we arrived it was late. And from all the Harleys parked in the lot it was a packed house. Townes was a little apprehensive about going in. He seemed a little scared and from the looks of the place who wouldn’t be. He stuck close to me and we went in just in time for the last set. Rodd spotted us come in and quickly motioned Townes to the stage. Townes grabed a guitar and lit into a rousing version of “Who Do You Love“. Roundman was all wired up and was dancing on top of a table! After Townes finished “Who Do You Love” I joined them onstage and went right into the Hank Williams song, “Mind Your Own Business” with me and TVZ exchanging verses. After only doing those two songs Townes wanted to get going so he could get back to the Webster Hall Hotel and we got out of there while we still could. The Lighting Bar Band was launching into their big closer "Tire Iron Boggie" as we made our escape just in time! I don’t think I’ll ever forget singing “Mind Your Own Business” with Townes at Manns Hotel. “Who Do You Love” interestingly turned up on TVZ‘s “Flyin’ Shoes” album not long after that. 

Note: Check out the movie Be Here To Love Me by director Margaret Brown and the book, "To Lives's To Fly" (The Ballad Of The Late Great Townes Van Zandt) by John Kruth.


(Excerpt from Frenchy’s unfinished chronicle of his days spent with poet/songwriter Townes Van Zandt)

Copyright 1999 & 2006 Frenchy Burrito all rights reserved

to be continued...


Frenchy, Townes, Mike, Twilight circa 1977
Townes in the cabin Franklin, TN circa 1979. photo by: Frenchy Burrito
My Adventures With Townes Van Zandt / Mosquitoe Diaries