The Best Songs: Tecumseh Valley by Townes Van Zandt

The Best Songs: Tecumseh Valley by Townes Van Zandt

I first heard this song when Emmylou Harris sang it, then I heard Nanci Griffith’s version on the album, Other voices other rooms. Great interpretations both of them. It made me seek out Townes Van Zandt’s versions, they’re even better!

John Townes Van Zandt I (March 7, 1944 – January 1, 1997), best known as Townes Van Zandt, was an American singer-songwriter. Many of his songs, including “If I Needed You” and “To Live Is to Fly”, are considered standards of their genre.

While alive, Van Zandt had a small and devoted fanbase, but he never had a successful album or single and even had difficulty keeping his recordings in print. In 1983, six years after Emmylou Harris had first popularized it, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard covered his song “Pancho and Lefty,” scoring a number one hit on the Billboard country music charts. Despite achievements like these, the bulk of his life was spent touring various dive bars, often living in cheap motel rooms, backwoods cabins, and on friends’ couches. Van Zandt was notorious for his drug addictions, alcoholism, and his tendency to tell tall tales. (Wikipedia)

Early version from the album, For the sake of the song:

Late version (more like the one on Our Mother The Mountain):

It was first released in 1968 on the album, For the sake of the song, then in a better version on Our Mother the Mountain,  but the ultimate version for me is the one on the live album, At the Old Quarter, Huston, Texas,  released in 1977.  It has since been released on several albums, both official and bootlegs.

Live At the Old Quarter version:


The name she gave was Caroline
Daughter of a miner
And her ways were free
It seemed to me
The sunshine walked beside her

She came from Spencer
Across the hill
She said her Pa had sent her
‘Cause the coal was low
And soon the snow
Would turn the skies to winter

She said she’d come
To look for work
She was not seeking favors
And for a dime a day
And a place to stay
She’d turn those hands to labor

But the times were hard Lord
The jobs were few
All through Tecumseh Valley
But she asked around
And a job she found
Tending bar at Gypsy Sally’s

She saved enough to get back home
When spring replaced the winter
But her dreams were denied
Her Pa had died
The word came down from Spencer

So she turned to whorin’ out on the streets
With all the lust inside her
And it was many a man
Returned again
To lay himself beside her

They found her down beneath the stairs
That led to Gypsy Sally’s
In her hand when she died
Was a note cried
Fare thee well … Tecumseh Valley

Finally a very good duet between Townes and Nanci:

One of the best songs ever!


– Hallgeir