Townes Van Zandt’s Son JT Channels His Late Father’s Artistry Into Fly Fishing

Townes Van Zandt
JT Van Zandt

March 7 marked what would have been the 80th birthday of one of the greatest songwriters of all time, the late Townes Van Zandt.

If that name doesn’t ring a bell to you, perhaps at least the song “Pancho and Lefty” does, a Townes Van Zandt original that reached the top spot on the country charts in 1983 as a duet between Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, and has also been recorded over the years by the likes of Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Jason Isbell, and many more.

His legacy is much, much larger than his biggest hits, though, as Townes’ dedication to the art of songwriting throughout his life, and the mastery he achieved before his death in 1997, inspired many of his contemporaries and countless aspiring songwriters that have followed. Chances are, Townes Van Zandt is your favorite songwriter’s favorite songwriter, or is at least near the top of their list.

Born John Townes Van Zandt in Fort Worth, TX on March 7 in 1944, he received his first guitar at 12 years old, and initially inspired by the stardom of Elvis Presley, became nearly inseparable form the instrument.

Townes lived a relatively normal childhood, but a rebellious side began to emerge during his high school years, and while he was incredibly smart and successful in school when applying himself, he often was more interested in practicing guitar and experimenting with vices that would ultimately take over his life, developing addictions in his early adulthood that lasted the duration of his 52 years.

Deeply inspired by the natural world and the personalities, relationships, and experiences of the characters in his life, Townes had an uncanny knack for songwriting, and was able to exude emotion through lyricism in a way few artists before him, or after him, have been able to mimic. With a painfully sorrowful disposition stemming from certain traumatic experiences, crippling addiction, and fervid empathy for others, his music often takes on a somber tune and covers heavy material.

But above all else Townes Van Zandt was an artist, a creative who expressed himself through song and dedicated his life to doing so authentically, mastering his craft as a traveling folk songwriter who is revered by many to be one of the greatest to ever do it.

I could go on and on about the life of Townes Van Zandt. The truth is, the more you know about his story, the more you are able to appreciate his music, so I highly recommend digging in more if you feel compelled to do so. But for the sake of relative brevity here, I’ll leave it at that, because while the context is necessary, the true point of this is to bring attention to an awesome Instagram post Townes’ first child, John Townes ‘JT’ Van Zandt II, made to his Instagram in commemoration of what would have been his father’s 80th birthday last week.

JT, an artist in his own right, has dedicated his life not to songwriting or painting, but to mastering the art of fly fishing. For anyone familiar with the sport, it’s obvious that fly casting is a true art form that is difficult to master, but when perfected, it is a fluid, poetic motion that can require intense focus and an unassuming degree of creativity.

A career fly fisherman, it took JT a while to figure out just how he was carrying on his father’s artistic legacy, but his eventual revelation took a weight off of his shoulders and allowed him to approach his craft in a different light.

Check out JT’s post here:

“My Dad would have been 80 years old today. He died at 52 when I was 28. I’m turning 55 this year. Hard to connect the dots between then and now, but I think of him and his songs every day, along with his sorrow.

I grew up around a bunch of hippie cowboys, complete losers and a few serious artists who cared only about their craft and worked really hard at it. No one wanted fame or recognition for the fear it would spoil the well. Getting attention usually meant that you were in serious trouble. I knew at a young age that I wasn’t a true artist, at least not on the level that my father was. That left me lost for a bit, but then fly fishing!

I approached fly casting with all the unwritten poetry and rhythm in my veins that I couldn’t express in words or music and thus poured it all into the art of presentation. I was totally obsessed with the beauty of  fly casting and I still it that way now 35 years in. It’s just so damn cool! The key of fulfillment is finding the passion and discipline required to become really good at something.

Anything worthwhile is a lifetime pursuit. I learned that from my father. Happy Birthday Dad, I’m thinking of you and I’m proud to be your son.”

What a message, from son to late father, proving that Townes Van Zandt’s legacy isn’t only an inspiration to songwriters, but to artists of all forms who approach there art in an altruistic manner and strive to be the best they can be for the sake of their craft.

If you’re into fly fishing, I highly recommend giving JT, a career guide on the Texas coast, a follow. His fishing endeavors have brought him to some pretty amazing places and face to face with some beautiful fish, and the spirit with which he approaches the sport is admirably reminiscent of his father’s dedicated approach to songwriting.

Otherwise, make sure to work a healthy amount of Townes Van Zandt into you’re musical rotation. It’s good for the soul.

“Mr. Mudd & Gold”

“To Live Is To Fly”

“Fare Thee Well, Miss Carousel”

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock