A few of the producers we talked to said, “Well, you’re going to make it a lot easier on yourself and a lot more cost-effective if you do it that way.” But we really wanted to explore the idea of getting Townes more excited to have a band behind him. So, for the initial trip, we brought Townes in from Nashville just to meet the guys in Two Dollar Guitar; to go down to Easley and talk about what they would do, because no one was sure if Townes was even into the idea.
CATALANO: [Two Dollar Guitar] got interested in marrying their sound up with his, and Townes was excited about that. I don’t really know the mechanics of how the recording session got together, but I do know there was a lot of mutual admiration going on.
EGGERS: It was Steve’s idea to record at Easley. He had worked there before, and he really liked it. Townes was flattered that these younger cats wanted to play with him, and what they were doing sounded very cool.
FARRELL: It was an unusual experience for me, because I somehow arranged for Townes to get to Memphis without realizing that he had a caretaker [Eggers] that went on all his trips with him. I had one of the most experience-filled 48 hours I’ve ever had in my life, suddenly having to fill that role.
CATALANO: With Townes, getting to know him was a real gradual thing. There was the Townes that you saw onstage, and then the Townes that you met after the show, but really getting to know him was a challenge. And by that point in his life he was way out on the edge. To get anything done with him would have been a fair struggle.
FARRELL: He was very frail when I saw him in Memphis, but he still had a great time. He could keep all hours of the night. He could play poker. And he didn’t have to be imbibing all the time. I think it was good for all of us to get some first-hand experience with him, because he was absolutely entertaining, and in the classic sense of the word, he was a true gentleman. His emotions could run high and low, but he was a gentleman through all of it. And I felt like he was a truly warm human being, even when he was bullshitting me.
One of my very favorite things that happened on that trip: At one point we were at dinner with the guys from Two Dollar Guitar, and Townes says, “Why don’t we all write a song together.” He started the first line, then whoever was directly to his right would do the next line, and you’d go around the table and you’d keep going until you kind of exhausted the story. It was absolutely amazing. I had never really been through anything like that before, but Townes made everyone at the table part of this party. It was an atmosphere he could create in just about any place.
CATALANO: He was a magician, you know.
FARRELL: It was a wild weekend, particularly by my standards, but we got him back to Nashville after a couple of days and he said, “Yeah, I’m ready to do this.”
VAN ZANDT: Townes was determined to get these sessions done. He knew going into it that this was going to be his last record, and he was determined to go do it, no matter what kind of shape he was in. I begged him, “Townes, just cancel. You don’t have to do this. Everyone will understand.” He said, “No, no, I’ve got to do it.” He thought it was so cool that these younger guys wanted to record with him.
SIKES: I think [the sessions] lasted three days. They would come over around 11 or 12:00. They would try and work for maybe three hours, and then Townes would have to take a nap. So he’d go do that and then around 6 or 7:00 he’d come back.
EGGERS: Townes and I were pretty much fighting the whole time. That was the nature of our relationship at that point. I was like the mother superior with the stick. The sessions lasted three days, but it felt like months. Townes was in a lot of pain from his fall — he had broken his hip right before Christmas — and that made things worse.
VAN ZANDT: He was in incredible pain. He had lied to everyone, he had told us he pulled a muscle in bed having a bad dream. He said, “If I just stay off it, it’ll be all right, it’ll get better.” So, he rented a wheelchair. But days went by and he didn’t get any better. But he insisted, “If I go to the hospital, I’ll die. I cannot go to the hospital, I’ve got to do this record.”
GORDON: I knew he was in a wheelchair before I went over [to Easley Studio]. When I got there I watched them working from behind the glass. Harold rolled him into the control room on his way out that night and I remember being surprised by the way Townes looked. He hadn’t shaved in a few days, and he was gaunt.…He was a very heavy drinker and I remember when he took a shot during the sessions, you could hear it going through him. You could hear it moving through his blood going into his body and then out again. It didn’t change his behavior radically, but you could hear the change — in his slur. It was almost like this wave that went across him.
CATALANO: Ever since we had done the sessions for The Highway Kind [Townes' last album for Sugar Hill Records, released posthumously in 1997], Townes told me he wanted to do this old Blind Willie McTell song called “Dying Crapshooter Blues”. It’s a very odd song, kind of a cross between a ragtime and a blues. It’s very complicated rhythmically, but Townes really wanted to get it down. He said to me, “Michael, I know you can play this.”
I have an old guitar from that era, so I was able to get the sound down, but it took me forever to get the rhythm nailed. Finally I did, though, and I mean I really got it, the whole resonance of the song, everything. But for Townes to sing off of the tape that I had made still would have been very difficult. It would have been better for him to watch my hands, so he’d know where to go. And we didn’t have enough time in Nashville to put it down right.
But I sent him off to Memphis with a DAT master of the guitar part. I got a call from Harold a few days later: “Townes says he can’t do that tune by himself,” and I said, “Well, he’s probably right.” And Harold said, “Well, maybe we’ll fly you over here.” So, I was preparing myself to go out there, because I knew he wasn’t going to be able to [record the song without me]. That’s when I got the second call from Harold saying that Townes was sick. When I got the third call, he had passed away.
EGGERS: Townes loved that “Dying Crapshooter Blues”. I actually have a tape of him reciting the lyrics to that song while we’re driving down the highway. You can hear the shwoop, shwoop of the windshield wipers keeping time with him. I find myself sitting around and listening to that once in a while.