FARRELL: Townes recorded a number of demos in Nashville with Jack Clement [before coming to Memphis], one of which still haunts me to this day. It’s a track called “Sanitarium Blues” and it’s really like a spoken word thing. Absolutely amazing. It’s the one thing that came out of both sessions [in Nashville and Memphis] that you can truly say is classic Townes. He cut it at Easley too, but it didn’t come out nearly as good as it did with Jack. Townes wanted that piece to be spoken word because of its towering subject matter. It’s taken from the point of view of a man being wheeled into an asylum against his will, knowing he still has some use of his faculties. He thinks to himself that of all the people around him, he’s probably the most sane.
GORDON: The last song recorded the night I was there, which I think was the last of the session, was Townes playing solo electric guitar. It was a heavy and uncharacteristic blues, more guitar fire than I expected. I think his electricity — his, not his instrument’s — knocked out something and they called it a night. I don’t know if it all got to tape, but any of it would be worth releasing.
SIKES: There was a lot of problems throughout the whole thing. The tape machine broke, and when that happened it sort of solidified their decision to stop.…[Townes] understood, and he agreed. He wanted to go back to Nashville and try and clean up and get better. He said he was going to try and get into a program.
EGGERS: I know Jeanene wants to release [the Easley recordings], and I think you could do it, if you worked on it. I think it could eventually see the light of day, but I don’t know in what form.
SIKES: That stuff should never be released. It’ll be a real shame if it does. I don’t think anyone involved would want it to come out.
FARRELL: I get the sense from Jeanene that she doesn’t want to put anything out just for the sake of putting it out. She has a very sensitive ear toward his work. She has a good handle on it.
VAN ZANDT: The Easley stuff may get released; I just have to buy the tapes back from Geffen. [The tapes] are pretty rough, though. It’s obvious that Townes was not feeling well.
SIKES: It’s a shame that the songs didn’t get done, because they were good songs. But there was no way it could have happened under those circumstances. Everyone was trying; nobody wanted to stop. Everyone wanted to help him. Even Harold, when he was being tough on him, was trying to help him. I mean, Steve and Tim, they really admired him. Everybody felt like shit that he was in such bad condition, and it got to the point where they felt they were putting him through something they shouldn’t be.
FARRELL: I thought from the beginning we’re really going out of our way to get something out to Townes, and he may just not be into it. We really got the sense that we were pushing him too hard. We stopped the session because we felt we were getting into territory that none of us could handle. It’s not that we wanted to abandon the project, but when he left Easley it was obvious that we were going to have to rethink it.
VAN ZANDT: Steve Shelley called me from Memphis on New Year’s Eve. He says, “Townes just can’t do it, he’s in too much pain. I can’t bear to watch him anymore. We’ll just have to do it later.” I got Harold on the phone and I said, “Harold, I don’t care if you have to drag him kicking and screaming. Don’t bring him home, go straight to the hospital.”
Townes wouldn’t go to the hospital, so [once back in Nashville] they took him to one of those convenient-care places. The doctor took one look at his leg and said, “Are you insane? You could have a blood clot, it could kill you any minute. You have to go the hospital immediately.” Harold called me and he said, “Townes won’t let me take him, he’ll only go with you.” I said, “Okay, I’m on my way. I met [Townes] out at the lake house, and he tried to talk his way out of it again, but I insisted. So we got him to the hospital, they X-rayed him and the doctor told us his hip was broken!
I talked to Townes and he really didn’t want them to operate on him. So, I said, “Townes, do you want to get wheeled out onto the stage for the rest of your life, or do you want to walk out onto the stage?” He said, “I guess you’re right.”
Townes made me promise that I wasn’t going to let them keep him there. He hated hospitals with a passion. So, I went [to see him] the next morning, and he didn’t look too good to me. They didn’t want to let me take him home. They wanted to put him in rehab and all that stuff, but I insisted, “No you can’t do that. He’s too frail, you can’t do that to him now.” So, I took him home, and he sat around in his wheelchair for a while, and he joked and was in a good mood.
So then, I fixed him a plate of his favorite munchies like roast beef and crackers and sliced apples and grapes. I took him that stuff and then told him I was going to go call everybody to let them know he was okay. He was really doing good, he was fine. Katie [Townes and Jeanene's young daughter] was standing next to him talking to him. As I was leaving the room, Will, my son, who was thirteen at the time, passed me in the hall and he said, “Dad, do you need anything?” And Townes said, “No, I’m fine.” So Will went to go take a pee. I’m on the phone in the living room. Will comes out of the bathroom and looks in on Townes and he comes running into the living room and he says, “Mom, you better come look at dad, he looks dead.” I ran into there, and as soon as I walked through the portal of the doorway I knew that his spirit was no longer in the room. He was gone.
FARRELL: Townes was the kind of guy who, whether through alcohol or his life experience or whatever, whose demons were within arm’s reach. The demon wasn’t alcohol necessarily. Whatever the darkness in his life was, it wasn’t far from him. It wasn’t like, “That’s when I was in my twenties.” Townes always had it. That was the sad part of it, but he didn’t want any pity; in that way, he was a real cowboy.
VAN ZANDT: Townes had told me as long as we were together that he was going to die at the age of 52. That’s how old his father was when he died, and he just said, “I’m never going to make it past that, I’m going to die just like the old man.” I’d always say, “Oh bull, Townes, you’ll outlive all of us just to mess with us.” [Townes would have turned 53 on March 7, 1997.]
CATALANO: Townes knew he was coming to the end. He almost called the day. I remember having a conversation four or five years ago with some promoter over some European gig, and he said, “Townes is in such bad shape, I’m afraid he’s going to die over here.” Townes got word of that and he said, “Nah, I’m not going to die until I’m 52.” He was a real shaman.
Matt Hanks lives in Memphis. He wiles away his evenings writing about music. He spends his days working at a publicity company, trying to convince other people to do the same.