An underground figure who fought with drug abuse, Van Zandt saw his melodies “Pancho and Lefty” and “If I Needed You” become hits. Recording for nearly three decades, he expired on January 1, 1997, in Smyrna, Texas. He moved around quite a bit during his youth because of his family’s oil business, and during youth confronted important psychological and mental health challenges, being identified as having manic depression and institutionalized.
After mentioning Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan as important influences on his work, Van Zandt chose to pursue singing and songwriting, taking up the guitar at 15 and continuing to ply his craft while a pupil in the University of Colorado. He later relocated to Houston and worked as a live performer, affected by the likes of blues great Lightnin’ Hopkins and forming long-term links with country singer/songwriter Guy Clark.