Production of Townes Van Zandt:
Live at the Old Quarter, Houston, Texas
Situated on the seedy side of downtown Houston, Rex Bell & Dale Soffar’s "Old Quarter" served as a sort of interface between various life styles in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Here stoned-out freaks and professional types, blue jeans and blue collars, came together to enjoy the good music and cold beer along with other diversions that included free popcorn and a fresh air "smoking" deck on the roof in full view of the county jail cells in the nearby courthouse.
While the music varied widely in type and quality, when it was "happening," it was superb. Of course, the musicianship was the basis for these memorable evenings, but the knowledgeability and the outspoken nature of the audience made it an important contributor to the event. Many a singer risked his songs against the "passing of the hat" - in this case, a battered bedpan - only to reap meager reward, indifference, and/or insult. On the other hand when the music was right, the audience could be completely captivated. Perhaps this was why those performers who went on and graduated to more remunerative gigs still drifted back to play occasional sets at the Old Quarter. At any rate, one might find performers like Lightnin’ Hopkins, Big Walter Jenkins, Jerry Jeff Walker and Guy Clark playing in the little 18’ x 38’ room, and so it was that Townes Van Zandt came to play in July, 1973.
More than a hundred souls jammed themselves inside the bare brick walls for the performances recorded herein. Consider the distracting discomforts of that many people packed into that area:
One could hardly find room for a deep breath, much less get to the restrooms upstairs, or to the "toking" area on the roof. Cooling refreshments were hard to come by, requiring the passing of the money up through many hands to the bar, and an arduous return trip of the foamy mugs back through the same hands. If you know Houston in July, then you have an idea how hot and humid it was in that room, and leaving the door open did little good except, perhaps to improve the clarity of the sound of passing buses from the nearby bus station.
To overcome all these distractions and capture that crowd, Townes had only himself, his guitar, and his songs. That he was able to do this is evidenced by these recordings. In order to assemble this album from the tapes, it was necessary to edit out a few songs for various reasons (length of sides, dropped beer mugs, etc.) but for the most part what is reproduced here is the way it went down - rap, tuning, and all.
Those of you who have "turned on" to Townes by virtue of his previous albums and performances will be glad to find herein enclosed the lyrics to the included songs, representing a fair portion of his writings. Those for whom this album is a first contact with Townes are implored to examine these writings. If something seems to make no sense, try looking a little deeper for the meaning. There are those of us who feel that Townes is the leading poet of these times.
-Earl Willis, 3-30-77