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Heartworn Highways



DVD CoverMade in 1975, Heartworn Highways is a documentary that was originally aimed at a theatre audience. The movie follows the lives of a group of up-and-coming singer/songwriters. The names to conjure with are Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, David Allan Coe and Rodney Crowell. Steve Young is here as is Charlie Daniels Band. A few names that are not as well known today include Larry Jon Wilson, Gamble Rogers and Barefoot Jerry.

According to the films director James Szalapski he was introduced to the performers by "Skinny Dennis" (Dennis Sanchez) a stand-up bass player from around L.A. Szalapski explains; "Dennis had Marfan's Syndrome. It's a birth defect. Lincoln had it. And it causes your body to get very bony and elongated. Dennis was six foot eleven and weighed 135 pounds that's why they called him Skinny Dennis." Eventually Dennis died of heart failure at the age of twenty-nine. The movie is dedicated to "Skinny Dennis."

The opening scene has Guy Clark playing his famous number "L.A. Freeway", before moving on to the studio scene of Larry Jon Wilson making his recording of "Oh Hoopee River Bottomland". We are taken on a grand tour of Townes Van Zandt's back yard and we join David Allen Coe as he drives us on his tour bus to a gig at a Tennessee State Prison. Coe also treats us to two of my favourite numbers of his. "Old Man Tell Me" and "The River". There are some great numbers to be found here with Guy Clark and Steve Young. Some fantastic rare footage of some of today's popular singer/songwriters can be seen, such as Rodney Crowell and Steve Earle playing on the front porch steps (without recording contracts at that time). We see Guy Clark repairing a guitar and go backstage with the Charlie Daniels Band.

The front cover pictures Townes Van Zandt sitting on the front porch with a 79 year-old black man by the name of Seymour Washington who was nicknamed the walking blacksmith. Seymour says that he didn't have transport but caught the bus to visit the ranches where he tended to the horses needs.

There are many extras on the DVD with a wonderful rendition by Townes Van Zandt of his famed song "Pancho and Lefty". Heartworn Highways comes with a 22-page booklet containing an interview with James Szalapski talking about the project, the full story of "Skinny Dennis" and introductions by Phillip Schopper (editor/assistant director) and Graham Leader (producer).

The most amusing segment has to be the graphic introduction that Gamble Rogers gives to the performance of his song "The Old Black Label Blues", which is accompanied by footage of the Jack Daniels distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee where that fine sourmash sipping whiskey if produced. We are also taken to the Wigwam Tavern in downtown Nashville to sit and sip a little Tennessee whisky and enjoy some old-time pickin' and grinnin'.

The whole movie of 150 minutes finally comes to an end with a jam session at Guy Clark's house on Christmas Eve 1975 and the dulcet tones of a host of the top country singer/songwriters singing along to the Yuletide Carol "Silent Night".

Heartworn Highways is a heart-warming look back at the emerging alternative country music scene from a quarter of a century ago and an exemplary collection of some of the best and legendary singer/songwriters of our time. Along with the main feature are several extras including the unflickering genius poet laureate of country music, Townes Van Zandt giving us a simple rendition of "Pancho & Lefty" and Guy Clark with "Desperadoes Waiting For A Train". An absolutely sensational DVD that will give hours of repeated pleasure!!!