When I first moved to town in 1988, I was pretty immediately accepted by the community. As a big performer, I found my way into the features of writers nights and got a cut my first night in town. I was known for the big, sing-able choruses that the whole crowd could sing along with, so they put me at the ends of the nights as the big finish. A lot of times that sucked because most people had gone home, but every once in a while you had those interesting things happen.

One night I had finished my set and made my way to the back of the room  to order a beer at the bar. I was leaning over talking to the bartender, when I noticed this BIG PRESENCE standing next to me. I felt a tap on my shoulder and looked up. I mean LOOKED UP. It was TOWNES VAN ZANDT and boy was he tall!
He was slouching at the bar and was fairly three sheets to the wind. I had never met him. I’d seen him around but did not know he was there that night. It is hard to explain the conversation here but this is the best I can do.

Townes: "That wuzz a purty good soooonnngg."
Me: "Thanks Townes, I appreciate it."
Townes: "Knooow whut U need in that soooonnngg?"
Me: "No sir, what?"
Townes: "You neeed some WANK!!! WANK!!!!"
Me: Silence...."What?"
Townes:"Yooou Knooow wheeerree you get to a point in the song and go WANK!!!! WANK!!!!"

I really had NO IDEA what the heck he was talking about, so I paid for my beer (I think his too), thanked him for the advice and walked off. I never saw him again and he died about three months later.
Then a FEW YEARS LATER, I was playing that same song he was talking about and SUDDENLY got what he was saying!
"WANK WANK" was the sound that strings make when you hit a note and then move your hands up and down the frets without actually playing anything. It is a percussive sound that it makes to push the song along, kind of a like a drum kick. It kind of makes a "whooom” sound when you do it by itself. But do it together back to back really fast it makes a “WANK WANK” sound.

Townes Van Zandt. Wank, Wank. Still helping writers after he died. See how this works? Learn something, use it and pass it on. That’s music.


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