Daniel Antopolsky: The missing man of country

From BBC - October 17, 2017

In 2013, Daniel Antopolsky travelled to Nashville to record his first album. He was four decades late.

The musician had been stockpiling songs on his farm in Bordeaux, France, since the 1970s. They were written late at night, long after his family (and his chickens) were asleep. Altogether, he has more than 400 of them.

But it could have turned out very differently.

In his youth Antopolsky was ensconced in the "outlaw country" movement - Nashville's rebellious offspring, which embraced the long hair and gritty aesthetics of Southern rock.

He was slowly making headway when his friend, country singer Townes Van Zandt, overdosed on heroin in 1972.

Antopolsky saved his life that night, driving him to hospital for treatment - but he was spooked enough to move half-way across the world to avoid a similar fate.

"The drug scene was just what you call horrible," he says.

"I did all kind of drugs, too, but I did not go the limit because I always had a terrible fear of needles.

"Maybe that's why I ca not remember songs any more. The only songs I can sing by heart are from 1971."

Settling in France, Antopolsky watched Van Zandt and other friends become famous from afar, always wondering what might have been.

"All those years, whenever I had a good song and did not get to share it with anybody, that brought about a little suffering," he says.

"But I have been very blessed. I am so happy with my wife and living on the farm. I just went and bought a bunch of vegetables to plant."

The original Lefty

Antopolsky was born 70 years ago in Augusta, Georgia. His mother died when he was young, and his earliest memories are of his nanny, Frances, "a wonderful African-American lady" who was a deacon in the local church.

"We would listen to gospel music and watch soap operas and she would tell me the greatest old stories," he explains in his raspy Southern drawl.

He fell in love with "all the great blues players" of the deep South, and learned harmonies from a singer in his synagogue, who could make his voice "do flips off the high dive".

After graduating from the University of Georgia with an degree in public relations, he met Townes Van Zandt and joined him on the road.

And he was the only other musician present when, in 1971, Van Zandt wrote his signature song, Pancho And Lefty.

The two musicians were stranded in a motel after an evangelical rally spilled onto the streets of Dallas, closing the roads.

"It was like a big shindig and we could not get out," says Antopolsky. "So Townes and I decided, each of us, to write a song.

"He stayed inside and I went out under a big oak tree and we said we'd come back in half an hour and we'd sing each other our songs.

"I do not know who sang first, but his song was Pancho And Lefty."

Later made famous by Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson, the song is loosely based on the story of Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa - but Lefty, his mysterious compadre, was supposedly inspired by Antopolsky.

The clue comes in the lyric: "The day they laid poor Pancho low, Lefty split for Ohio / Where he got the bread to go, there ai not nobody knows."

Apparently Antopolsky, who played left-handed, was notorious for having a steady flow of cash despite the sporadic income of the touring life.

"My father had died when I was 17, so I had some social security money," he says. "I bought an old Volkswagen van, and gas was only 20 cents a gallon, so I started travelling around America."

But he's sceptical about his influence on Van Zandt's song.


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