Another from Townes Van Zandt, though I don’t play his chords. I don’t remember why I changed them, or even if I was aware I had, and when I recently listened to his version I thought his were more interesting… But I’ve been playing it this way for a quarter century and it feels right to me.
As with all the Townes songs I do, I learned this off his Live at the Old Quarter double album from 1973 — it’s the pure, stripped down experience, and reminds me of what he was like live: dry, difficult, and magical. I’ve already written about my experiences of Townes over the years and my problems performing his songs in my post for “Waiting Round to Die.” The short version is I always loved his concerts and his writing, but most of the songs were so dark I couldn’t do them convincingly.
To me, this is less a song than a modern saloon recitation in the tradition of classics like “The Face on the Barroom Floor,” T. Texas Tyler’s “Deck of Cards,” and Chuck Berry’s “Downbound Train.” It’s only marginally weirder, and similarly moralistic, and in its way it may be the most traditional thing Townes ever wrote.
Other than that, I don’t have much to say about it except that Townes was a terrific wordsmith and I love the way the lyric flows. And the way the card game anchors the fantasy. And the moral.