Perhaps no other musician has seen his songs made famous by other people more than Warren Zevon. Maybe Dylan, but he doesn't quite count because he has plenty of quintessential songs on his own.
Zevon came into his own in the 70s, writing his own music and songs for Jackson Browne and Linda Rondstat, who championed Zevon's work and recorded versions of a number of his songs.
Not as famous as Springsteen, cool as Tom Waits or purely vocally talented as Nick Drake, Zevon has always been a bit of an also-ran in the indie world among the idolized 1970s troubadours, which is a shame. Zevon's songs have an edge and bone-dry wit that's much deeper than the "Aw-ooooooh" of "Werewolves of London" and hard to find today. Plus the music itself doesn't sound dated at all.
Music fans of all ages can catch up with Zevon, as three of his albums have been remastered this month and his widow has written an (authorized) biography ("Put in the bad stuff," he told her). The albums include "Excitable Boy," which almost feels like a greatest hits album with tracks like "Werewolves," "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner," and "Accidentally Like a Martyr."
Zevon was never as popular as his contemporaries, but he partied like a rock star, once saying he got to live Jim Morrison's life, just for longer. When he contracted terminal cancer, he decided to go out like a rock star. He recorded a farewell album, "My Ride Is Here," but started beating back the cancer, so he took the time, brought in big guests like Browne and Springsteen and recording "The Wind," which stands as one of his finest.
In between, he spoke with chilling frankness to David Letterman, another of his champions who dedicated the entire show to Zevon. They talked about facing death with no regets, and Zevon performed three songs, including "Roland."
(On the episode of Conan afterward, Sleater-Kinney made their network TV debut; suffice to say I didn't sleep much that night.)
Zevon probably won't ever have the status he deserves, but it's under-appreciated artists who create new generations of music junkies ... and musicians, and Zevon's influence can be heard all over music today.
Happy Warren Zevon Appreciation Day.