by: Bob Collins
Guy Clark died today. The singer and songwriter’s career always carried an important message: Don’t waste your life not following your passion.
He was an art director at a CBS TV station in Houston in the ’60s, but his love was playing the guitar and writing a few words.
That’s when he got some advice from the woman who would be his wife one day, he said in an interview a decade ago.
She told him, ‘Look, if you’re going to be a songwriter, be a songwriter. Don’t dabble at it and then spend the rest of your life wondering what might have been.’ With that challenge ringing in his ears, Guy moved to L.A. and brought Susanna with him. He got a job in the Dobro factory there and called up every song publisher in Southern California.
“We were living in this garage apartment in this straight neighborhood in Long Beach,” Clark remembers. “We woke up one morning to the sound of the landlord chopping down this beautiful grapefruit tree, and my first reaction was, ‘Pack up all the dishes.’ It sounded like a line in a song, so I wrote it down.
“Just about the only discipline I have as a songwriter is to write down an idea as soon as I have it. You wind up with a stack of bar napkins, and the real work comes the next day or week when you sit down and go through them to see if any of them makes any sense.
“I played in a little string band while I was in L.A., and one night we were driving back from a gig in Mission Beach at four in the morning and I was dozing off. I lifted my head up in this old Cadillac, looked out the window and said, ‘If I can just get off of this L.A. Freeway without getting killed or caught.’ As soon as I said it, I borrowed Susanna’s eyebrow pencil from her purse and wrote the line down on a burger wrapper. If I hadn’t, I might not have that song today.
by: Scott Barretta
Songwriter Guy Clark turned 70 last month, and his legacy is celebrated on the new double CD This One’s For Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark (Music Road Records). Among the 30-plus contributors are fellow country elders Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson and artists mentored by Clark including Steve Earle and Rodney Crowell, who opens the album with That Old Time Feeling.
A native of West Texas, Clark cut his teeth in the Texas folk scene of the ’60s, where compatriots included Jerry Jeff Walker, who closes the album with Clark’s new composition My Favorite Picture of You. Walker later helped introduce Clark to a larger audience through his early ’70s versions of L.A. Freeway, covered here by Radney Foster, and Desperadoes Waiting on a Train, which is revisited by Nelson.
In 1971 Clark settled in Nashville, and he and his wife Susanna’s home became the center of a new generation of songwriters. Those included Earle, who gives a solo performance of The Last Gunfighter Ballad, and the late Townes Van Zandt, whose son John Townes Van Zandt II tackles Let Him Roll, a tragic story about a wino’s lost love.
The latter first appeared on Clark’s 1975 debut album Old No. 1, which also featured Texas 1947, a recollection about the first diesel locomotive performed by Robert Earl Keen, and the poignant one-night stand tale Instant Coffee Blues, sung by Suzy Boggus.
Other female artists include Emmylou Harris, whose duet with John Prine on Magnolia Wind is one of the set’s highlights.
Fellow Texan James McMurtry takes on Cold Dog Soup, a Dylanesque ode to a joint populated by characters including Jack Kerouac and Tom Waits.
Other Lone State contributors include Lyle Lovett (Anyhow I Love You) and Joe Ely (Dublin Blues).