Often, the greatest measure of an artist’s wealth is how their peers speak of them. Strangely enough, those that are most admired by others in the music community tend not be be widely popular. For songwriters in particular, having their work covered by those in the business who are ‘bigger names’ may be the the extent of the fame they’ll receive. Guy Clark has had his songs re-interpreted by the likes of Jerry Jeff Walker, Johnny Cash, Vince Gill, Jimmy Buffett, Brad Paisley, and Emmylou Harris. But the general public – even those that claim to be country music fans – couldn’t tell you who Guy is.
Guy spent much of his young life runnin’ around with Townes Van Zandt and various Texas music-makers (Check out To Live’s To Fly – a Townes Van Zandt biography with plenty of first hand anecdotes from Guy). He says he obtained much of his songwriting inspiration from Townes, watching how he imagined and formulated songs. Guy released his debut Old No. 1 in 1975 on RCA. The album contained a couple tunes that would become veritable anthems in the 70’s Texas Music scene. Desperados Waiting For a Train is a wrenching tale of an old oil-man who’s seen “seventy years of livin.” On the other side of the emotional spectrum lies L.A. Freeway, whose climbing melodies evoke a nervous anticipation to change one’s surroundings.
i’ll admit, there’s a lot of Guy’s work from the 70’s and 80’s i know nothing about. But in my opinion, you only need one disc to size up Guy Clark:
He couldn’t have picked a better title-track and lead song if it had come to him in a dream. The album starts with one of the most elegant pieces of music Clark has written and includes what “might be the coolest lick [he] ever learned.” Guy is so rich with emotion he doesn’t even have to form words to get his feelings across. The simple “mmm-mmm” that codas the first line in each verse tells you all you need to know.
In an homage to one of his proteges Rodney Crowell, Stuff That Works speaks of the simple pleasures in life and is a perfect portayal of Guy’s durability through both his resistance to change and his sage wisdom.
Stuff That Works
In Hank Williams Said It Best, Guy is simply showing off. Eight verses full of inventive turns of the cliche One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
Hank Williams Said It Best
Clark enlisted the help of songwriter/guitarist/friend Darrell Scott for much of the guitar work on the album. But Guy is no slouch on the instrument. The acoustic work on Dublin Blues, Stuff That Works, and Baby Took a Limo to Memphis is something to marvel at. Clark dabbles in carpentry and often plays self-made guitars. In nearly every interview i’ve seen of him, Guy is in his workshop – with tequila and smokes never out of reach. Many of his stories of the shenanigans he and Townes got into sound like jokes long passed around. Guy Clark is the storyteller variety of a songwriter. He’s got that voice that stops all other conversations in the room. In The Randall Knife Guy bares his worn soul like never before – and he simply speaks the words. Imagine hearing this song on a quiet night in Luckenbach.
The Randall Knife
Buy Dublin Blues
first, to set the mood: