Guy Clark: Heartbroke
Submitted by Don Graham
The music world has lost another giant and a personal favourite of mine, singer/songwriter/luthier Guy Clark. Guy Clark was a songwriter’s songwriter, simple country chords and melodies but lyrics that escaped all labels except for damn fine. Guy Charles Clark a Texas native who migrated to Nashville in 1971 marched to his own drummer .
Probably the best-known of Clark's numerous great works is "Desperados Waiting For a Train," made popular by Jerry Jeff Walker in the 1970s and The Highwaymen in the 1980s. The song showcased Clark's narrative gifts, telling about an old man's life as seen through the eyes of his young companion.
Clark was born in Monahans, Texas where his grandmother ran a boarding house, and moved to Rockport on the Gulf Coast, where his father had his own law practice.
He worked summers in Rockport at the shipyard and didn’t start playing guitar until he was well into his teens. Clark moved to Houston in the 1960s, working various jobs during the day, including a time as art director for a couple of local T.V. stations..
At night he hit the coffeehouse/folk scene that was populated with folks like Townes Van Zandt and Mickey Newbury.
Clark hadn't made a record but his songs caught the ear of Jerry Jeff Walker, another singer-songwriter who would soon become one of Clark's earliest supporters.
In 1970 Clark left Houston for Los Angeles with his wife, Susanna, a painter and songwriter. Clark hoped to find a song publishing deal, but instead he found a job in a dobro factory in L.A. but never felt like he belonged there.
His classic song "L.A. Freeway" tells the tale. "If I could just get off of this L.A. freeway without getting killed or caught," he sang, "I'd be down that road in a cloud of smoke for some land that I ain't bought." Where he ended up was Nashville, where he finally got a publishing deal. Walker helped establish him as songwriter when he cut two of Clark's songs - "That Old Time Feeling" and "L.A. Freeway" on his self-titled 1972 album.
In 1975 Clark put out his first album, "Old No. 1," on RCA, an album of 10 story songs.
"Texas Cookin' " followed a year later. The title track celebrated food, and "Anyhow, I Love You" celebrated companionship. "I wouldn't trade a tree for the way I feel about you in the morning, anyhow, I love you," Clark sang.
In the '80s, artists like Rodney Crowell, Bobby Bare, Vince Gill and Steve Warniner all charted with songs Clark wrote.
Clark described his work atmosphere,"It's kind of a dream come true to have a room where you write songs and build guitars, you get stuck writing songs, and you just get up and work.
It's a right brain/left brain thing. Writing is so cerebral. You stare out a window trying to conjure something up. But four steps away you have this real hand/eye type stuff. They sort of feed off one another."
His life slowed down after Susanna died in 2012. A year later Clark put out "My Favorite Picture of You," inspired by a Polaroid of his wife. "It's just a moment in time you can't have back," he sang.The album would be Clark's last, and like his others - like his songs, and like his guitars - it was perfectly constructed.
Ray Wylie Hubbard tells a great Guy Clark story. It seems Townes Van Zandt and Guy were playing at a bar in Dallas and Ray walked in and stood watching them. A ways into the set Townes whispers something to Guy who announces that their friend Ray Wylie Hubbard is in the house and how about getting him up to sing a couple? Ray gets on stage and Guy hands him his guitar and he and Townes leave the stage. Ray looks out and see them head out the front door and hail a cab. Ray had been had.
The world has lost a great songwriter but he is no longer in pain and is reunited with his love, Susanna.
Thanks for the legacy of great, simple and heartfelt songs you left us.