Guy Clark, who left this world on May 16, 2016, was one of the Texas songwriters who made the path and led the way. His work embodies all that is good about “progressive” country music. Truth and passion. Storytelling. Stories worth telling.
Born in deep West Texas, Clark was the son of a country lawyer, a good and steady man he celebrated in “The Randall Knife”, possibly the most compelling song a son has ever written about his father. Guy hit the road to find the world of songwriting, living over the years in Los Angeles, Austin and ultimately Nashville, where he worked as a contract writer and carried on with the likes of Kris Kristofferson, Mickey Newbury and Townes Van Zandt. He stayed there for the rest of his life. It was, as he said, “where the business was”.
Early on he met the love of his life, a lovely painter from Atlanta, Texas by the name of Susanna. They were together, through thick and thin, till she passed in 2012. Listen to “My Favorite Picture of You”, from his last album of the same name, and hear eternal love put to words.
Van Zandt was a life-long friend of both Guy and Susanna, and they weathered their wild lives together until Townes’ death in 1997.
Clark’s poetry is best demonstrated by his first and seminal album, 1975’s Old No. 1. He was a master at taking us back to the stories of simple folk forging lives in hard places with their backs, hands, and hearts. He was also known for the work he did to supplement his earnings as a songwriter, driving heavy equipment, shaping wood in his workshop, crafting guitars. Listen to “Boats to Build”, a testament to honest craft and proud self-reliance, in which he urges us to turn away from the noise and fear and put your hands to the work that you love. Everything will be all right.
Clark practiced his art for over forty years and was a steady friend and invaluable mentor to those who followed his path. Folks like Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, Robert Earl Keen and others gathered often around the Clarks’ kitchen table to drink, listen and learn.
Guy Clark was a physical presence, tall and lanky and handsome, his eyes both mischievous and wary. When he spoke the results were equal parts wisdom and silliness, always profane. He was one of those giant souls who gave intelligence and dignity to the songwriter’s art, and he makes us proud to call this music our hearts’ home. The one-woman man, the gentle philosopher, the natural poet of simple presence and strength.
A very tall Texan, and we miss him dearly.
Three things to know about Guy Clark: (1) he was instantly recognizable by his denim shirt and big turquoise ring, (2) he was often accompanied on stage and on record by the great Verlon Thompson, and (3) he first learned to sing in Spanish.