About Guy Clark
Born in Monahans, Texas, on November 6, 1941, Guy Clark grew up in a home where the gift of a pocketknife was a rite of passage and poetry was read aloud. At age 16, he moved to Rockport, on the Texas Gulf Coast. Instructed by his father's law partner, he learned to play on a $12 Mexican guitar and the first songs he learned were mostly in Spanish.
Moving to Houston, Clark began his career during the "folk scare" of the 1960s. Fascinated by Texas blues legends like Mance Lipscomb and Lightnin' Hopkins and steeped in the cultural sauce piquante of his border state, he played traditional folk tunes on the same Austin-Houston club circuit as Townes Van Zandt and Jerry Jeff Walker. "It was pretty 'Bob Dylan' in the beginning," Clark said. "Nobody was really writing." Eventually, Clark would draw on these roots to firebrand his own fiddle-friendly and bluesy folk music, see it embraced as country and emerge as a songwriting icon for connoisseurs of the art.
Moving to San Francisco in the late 1960s, as social unrest was erupting through racial and generational fissures, Clark worked briefly in a guitar shop, returned to Houston for a short time, and then moved to the Los Angeles area, where he found work building guitars in the Dopyera Brothers' Dobro factory and signed a publishing agreement with RCA's Sunbury Music before pulling up stakes and relocating to Nashville in 1971.
The following year, country-folk singer-songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker, then newly ensconced in Austin, released an eponymous album featuring the Clark composition "L.A. Freeway," which became an FM radio hit. In 1973, Walker released Viva! Terlingua, recorded live in a Texas dance hall and including Clark's ballad "Desperados Waiting for a Train." As much as any others, these two Clark songs may arguably be said to have set the tone for a musical revolution that was first known as progressive country. By 1975, many of the revolutionaries would be defined as the Outlaws. Like the Bakersfield sound of the 1960s, the new sounds were a reaction to the formulaic rigidity and paternalism of Nashville's record producers and label executives.
In this alternative musical world of the late 1960s, inspired by the storytelling poems of Robert Frost and Stephen Vincent Benet, Clark began to write what he knew "with a pencil and a big eraser." "L. A. Freeway," for example, blueprints his fish-out-of-water experience in Los Angeles. "Desperados Waiting for a Train" is based on his memory of an oilfield worker who was a resident of his grandmother's hotel. Like almost all his songs, then and now, these two early masterpieces are expressions of personal memory and experience, further characterized by words that have a melody all their own.
Clark's move to Music City, one of three cities where Sunbury had offices and where his pal Mickey Newbury would make him welcome, proved fortuitous. Clark and his wife, Susanna, would become the axis for a groundbreaking fraternity of singer-songwriters for whom Nashville felt like "Paris in the '20s." Among them were Newbury, Van Zandt, Rodney Crowell, Billy Joe Shaver, Steve Earle, Dave Loggins, and David Allen Coe. Bonded by their egalitarianism, the troupe's favored sidewalk cafe was the Clark's dining room table, where they gathered frequently for "guitar pulls" and show-and-tell song swapping sessions, and where they celebrated their successes and facetiously threatened to kill whoever had presented the best new song. Susanna Clark, a talented painter, tossed her brushes aside for awhile, joined the invasion and began writing hit songs herself.
In 1975, after using his big eraser on his first try at cutting an album, Clark made his recording debut on RCA Records with Old No. l, ten critically applauded originals built to last. On the cover, the songwriter is pictured with his wife's painting of his chambray "work shirt," customary attire emblematic of his values. During the next 20 years, Clark would collaborate with old and new friends like Crowell, Emmylou Harris, Vince Gill, Albert Lee, and Rosanne Cash, and continue to record albums that worked like a stun gun on other artists in search of new songs, including the 1992 Nonesuch release Boats to Build.
Masterful and charismatic in live performance, Clark has built a devout US and international following through years of touring prestigious clubs and concert halls. In 1990, Guy Clark was the catalyst for a series of Marlboro Music festival performances introducing the "guitar pull" to wider audiences. In various combinations of four singer-songwriters including Lyle Lovett, John Hiatt, Joe Ely, John Prine, and Mary Chapin Carpenter, Clark and his colleagues mesmerized SRO audiences with their humor, spontaneity, storytelling, and songs. As a result, guitar pulls became a new tradition in clubs like New York's Bottom Line, and popular understanding of the depth and breadth of the music made in Music City has deepened.
Guy Clark remains a national treasure and folk icon, crafting masterful, poignant melodies and insightful lyrics. Tough, bare-boned and dryly sentimental, his beautiful songs reflect the man himself and display an old-fashioned masculinity that emphasizes honesty, integrity and carefully chosen words. His craggy, wistful story-songs, and plain-spoken delivery are also indicative of his persona. Inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Foundation's Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2004, Clark was honored with the Americana Music Association's Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting in 2005. The following year, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum named Guy Clark as its prestigious 2006 Artist-in-Residence.
October 1, 1992
Widely recognized as one of country music's greatest songsmiths, Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Guy Clark has influenced such artists as Lyle Lovett, Rodney Crowell, and Nanci Griffith. Here he is joined by several special guests, like Crowell and Emmylou Harris, for a diverse set of originals about everyday working men and the timelessness of art.