In this modern age of synthesizers and pop idols, there have been a few stalwart artists and cultivators of an almost-dying craft who maintain their devotion to “true” country music, sustaining an art form that has at times nearly been eclipsed. In a sea of countrified pop melodies with elementary rhymes, these artists stand out as brightly as the blinding sparkle of sunlight in the waves. The world lost one such shining virtuoso this week with the passing of Guy Clark.
Born in 1941 in the small, western town of Monahans, Texas, Clark spent his formative years roaming the halls of his grandmother’s hotel. His mother away at work and his father in the army, Clark filled his youthful hours conversing with the hotel’s motley groups of guests. These spontaneous discourses would later reappear in Clark’s repertoire, influencing his storytelling and lyrical style for decades to come. (One of his most acclaimed songs, “Desperados Waiting for a Train,” for example, remembers one of his grandmother’s guests, an oil well driller.) When his father returned home after his service in the army, he regaled the family with poetry readings at the dinner table, fostering Clark’s literary knowledge and mastery of lyricism.
After stockpiling his adolescent mind with songwriting fodder for the future, Clark left for Houston. It was here that he began refining and developing his own musical sound, which had previously been based in Spanish songs and style. It was in Houston that he met fellow songwriter Townes Van Zandt, who inspired his writings for years to come as the two toured together until Van Zandt’s death in 1997. Houston also introduced Clark to blues icons Lightnin’ Hopkins and Mance Lipscomb. With these diverse influences, Clark refined his unique brand of blues and folk-inspired Texas country music, melding a range of genres into one coherent and timeless sound.
The late 1960’s found Clark hopping between Houston and California, repairing guitars for a livelihood and polishing his musical chops in folk bands and jam sessions. In 1971 he moved to Nashville with his wife, artist Susanna Talley, where he worked as a songwriter. His striking capacity for songwriting quickly earned him a reputation as one of the most promising young writers in the city, as well as a record contract with RCA.
Over the following decades, Clark produced over twenty albums, all of which received critical acclaim, if little popularity amongst the lay folk. Although Clark was never a chart-topper himself, his words certainly were: by the mid-1980’s, his songs were verified hits sung by the best in the biz, including Johnny Cash, David Allen Coe, George Strait, Jimmy Buffett, and Ricky Skaggs, whose rendition of “Heartbeat” reached #1. Clark continued to produce and record music until his final days. His last album, 2013’s My Favorite Picture of You, was awarded the 2014 Grammy for Best Folk Album, proving that Clark’s songwriting prowess and musical talents never declined with age.
Although the musical master that was Guy Clark may no longer be with us, his talent is; it lives on in the lyrics of some of our favorite country tunes, in the down-to-earthiness of his recorded voice, and in the vital spark of his successors.
HEAR GUY CLARK SING “HOMEGROWN TOMATOES”
SEE MORE PHOTOS OF GUY CLARK HERE