The year 2016 continues to take some of our best and brightest stars. We have lost Bowie, Prince, Merle, and a slew of others. I don’t have to go through all of the names. I generally put up a quick, "Well, we lost another great one" post on Facebook. This will not be one of those, because the latest loss -- Guy Clark, who passed away on May 17 at the age of 74 -- hits me hard.
I first saw Guy Clark at the Bottom Line in New York in the early 1990s as part of a round-robin singer/songwriter show that also featured John Hiatt, Joe Ely, and Lyle Lovett -- a line-up I would see three or four more times over the years. I had been a great admirer of Hiatt, Ely, and Lovett. I had no idea who Guy Clark was. While three of my favorite musical artists fawned over Guy Clark like students learning at the feet of a master, all Clark wanted to talk about was how great Townes van Zandt was. I was actually more impressed with Clark's humility than his performance.
Not that I wasn’t impressed with his performance. I was. It was steady, laid back, and dignified. But, truth be told, I was not blown away. There have been times where I have seen a performer for the first time and been compelled to go out and buy his or her CD the next day. I had no such compulsion in this case. About a month later, however, I was combing through the bins and Soundtracks in Huntington, New York, and I came across Clark's Texas Cookin’. Remembering Clark's effortless and accessible cool, his unassuming elder statesman persona, and the high praise heaped on him by three other great artists, I grabbed the CD. From that moment on, I was an unabashed fan. The songs were literate and worked on an emotional level. The music had a bit of a swing to it. The chords were colorful. The credits were a who’s who of great artists -- Waylon, Emmylou, Rodney, Jerry Jeff -- which further spoke to the high esteem he had earned among his peers.
The songs he left behind are classics. "Desperados Waiting for a Train" (which I think of as his “Pancho and Lefty”), "Randall Knife," "LA Freeway," "Anyway I Love You," "The Cape." The list goes on. I used to grow tomatoes in my back yard and could not pick them without "Homegrown Tomatoes" running through my mind. Eventually I would give in to the temptation and sing along to the song in my head.
If I were to construct a country music Mount Rushmore, Guy Clark's face would be right up there. I would use the image from his Dublin Blues album, which evokes a sort of West Texas Beethoven. Like the man himself, it's a classic. - Jon Geffner
Mr. Geffner is a New York-based musician, writer, and pop-rock aficionado.