Guy Clark Biography

6 November 1941, Rockport, Texas, USA. Clark has achieved considerably more fame as a songwriter than as a performer, although he is revered by his nucleus of fans internationally. Brought up in the hamlet of Monahans, Texas, Clark worked in television during the 60s, and later as a photographer - his work appeared on albums released by the Texan-based International Artists Records. He briefly performed in a folk trio with Kay K.T. Oslin, and began writing songs for a living, moving to Los Angeles, which he eventually loathed, but which inspired one of his biggest songs, ‘LA Freeway’, a US Top 100 hit for Jerry Jeff Walker. Clark then wrote songs such as his classic ‘Desperados Waiting For A Train’, which was covered by acts as diverse as Tom Rush and Mallard (the group formed by ex-members of Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band) and the brilliant train song ‘Texas 1947’, by Johnny Cash. His first album, Old No. 1, was released in 1975, and included ‘Freeway’, ‘Desperados’ and ‘1947’, as well as several more songs of similarly high quality, such as ‘Let It Roll’. Despite receiving virtually unanimous and well-deserved critical acclaim, it failed to chart on either side of the Atlantic. Clark’s 1976 follow-up album, Texas Cookin’, was no more successful, although it again contained classic songs such as ‘The Last Gunfighter Ballad’ and ‘Virginia’s Real’. Among those who contributed to these albums simply because they enjoyed Clark’s music were Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle, Jerry Jeff Walker, Hoyt Axton and Waylon Jennings. By 1978, Clark had moved labels to Warner Brothers Records, and released Guy Clark, which included four songs from other writers, among them Rodney Crowell’s ‘Viola’, ‘American Dream’ and Townes Van Zandt’s ‘Don’t You Take It Too Bad’, while the harmonizing friends this time included Don Everly, Gordon Payne (of the Crickets) and K.T. Oslin.

A three-year gap then ensued before 1981’sThe South Coast Of Texas, which was produced by Rodney Crowell. Clark wrote two of the songs with Crowell, ‘The Partner Nobody Chose’ (a US country Top 40 single) and ‘She’s Crazy For Leavin’’, while the album also included ‘Heartbroke’, later covered by Ricky Skaggs. Better Days, again produced by Crowell, included vintage classics such as ‘The Randall Knife’ and ‘The Carpenter’, as well as another US country chart single, ‘Homegrown Tomatoes’, and Van Zandt’s amusing ‘No Deal’, but Clark was still unable to penetrate the commercial barriers that had long been predicted by critics and his fellow musicians. He began to work as a solo troubadour, after various unsuccessful attempts to perform live with backing musicians. At this point he developed the intimate show that he brought to Europe several times during the latter half of the 80s. This resulted in his return to recording with 1989’s Old Friends, appearing on U2’s label, Mother Records. The usual array of ‘heavy friends’ were on hand, including Harris, Crowell, Rosanne Cash and Vince Gill, but only two of the 10 tracks were solely written by Clark. Among the contributions were Joe Ely’s ‘The Indian Cowboy’, and Van Zandt’s ‘To Live Is To Fly’. Even with the implied patronage of U2, at the time one of the biggest acts in the world, Clark enjoyed little more success than he had previously experienced. After two unsuccessful albums for Asylum Records, he enjoyed something of a creative renaissance with a series of recordings for Sugar Hill Records. Clark retains the ability to produce fresh material with memorable lyrics, recording one of the albums of his career with 2002’s The Dark.

On stage, Clark is introverted, performing his material in an unplugged, unadorned and underrated way, with the aid of constant cigarettes and mumbled introductions. Time and time again, Clark’s album Old No 1 is cited by critics and performers as a landmark work. Many musicians, including Lyle Lovett, Nanci Griffith and Emmylou Harris, have acknowledged his contribution to American music and, to quote the title of one of his more recent songs, it is ‘Stuff That Works’. Clark was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2004.


Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.


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