Guy Clark, whio died Tuesday was a songwriter’s songwriter, the kind studied by young and seasoned artists alike. Dallas-Fort Worth songwriters will testify to this legacy at the Kessler Theatre tonight with a "song swap" tribute of tunes and stories.
“For me, Guy has always appeared to be the ringmaster or bandleader for singer-songwriters,” says Greg Schroeder, who will perform tonight. “He’s kind of like the favorite uncle who doesn't put up with shit and has all the great stories. When he wrote, spoke or sang we all listened. You believed everything he was telling you.”
Clark opened a guitar repair shop in Houston in the 60s and befriended other future legends like Townes Van Zandt and Mickey Newbury. But by the 70s, he moved to Nashville and started a songwriting career that produced classic tracks like “L.A. Freeway” and “Desperados Waiting For A Train” that would be covered by a long list of artists, including Johnny Cash and Kenny Chesney. Clark frequently collaborated with Emmylou Harris and was a mentor to artists like Steve Earle.
“Guy Clark was such a different Texas singer-songwriter than any of his colleagues,” says Cameron Ray, who is planning to participate tonight. “His lyrics had more of a Leonard Cohen vibe than a more traditional Texas singer-songwriter, that's why he stuck out to me.”
Ray remembers seeing Clark perform live. He played newer songs he had never heard, but Clark carefully delivered every tune and Ray ended up hanging on every word just the same. About a year ago, someone broke into Ray’s car and stole his gear, including his guitar. He remembers Kessler artistic director Jeff Liles giving him Clark’s song, “The Guitar” to listen to.
“The Guitar” tells the story of someone walking in a pawnshop, seeing an old guitar on the wall, and playing it. A friend of Ray’s ended up giving him one the exact same type of guitar that was stolen out of his car. “That song sticks with me every time I pick up that guitar,” Ray says.
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“Along with Bob Dylan and John Prine, Guy Clark is etched definitively into my personal Mount Rushmore of the greatest American songwriters,” says Ronnie Fauss, who will also perform tonight. “Who else has the audacity to write an entire song about a 6-year-old-boy in a small town in West Texas in the 1940s spending his afternoon waiting for a train to roll through town so it will flatten the penny he laid on the track? Guy wrote that song, and it's riveting. His words are insightful, sobering, and hopeful all at the same time.”
Fauss remembers running out of songs while playing a show in Laramie several years ago. He started playing Clark’s “Stuff That Works” and everyone knew it and sang along. Fauss naturally kept playing more of Clark’s songs and counts the performance among his most memorable. “It was communal and meaningful and the glue that brought that night together were the words and melodies of Guy Clark,” Fauss says.
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Fauss even had the chance to meet Clark while recording in Nashville. He left a session to accompany someone delivering a guitar to the legendary songwriter’s house. “He was in the kitchen eating enchiladas,” Fauss says. “He offered me some moonshine out of his ‘moonshine cabinet’ and then we headed down to his guitar workshop to hang out for a bit. He played a new song he was working on, and I tried to play one of mine for him but couldn't have messed it up worse.”
“I think a lot of us that write and sing wanted to be Guy Clark, or as close as we could get,” says Jacob Furr, who will also perform tonight. “He wrote the strongest songs and fostered generations of new writers who knew he was the master. He truly embodied the ideal of the poet with a guitar that is such an essential element of Texas music and folk music in general.”
Furr agrees that a song swap is a perfect way to celebrate Guy Clark. Thinking of all the videos he has watched of Clark performing, he notes that a special guest or song swap partner was typically featured. “It's just part of the songwriting tradition,” Furr says. “It's very community oriented and very much about sharing.” He plays pulls frequently to show others a new song. It’s a way for songwriters to encourage each other to try harder, which is very much in the spirit of Guy Clark.
“I can't see any other way to pay tribute to a great songwriter other then getting songwriters together to play songs,” Schroeder says. “The beautiful thing is Guy Clark song pulls are happening all over the state this week. Maybe it will encourage more of these types of shows.”