It was just announced today that legendary country and folk singer Guy Clark is dead at 74 years of age, the announcement being made via his Facebook page. As for the obvious question “how did Guy Clark die?” it’s being reported that he passed away due to a longtime illness after years of failing health. While still early, reactions to Guy Clark’s death are already pouring in and making it clear that the musician and the best songs of Guy Clark will be remembered, even by those who weren’t fans of his work.
Born November 6, 1941, in Monahans, Texas, Guy Clark was primarily raised by his grandmother while his mom worked and dad was off in the army. Many of his songs would detail his time growing up in Monahans and certain events, such as a certain person at his grandmother’s hotel becoming the topic of “Desperados Waiting for a Train” and “Boats to Build” being about one of his summer jobs.
The time he did get with his parents, he spent being creative as his father read poetry at the dinner table, strengthening his imagination and likely leading to many of Guy Clark’s lyrics. His home also had no TV, leaving him to read more, and he would eventually get involved with sports and, more importantly, the guitar; he would eventually learn to build his preferred instrument in addition to playing it.
Clark entered the Peace Corps in the early 1960s, only to decide he would be much better off playing music than being involved in the military or academics, so he moved to Houston and played gigs around the area while repairing guitars as a source of steady income. During this time, he would meet two very influential individuals: Townes Van Zandt, a fellow songwriter who would form a strong relationship with Clark, both professionally and personally, and Susanna Talley, his future wife.
Guy Clark would eventually leave Houston for Los Angeles, though the city eventually proved to not agree with him. He then, like many fellow Houston country artists, would transfer to Nashville in the 1970s, where he would eventually create his first album, Old No. 1, released in 1975, leading to his jump in fame. He would work with numerous labels, including RCA, Warner, and more.
Following Old No. 1, Guy Clark’s songs would go on to span 13 other studio albums, the most recent being My Favorite Picture of You in 2013. He was also an interesting case in that some of his most famous songs are famous despite not having his name attached to them. Not only did he write his own songs, but he did so for his friends and many other country and folk artists. He also had many songs that hit number one in the form of covers being performed by someone other than himself, though he wasn’t lacking in big names covering his material, including the likes of Willie Nelson; that said, he himself never enjoyed such success, both financially and in the rankings. However, in his later years, he would come to enjoy collaborating with younger artists.
The Best Songs of Guy Clark
As his passing means no more new material or Guy Clark tours, his existing discography will serve as the artist’s continued legacy. Below are the best songs of Guy Clark that most effectively capture the late performer’s talents and contributions.
“Desperados Waiting for the Train”
As noted, this song is based on a childhood resident of his grandmother’s hotel and tells the story of a child and his idol as the boy ages. However, as the boy ages, reality sets in; as the lyrics, “One day I looked up and he’s pushin’ eighty/And there’s brown tobacco stains all down his chin/To me he’s one of the heroes of this country/So why’s he all dressed up like them old men” show, the boy, now a man, has realized his idol is as human as anyone else—a problem any boy with a hero growing up will face.
This song stemmed from Guy Clark’s brief stint living in Los Angeles. With lyrics like, “Adios to all this concrete/Gonna get me some dirt road back street” and “If I can just get off of this LA freeway/Without getting killed or caught/I’d be down that road in a cloud of smoke,” Clark made his feelings on the California city life all too clear.
“I’m going down to save my soul” says Guy Clark this song from the 1976 album of the same name before listing numerous preferred home state foods, including enchiladas, steak, okra, and even armadillo. Given the chorus’ lines of, “Oh my, momma, ain’t that Texas Cookin’ good/Oh my, momma, eat it everyday if I could,” Clark may have been specifically referring to his mom’s home cooking, and who doesn’t appreciate their mother’s food over anyone else’s?
Much like Los Angeles, Clark apparently didn’t think much of Dublin, Ireland, singing, “I wish I was in Austin/In a chilly parlor bar.” It’s also a song about a lost love, as he announces, “I’ll love you till I die” while asking for forgiveness for “all my anger” and “all my faults”; thus, perfectly capturing the mindset of anything with a broken heart.
“The Last Gunfighter Ballad”
This song, from Clark’s second album, is less famous than the later version performed by Johnny Cash but may be the superior take on the song given Clark’s voice. The lyrics are the story of an aging gunman failing to adapt to a changing world where problems aren’t solved by bullets and duels. Lines like, “Now he’s out in the traffic and he’s checking the sun/And he gets killed by a car as he goes for his gun,” which end the song on a dour note, make Clark’s message clear: people have to change with the times, and that goes for himself and country music as well.