Like a great sage that only speaks his wisdom once every few years, when Guy Clark played a song or released an album, you stopped down, and you listened. Like the tone of Willie Nelson’s guitar or Johnny Cash’s voice, a Guy Clark song has become an irreplaceable institution of American music. Even if you’re only familiar with his songs though the performances of others, or songs by others that he influenced, Guy Clark’s handiwork is embedded in the very ethos of what we know as songwriting in American music today, even if that influence is imperceptible to the average listener.
If you need any more evidence of the influence of Guy Clark, just appreciate he’s the only one that has the legitimate ability to claim himself the honorary fifth Highwayman, and that he was a primary influence on one of his best friends, Townes Van Zandt.
Legendary country music songwriter Guy Clark passed away early Tuesday morning (5-17) at the ago of 74. Born in Monahans, Texas on Nov. 6, 1941, he went on to become one of the most revered songwriters in the history of country music and beyond. He released a total of 14 studio albums, including for major labels RCA and Warner, as well as Sugar Hill and Dualtone, and though he never saw significant commercial success in his solo career, his songs went on to become some of the most signature tunes for other performers.
Along with recording his own music, Clark wrote songs for Johnny Cash, George Strait, Alan Jackson, Ricky Skaggs, Vince Gill, The Highwaymen, Jerry Jeff Walker, David Allan Coe, and even current stars like Brad Paisley and Kenny Chesney. Ricky Skaggs had a #1 hit with the Guy Clark song “Heartbroke.” Steve Wariner had a #1 hit with the Guy Clark song “Baby I’m Yours.” He co-wrote “She’s Crazy for Leavin'” with Rodney Crowell, which also became a #1 hit. And Guy’s “Desperados Waiting On A Train” was one of the marquee songs for the country music supergroup The Highwaymen.
Guy Clark started his career in the late 1960’s in Houston, TX before moving out to the West Coast and spending time in San Francisco and Los Angeles, trying to build a career as a folk singer. This time in his career can be heard in early songs like “L.A. Freeway,” which was recorded by Jerry Jeff Walker, and helped put Guy Clark on the musical map. He signed a publishing deal and moved to Nashville in 1971, and that is when his songwriting career began in earnest. He lived in a small house in east Nashville, where fellow Texan Townes Van Zandt would visit often and write songs.
Guy won the Grammy Award for Best Folk Album for My Favorite Picture Of You in 2014. A tribute record to guy won the Americana Music Awards for Best Album in 2011. His appearance in the Outlaw documentary Heartworn Highways made him a legend with a new generation. Biographer, documentarian, and producer Tamara Saviano has been working on a book and film on the life of Guy Clark called Without Getting Killed or Caught, which she was hoping to release to coincide with Guy Clark’s 75th birthday in November.
Guy Clark had been suffering from numerous health ailments recently, and had been reported to be living in a nursing home facility, but was in “stable” condition. In June 2015, he was hospitalized right before he was scheduled to appear at an Austin City Limits event being held in his behalf. Clark had a bad reaction to medication he was prescribed after a recent surgical procedure, and missed the ACL Hall of Fame induction. The induction ceremony continued on in Clark’s absence, and Lyle Lovett accepted the honor on Clark’s behalf.
Guy Clark is regularly listed at the very top of lists of country music’s greatest songwriters, and has to be considered a candidate for posthumous induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame as a songwriter in the future.
Guy was married to fellow songwriter and artist Susanna Clark since 1972. Susanna passed away from Cancer in 2012. Guy Clark is survived by his son, Travis.