Guy Clark, famous luthier, songwriter, and singer died last week while I was on travel, and so this tribute is somewhat late. I had heard Clark’s songs through other artists but came late to his music, being a sailor and preoccupied with other concerns. But finding myself on dry land one day I picked up and listened to a copy of Dublin Blues. The title song froze me in my tracks and I was hooked.
Here was a man with the ability to take the internal voice that animates and provides narrative to our everyday lives and put it to song with all of its emotional rawness and nuance intact. That ability in itself marks a true artist. To sing that way in front of others requires emotional honesty and courage that few possess. Using that same courage he could also be topical, and his songs “El Coyote” and “Heroes”, both from 2013, are as topical as anything done by Guthrie, Seeger, or Dylan.
To me Clark was a folksinger–one of the most important this country has ever produced. He led the Nashville progressive country music scene and was one of the leaders of the Outlaw country movement along with Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, and Merle Haggard, among others. His musical approach was deeply influenced by Townes Van Zandt, and you can hear his influence in the songs of both Steve Earl and Lyle Lovett. A few years ago I had the pleasure of hearing him, along with Lyle Lovett, Joe Ely, and John Hiatt in concert, unplugged as they say. Just four old boys playing heartfelt music, like sitting around the campfire. Waiting for Woody and Pete to show up; and maybe Doc and Hank Sr. too.
His voice will be missed. Here he is singing the song that introduced me to his music.