The world lost one of its most important voices last week with the death of singer/songwriter Guy Clark.
A long-term battle with cancer took Clark at the age of 74 after a short stay in a nursing home and in hospice.
I can’t tell you when exactly I became aware of Guy Clark, although it was in the mid-1970s, shortly after I began my own career as a singer. I feel confident in saying I learned of Guy’s songs by way of the legendary Jerry Jeff Walker, who introduced me to many otherwise unknown writers in the old days. I’m pretty sure the first Guy Clark song I started doing was “Like A Coat from the Cold.” I think it’s a beautiful song. I played the song for the wedding of friends and my pal Don Cogan played it at my wedding. (“The lady beside me is the one I have chosen to walk through life with me like a coat from the cold” is the chorus. Guy has since said he’s not fond of the song and said he thinks it sounds presumptuous. We all still love the song.)
Guy Clark is not exactly your household name, sadly enough. Born in Texas, Guy became a linchpin in a group of writers — Townes Van Zandt, Mickey Newbury, Rodney Crowell — who reminded one of the Beats in the 1950s.
Guy’s songs are so true and so simple they hit you in the gut when you hear them. He wrote about an old man and a kid who were like “Desperados Waiting For A Train” — true story. He told the take of his father’s “Randall Knife,” also a true story. He sang about the “L.A. Freeway,” another true episode of his life. You’re probably noticing a pattern here.
Many, not all, of his songs are true. Sure, “The Guitar” is a fantasy based on true life. But “Let Him Roll,” a tale of the death of a down-and-outer whose only mourner is a past love who was a whore in Dallas. I can’t sing that one without choking up.
Several of Guy Clark’s songs seemed to reflect episodes shared with me and my friend, C. W. Dupper. Maybe that’s why Guy was so important: His voice was the voice of many of us.