The stuff that works
Kenny Mathieson considers the legendary status of Texan singer- songwriter Guy Clark.
Guy Clark has not exactly been prolific in the recording studios over the years. but his new disc. Dublin Blues (Asylum). is arguably his best since his brilliant debut. ()/(I No /. way back in 1975. The album. his eighth in all. is still only available on import here. but Rounder have also released a splendid double Cl). 'I'lie Crafts/nun. containing three of his earlier records.
This is all good news for admirers of the legendary Texan sitiger-songwriter. and if you are at all interested in roots music. then you could hardly fail to be included in that company. ()nly his Texan buddy Townes Van Zandt gets as many mentions in dispatches when other songwriters get around to
‘l have certain standards I set for what I feel is a good song, and my keeping percentage is pretty low.’
listing their primary influences. while his warm. gruff Texan draw] is a distinct pleasure in itself.
Clark has learned the hard way about the need to balance his activities as a singer and as a songwriter. When his last album. Boats '1}; Build. came out in 1992. Clark toured fora month with Allan Toussaint. Joe Ely and Michelle Shocked. and got to the end of it with his voice completely shot. The doctors warned him off any more singing for several months. and he had to cancel a string of dates with Nanci Griffith. effectively halting the momentum of the album.
‘Yeah. I have to keep a balance between writing and singing. otherwise you can end tip getting burned out in either one —- I had a period where I got real stuck with the writing as well. I hit a brick wall and couldn‘t write for a year. For me. though. there is a real symbiotic relationship between them. and I generally feel that l‘ve got no reason to write unless I go playing for somebody. and no reason to go playing unless I‘ve got some songs I‘ve written.‘
Clark was born in Rockpon. Texas. in 1941. and grew up in West Texas. His break into the music business arrived when he moved to Los Angeles and worked in the Dopyera Brothers' dobro factory while touting his songs round the publishers. His classic ‘LA Freeway'. made famous by Jerry Jeff Walker. arose out of that period. although he didn’t write it until after he had moved to Nashville in 1971.
He gradually built up a name as a songwriter of the highest quality. and his songs were increasingly covered by more and more artists. from The Everly Brothers and The Highwaymen to Nanci Griffith and Rodney Crowell. In recent years he has done more i
co-writing (partly in response to that period of writer's block). but even then the songs have his own very distinctive stamp.
Nashville is a real co—writing son of a place. and there are a lot of guys there who make a living from doing that. it's their stock-in-trade. There's no doubt it can have its benefits. but I still kind of feel that most of those songs are really mine. even where they have two names on them.
‘I have certain standards l set for what I feel is a good song. and my keeping percentage is pretty low — if the lyrics don't work on paper without the music. then they have to go. Writing doesn't just happen. it‘s a discipline. and one thing I learned is that if you get
Guy Clark: the master craftsman
even a tiny little snippet of an idea. you better write it down right there and then. because five minutes later it's not gonna be there.‘
lfthe craft of songwriting is close to Clark's heart. however. the emotion and acute perception which goes into them is every bit as crucial. In the words of a song on the new album. Clark deals in ‘stuff that works. stuff that holds up‘. and his self-critical approach means that there is no such thing as a bad Guy Clark song. The veneration which he enjoys from his peers is absolutely justified. Catch a master at work. (My ('lm'k plays The Ferry. (f/(txgmt‘ m1 Than 2() uml 'I'lle xiK. lie/l library. I’t'rlli (m Fri 2/.
The List l4-27 Jul 1995 37