Larry Groce Remembers Guy Clark

May 18, 2016

Guy Clark was a big man and he cast a large shadow of influence over country folk music – what’s come to be called Americana. As a songwriter, he combined the two elements that are always present in a good song, real poetry and skilled craftsmanship. He took pride in his craft. Both his songs and the guitars he made attest to his great talent and attention to detail. He had solid commercial success over the years with many singers covering his songs, but he’ll always be most admired for his artistry.

I can immediately think of many phrases from his songs that struck me when I first heard them and stuck with me long afterwards: “Hands all full of watermelon” from “Sis Draper”, “I'm gonna get me some alligator shoes” from “Baton Rouge”, “she’s got a pistol in her purse” from “Dancin Days” – the list is long.

Guy first visited Mountain Stage in 1985 and was perhaps the first truly great songwriter to play the show. I vividly remember him singing “Desperados Waiting for a Train” during that first appearance. I still get a chill just thinking about when he got to the verse that goes:

One day I looked up, and he's pushing 80
And there's brown tobacco stains all down his chin
To me he's one of the heroes of this country
So why is he all dressed up like them old men?
Drinkin' beer and playing Moon and 42

Guy Clark, standing next to his good friend Townes Van Zandt, in the basement of the Capitol Theatre in Charleston, West Virginia. This was taken in May 1987 during Mountain Stage.
Credit Mountain Stage

Maybe it’s because that was a perfect description of my grandfather who took his hard-won pleasures in beer joints and domino halls. Probably it’s because Guy had an uncanny songwriting ability. Many country songs are set in bars, but few have captured the poignancy of that scene like Guy could. His lyrics should be taught in schools.

Guy was a guest on Mountain Stage twelve times, twice touring with Townes Van Zandt. He and Townes and Billy Joe Shaver have set standards in songwriting that inspired and intimidated those who have followed. They’ve especially influenced those from the territory that lies between Austin and Nashville, but their marks have been made on the whole world of songwriters. Now two of them belong to the ages.

A whole lot of fine songwriters stand in the shadow of Guy Clark.