Posts Tagged ‘Guy Clark’

Weekend Playlist

7 March 2011

“I get pretty much all the exercise I need walking down airport concourses carrying bags.” ~ Guy Clark

Johnny Cash | The Johnny Cash Children’s Album

Parliament | The Clones Of Dr. Funkenstein

The Headhunters | Survival Of The Fittest

Kashmere Stage Band | Plays Originals

Patrick Sky | Songs That Made America Famous

Organized Konfusion | Organized Konfusion

Exit 9 | Straight Up

Wendy Carlos | Switched-On Brandendburgs

The California Raisins | Sweet, Delicious & Marvelous

Mumford & Sons | Sigh No More

Funkadelic | The Best Of Funkadelic 1976-1981

Cowboy Junkies | The Trinity Sessions

Guy Clark | Old No. 1

Ali Akbar Khan | Morning And Evening Ragas

Black Nasty | Talking To The People

The Black Keys | Brothers

Willie Bobo | Bobo! Do That Thing/Guajira

Canned Heat | Future Blues

Lou Donaldson | Gravy Train

Johnny Griffin | The Congregation

Buried Treasure: Old No. 1

4 March 2011

[Today: Deep in the heart of Texas…]

Guy Clark was a guitar maker in Houston, TX in the late-60s, when he decided to try his hand at songwriting. A few minor Jerry Jeff Walker hits and about five years later, he finally got a shot at making his debut album. The appropriately titled Old No. 1 sounds like an album that was years in the making – each song as finely crafted as a handmade guitar. The Texas in Clark’s songs isn’t populated by horses and cowboys so much as lonely people drifting around looking for their place. The settings and characters are pure Lone Star, but the sentiments are universal.

‘Desperados Waiting For A Train’ and ‘L.A. Freeway’ (the aforementioned hits for Walker) are fine examples of Clark’s craft. The former is the story of two lifelong friends that has the depth of a short story, while the latter focuses on a few key details and lets your imagination fill in the innumerable blanks. ‘L.A. Freeway’ leaves you with many more questions than it answers: What is he running from? Is there contraband in that truck? Who wants him dead? Depending on the answers, it might be a precursor to Bruce Springsteen’s ‘State Trooper’ and Kanye West’s ‘Jesus Walks’ or it might just be about a musician hightailing it out of Los Angeles. Either way, it’s a gorgeous song that’s all the better for its ambiguity and Clark’s lived-in voice.

Where does it all come from? “I try to write about stuff I know about, stuff that happened to me or someone I know. Inspiration just comes out of nowhere… that’s the hard one to get,” he explained in a September 2009 interview. ‘Texas 1947’ is the inspired tale of a kid sticking a nickel on the train tracks (to squash it “flatter than a dime”) that somehow manages to convey the wonder of a massive locomotive as seen through six-year-old eyes. On the other end of the spectrum, ‘Rita Ballou’ is an ode to the prettiest heartbreaker in town, laid against an irresistible backbeat.

Asked about the genesis of his songwriting skills, Clark said “Well, my folks were both very literate, and always encouraged me in the arts. I was a junior in high school before we got a television set, and we’d sit around the kitchen table and read aloud after dinner. At least one night a week was dedicated to reading poetry. It seemed like people were more literate back then, or maybe they just didn’t have so much input from media.”

Over the course of his career, Guy Clark has released 13 albums and none have sold particularly well. But he’s a musician’s musician, and has earned a comfortable living off songwriting royalties. Old No. 1 has been identified as part of the Outlaw Country movement of the mid-70s, but really it’s just an unforgettable bunch of songs about an unforgettable bunch of characters…

Listen: Rita Ballou

Listen: L.A. Freeway

Listen: Texas 1947

Weekend Playlist

26 April 2010

“All is spontaneity.” ~ Can lead singer Damo Suzuki

Junior Wells | Coming At You

Van Halen | Van Halen II

Guy Clark | Old No. 1

Ween | The Mollusk

The Meters | Cabbage Alley

The Incredible String Band | Wee Tam

Iron & Wine | The Shepherd’s Dog

Ray Charles | Ray Charles Live

Eric Clapton | 461 Ocean Boulevard

Little Feat | Waiting For Columbus

The Black Crowes | Before The Frost…

Ramones | It’s Alive

Metallica | Metallica

Miles Davis | Tutu

Lee Morgan | Lee Morgan

The Jimi Hendrix Experience | Live At Clark University

Can | Ege Bamyasi

The Byrds | Untitled

Memphis Slim | The Blues Of Memphis Slim: Steady Rolling Blues

Lightnin’ Hopkins | Lightnin’ Strikes
[album cover not pictured]

Various Artists | I’m Not There Soundtrack

The P Speaks: Townes Van Zandt, Folk Icon

26 July 2008

[photo credit: Wood Newton 1977]

A Texan by birth and a traveler by nature, Townes Van Zandt’s dark country and folk ballads mirrored his own life of haunting truths. Born in 1944 into a wealthy Fort Worth oil family, he spent his childhood moving around the country as his father’s business travel required. As a young man, he was recognized for his near genius IQ and an anticipated career in law and politics, and he attended military school in his early high school years. 

Some say that Van Zandt was being groomed for Texas governorship, but he dropped out of college in Colorado and decided to pursue a singing career. Diagnosed with manic depression in his early twenties, he was treated with insulin shock therapy, which erased much of his long-term memory. He tried to join the Air Force during the Vietnam War but was rejected because of his psychiatric history.

Citing influences such as Hank Williams, Lightnin’ Hopkins guitar style, Bob Dylan’s early lyrics and his friend Guy Clark, Van Zandt moved to Houston in the mid-1960’s to try his hand at the musician’s life. With Mickey Newbury’s help, he recorded what became first album, For the Sake of the Song, produced by Cowboy Jack Clement (best known for his work with Johnny Cash) and released in 1968 by Poppy Records. 

The next five years were the most prolific of Van Zandt’s career, as Poppy and Tomato Records released five more albums: Our Mother the Mountain, Townes Van Zandt, Delta Momma Blues, High Low and In Between, and The Late Great Townes Van Zandt.  These included the meat of what made him a legend in songwriting circles: ‘For the Sake of the Song,’ ‘To Live’s to Fly,’ ‘Tecumseh Valley,’ ‘Pancho and Lefty,’ and many more. Van Zandt’s personal behavior bordered on erratic, and for much of the 1970s, he lived a reclusive life in a cabin in Tennessee, with no indoor plumbing or phone, appearing only occasionally to perform shows.

Thought influential to many, Van Zandt never achieved mainstream success himself, in part because lived the life of drinking, depression, rambling and gambling that he sang about. In 1977, he released Live at the Old Quarter, Houston. This record (as well as 2001’s Live at McCabe’s) showcases him at his best, with just an acoustic guitar and an enraptured audience, paired with Van Zandt’s self-deprecating charm and dry humor.  Others found commercial success in his music – Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson rose to the top of country charts in 1983 with a version of Van Zandt’s ‘Pancho and Lefty.’

From the early 1970s until his death on New Year’s Day in 1997 (of a blood clot in the lungs following hip surgery), Townes toured frequently, driven in large part, his friends said, by inner demons. Generally shy and reserved, Van Zandt struggled with alcohol and heroin throughout his adult life. At times he would become drunk on stage and forget the lyrics to his songs. Van Zandt’s dark material and public struggles with addiction were powerful beacons for many fans who were dealing with depression and similar issues. 

The LA TImes once hailed Van Zandt as “a cross between Woody Guthrie and Leonard Cohen.” Steve Earle put it a little more strongly: “Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world and I’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that.” To this Van Zandt replied: “I’ve met Bob Dylan and his bodyguards, and I don’t think Steve could get anywhere near his coffee table.”

Listen: Tecumseh Valley (from the album Live At The Old Quarter, Houston, Texas)


Post Script

I came across a 1987 interview which lists these albums as Townes Van Zandt’s top LP’s of all time, and given recent discussions, it seemed appropriate to include here:

1. Hard Again – Muddy Waters

2. Mozart’s Violin Concertos Nos. 4 & 5

3. The Times They Are a Changin’ – Bob Dylan

4. Sticky Fingers – Rolling Stones

5. Automobile Blues – Lightnin’ Hopkins

6. Atlantic 12 String – Blind Willie McTell

7. Tchaikovsky – Piano Concertos – Van Cliburn

8. Richard Dobson’s first LP

9. The Complete Hank Williams

10. Old #9 – Guy Clark

11. Surrealistic Pillow – Jefferson Airplane

12. Waiting for the Naked Girl to Call – Tim Henderson

The P Speaks: Guy Clark, Folk Icon

8 July 2008

Homegrown tomatoes, homegrown tomatoes
What’d life be without homegrown tomatoes
Only two things that money can’t buy
That’s true love & homegrown tomatoes

– Guy Clark

It’s tomato season here in the dkpresents garden, so I’ve been thinking a lot about Guy Clark. I have a tomato fetish – cherry tomatoes specifically. Sweet 100s, Golden Nuggets, Black Cherries, Gardener’s Delight, Riesentraube and my favorite of the week, the spectacular Sweet Chelseas.  

Guy Clark has been singing in his wistful voice about tomatoes — and other things — since the late 1950’s. A native Texan, Guy was influenced by Texas blues legends like Mance Lipscomb and Lightnin’ Hopkins in his early days on the Houston-Austin folk circuit in the early 60’s, where he rubbed elbows with Townes Van Zandt and Jerry Jeff Walker. 

Clark moved to the west coast in the late 60’s – San Francisco and later Los Angeles – and started to write songs of personal experience, resulting in visual stories like ‘LA Freeway’ and ‘Desperados Waiting for a Train.’ Tiring quickly of Southern California, Clark – and his artist wife Susanna – moved to Nashville in 1971, and they were quickly surrounded by a talented fraternity of singer-songwriters: Steve Earle, Rodney Crowell, Billy Joe Shaver, David Allan Coe, Van Zandt and others. Johnny Cash and Jerry Jeff Walker were some of the earliest to release Guy Clark’s songs on their albums, and many collaborations with others have followed, including Lyle Lovett, John Hiatt, Joe Ely, John Prine, Emmylou Harris and Mary Chapin Carpenter. Clark has 12 albums to his credit, and my personal favorite is Old No. 1 from 1975. (For you gardeners, ‘Homegrown Tomatoes’ was released on 1983’s Better Days.)

Guy Clark has been a nonstop touring legend for close to 35 years. I first saw him perform in 1991, sharing the stage with the enigmatic Townes Van Zandt and a youngster named Robert Earl Keen, Jr. who has evolved into quite a storyteller himself. Guy Clark broke his leg in May of this year, and had to stop touring for a couple of months. Here’s to a speedy recovery and for full mobility in time for his scheduled appearance at Hardly Strictly.

In the interim, I hope he’s enjoying being home during tomato season…

Listen: L.A. Freeway [Live]

Listen: Homegrown Tomatoes [Live]
If I’s to change this life that I lead
I’d be Johnny Tomato Seed
Cause I know what this country needs
Homegrown tomatoes in every yard you see
When I die don’t bury me
In a box in a cemetery
Out in the garden would be much better
I could be pushin’ up homegrown tomatoes