The CultureMap Interview
Music legend Guy Clark talks songwriting, mentorship and the comforts of West Texas
Guy Clark is the type of songwriter who says it all in his songs. He doesn’t like to talk about himself and takes the process of writing lyrics seriously.
Born and raised in West Texas, Clark moved to Nashville in the early ’70s. He made career of writing songs for himself and other musicians, including “LA Freeway,” a song made famous by Jerry Jeff Walker.
Clark is also known for mentoring fellow songwriters Townes Van Zandt and Steve Earle, who played in the legendary “guitar pulls” at Clark’s Nashville residence.
“Everyone ought to help everyone,” Clark says. “[Music] is not a competitive sport.”
At 71, Clark's health is becoming an issue, and his wife, Susanna, passed away in 2012. Nevertheless, he continues to tour and has an album coming out soon. We recently caught up with Clark to discuss his songs, the state of country music and Texas.
CultureMap: What is your favorite place to play?
Guy Clark:Poor David's Pub is one of them for sure; I like the size of that room and the way it sounds.
CM: We heard that poetry was read aloud in your house growing up. Can you tell us about that?
GC: My parents were both extremely well-educated, and that was pre-TV. So after dinner we would sit around and read out loud — poems and all kinds of stuff. We were always encouraged in the arts.
CM: As a songwriter, a lot of musicians have covered your songs. What is your favorite cover of one of your songs?
GC: I wrote a song called "Desperados Waiting for a Train," and there was an old cowboy actor named Slim Pickens who did a spoken word version of that song. I thought it was spell binding.
CM: What's one song you wish you could've written?
GC:“To Live is to Fly” by Townes Van Zandt.
CM: What does it mean to you to have mentored so many great musicians?
GC: It's just the way I think it oughta be; everyone ought to help everyone. It's not a competitive sport. It's not something that shouldn't be shared.
CM: What's your take on the state of country music currently? What about other types of Americana or folk?
GC: It's just like any other time in history. Some of it's well written and some's not. It's the song; it doesn't matter what you frame it in. It matters if the song is good.
CM: Can you talk about your new album?
GC: It's all new songs; they're all co-written with friends of mine. Hopefully they're really good songs. I think they are, of course. I've played a couple live. That's one of the hardest things about songs is learning them. There are several I've performed, and a few I need to learn.
CM: Is “Let Him Roll” a true story? Will you be playing that song because it concerns Dallas?
GC: Not exactly. There's a certain amount of theatrical license that I take. The character's a real guy. But I think he was in Houston, not Dallas. The girl's from Dallas.
CM: How does a sense of place or home affect your songwriting?
GC: West Texas is my home. That's where I was born and kind of grew up. There's something about that part of the country that I find very comforting. I like the desert. I like the austerity of it. Tough part of the country to live in, but hell, I like it.
CM: Have you thought about moving back to Texas?
GC: Every day. It's hard to make a living in Texas.
CM: What direction would you like to see music go in?
GC: Better lyrics. I don't care if it's punk rock or folk music or traditional country, as long as it's good lyrics.
Guy Clark plays March 15 and 16 at Poor David's Pub in Dallas.