He wrote some of outlaw-country music’s most memorable songs, crafting intimate, finely detailed narratives and philosophical reminiscences that made him an Americana icon.
Guy Clark, 74, died May 17 at his home in Nashville, Tennessee. He was a renaissance man: a highly influential songwriter, skilled fingerstyle guitarist, accomplished guitar maker, and avid boat builder.
“Guy was wearing his favorite pink Shawn Camp T-shirt as he died peacefully,” his biographer Tamara Saviano wrote in a statement, a reference to the Arkansas singer-songwriter who was one of the many younger musicians Clark admired and advised. “My heart is broken.”
Along with John Hiatt, Emmylou Harris, John Prine, Joe Ely, and Townes Van Zandt, Clark helped to define a generation of seminal Americana artists.
Among those that covered his songs were Harris, Rodney Crowell, the Highwaymen, Vince Gill, and John Denver, to name a few.
His 1975 album Old No. 1 and 1976’s Texas Cookin’, both reissued on the Sugar Hill label, are regarded as classics of the genre.
Over the years, his songs fleshed out down-and-out characters who often harked back to his native Texas, including a Texas indigent (“Let Him Roll”) and a heartbroken California lover (Jerry Jeff Walker’s “L.A. Freeway”).
Clark was instrumental in helping Steve Earle land his first songwriting job in Nashville.
In 2012, Lyle Lovett spoke to Acoustic Guitar about Clark’s influence on his own songwriting: “It was Guy Clark’s songs from Old No. 1 that made me think, this is literature, this is like the stuff we’re reading in English class in high school. This is narrative, and it’s imagery, and Guy’s songs were different from the songs you would hear on the radio, the pop songs or the Top 40 country songs. His songs were about something. You were able to live inside of one of Guy’s songs, the same way you were able to live inside a novel. Guy Clark showed me what a song could be—it didn’t have to be just a jingle.”
In 2014, Clark’s last album, My Favorite Picture of You, was awarded a Grammy Award for Best Folk Album. The wistful recording reflected Clark’s love for his then–recently deceased wife, Susanna, who helped to manage his career.
That year, he spoke to Acoustic Guitar in a candid Q&A about the Texas roots of his craft, the value of simplicity in songwriting, and the pleasures of collaboration. Read the feature here.