The death of John Prine a few days ago got me thinking about other underrated songwriters who, though successful in the sense of getting their songs covered by a lot of people, were never hugely popular recording artists themselves. And the first name that sprang to mind was the great Texas troubadour Guy Clark (1941-2016).
Clark was another of those “songwriter’s songwriter,” deeply admired and respected by other songwriters, and of course, musicians. His songs have been covered by many (mostly but not exclusively) country artists, ranging from Jerry Jeff Walker (he was the first to record the song we’re featuring today, back in 1972), Johnny Cash, Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle, Lyle Lovett, Willie Nelson, and many others—all folks I would say are, like Clark, somewhat outside the traditional wing of Nashville country music. Clark definitely had more in common with songwriters such as Townes Van Zandt (the two were very close and influenced each other) and Joe Ely than more mainstream types.
Like John Prine, Clark was also a magnetic performer. I love his voice, and he could always really put across a song (and not just his own). If you’re looking for a “starter” album, check out the 20-track anthology The Essential Guy Clark, or his Live from Austin, TX, which is where you’ll find this performance of “L.A. Freeway.” It comes from a 1989 appearance on the Austin City Limits program (it’s available on DVD as well), where he was joined by two exceptional players, fiddler Stuart Duncan and bassist Edgar Meyer. Great stuff! —Blair Jackson