Guy Charles Clark, the gravel-voiced troubadour who crafted a vast catalog of emotionally charged, intricately detailed works that illuminated and expanded the literary possibilities of popular song, died in Nashville Tuesday morning after a long illness.
Mr. Clark, a Nashville Songwriters Hall of Famer, had been in declining health for years, including a lengthy cancer battle. He was 74 years old, and the author of 13 compelling studio albums.
Born in Monahans, Texas on Nov. 6, 1941, and raised in the Lone Star State, Mr. Clark was a Nashville songwriting fixture for more than 40 years.
His songs were recorded by Johnny Cash, Ricky Skaggs, Rodney Crowell, Emmylou Harris, Vince Gill, Brad Paisley, Alan Jackson, George Strait, Bobby Bare, Jimmy Buffett, Kenny Chesney, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and legions of others.
Mr. Clark and his wife, Susanna, were ringleaders in a Nashville roots music circus that included luminaries like Harris, Crowell, Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle, Mickey Newbury, Billy Joe Shaver and many more.
“The patron saint of an entire generation of bohemian pickers, Guy Clark has become an emblem of artistic integrity, quiet dignity and simple truth,” wrote Robert K. Oermann in the 1995 liner notes to Clark’s “Craftsman” collection.
Nashville guitar builder and songwriter Guy Clark talks about how the two disciplines work together from his home in Nashville.
Exacting but inspired
Mr. Clark was quick to emphasize the measured, constructed nature of his process, releasing albums called “Workbench Songs,” “Keepers” (a 1997 Grammy nominee) and “Boats to Build,” and receiving interviewers in a basement room where he built guitars and wrote songs on graph paper, in longhand.
But, in spite of his protestations, his genius also involved significant inspiration. Yes, he was exacting with his material, but the raw material had already arrived at a higher level than did most others’.
“I’d play ‘The Red River Valley,’ and he’d sit in the kitchen and cry,” begins “Desperados Waiting for the Train,” a song about a young boy’s friendship with a grandfatherly old cuss. “Run his fingers through 70 years of living, and wonder, ‘Lord, has every well I’ve drilled run dry.’”
Another of his classics, “That Old Time Feeling,” opened with the lines, “That old time feeling goes sneaking down the hall, like an old grey cat in winter, keepin’ close to the wall.”
Both “Desperados” and “That Old Time Feeling” were featured on Mr. Clark’s debut album in 1975, “Old No. 1.” Recorded at RCA Studios along Music Row, that album was a work of remarkable wisdom and maturity for its 34-year-old author, or for any other songwriter at any age.