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I first became aware of the Texan singer-songwriter Guy Clark in the mid-1980s when a friend, Mick Swinson, invited me over to plunder his impressive and eclectic LP record collection during a recording session. It wasn't really so much a case of me choosing the LPs, rather a case of Mick insisting upon which records I ought to hear. Music wasn't quite as accessible in those days and therefore I took advantage of any opportunity that may arise. The first two LPs I borrowed were Guy Clark's first two releases on the RCA label, OLD NO 1 (1975) and TEXAS COOKING (1976), both of which I promptly copied onto each side of C90 cassette tape once I got them home, a necessary evil in those days, especially for the purpose of accompanying me on car journeys, not to mention furnishing my state of the art Sony Walkman with stuff to listen to. Needless to say, it didn't take very long at all for the tape to start to wear, with the development of irritating sonic wobbles throughout, forcing me to go out and buy the actual records. With a mixture of great songs and fine guitar parts that I could actually get my fingers around (with just a bit of practice), together with Guy's inimitable Texas coolness, I seemed to be hooked from the very first few bars of Rita Balou through to The Last Gunfighter Ballad, which closed the second side of the second album.
Equipped with those two LPs, I embarked on a mission to collect more in the hope of discovering more great songs. GUY CLARK (1978), THE SOUTH COAST OF TEXAS (1981) and OLD FRIENDS (1988) soon followed whilst vinyl LPs were still 'the thing'. The new Compact Disc format soon became 'the new thing' around this time and I eventually found myself in the enviable position of having completely caught up with Guy's back catalogue. I first saw Guy Clark live in April 1990, when another pal, Chris Eusdon, put on a show in my home town at the Toby Jug pub, which has subsequently come under the wrecking ball. I couldn't believe that Guy Clark would stumble into Doncaster to do a show, but neither did I ever expect to see Guy's pal Townes Van Zandt here either, but he played a show around the same time at the same venue.
From the early 1990s Guy Clark began making even better albums than before with BOATS TO BUILD (1992), which contained the brilliant Ramblin' Jack and Mahan and Picasso's Mandolin, together with the title song, co-written with Verlon Thompson, who would work extensively with Guy from the early 1990s onwards. By the time DUBLIN BLUES (1995) was released, Guy had been given a boost in British folk circles through his memorable appearance on the very first series of the Transatlantic Sessions, appearing with Emmylou Harris amongst others. Later that year Guy appeared on the main stage at the Cambridge Folk Festival accompanied by his so Travis on bass. A 14 year-old Liam was right there next to me at the front of the main stage.
There was a steady stream of releases throughout the subsequent years with COLD DOG SOUP (1999), THE DARK (2006), WORKBENCH SONGS (2006), SOMEDAYS THE SONG WRITES YOU (2009) and MY FAVOURITE PICTURE OF YOU (2013), each showcasing Guy's command over storytelling. Meeting up with Guy Clark at the 2000 Cambridge Folk Festival and asking him to sign Liam's guitar was a nice moment and I like to think some of Guy's lyrical magic rubbed off on my own son.
Liam and I saw Guy for the last time at the Sheffield City Hall in 2007, where we were treated to such songs as Texas 1947, LA Freeway and The Cape, noting at the time in my review of the show: "The requests poured in and were immediately answered with no argument. Dublin Blues, Stuff That Works, Desperados Waiting For A Train, Ramblin' Jack and Mahan and Boats To Build were all water off a duck's back."
I followed Guy's career with interest over the years, flicking through Nick Evans and Jeff Horne's biography 'Songbuilder' and occasionally going back to the revealing film Heartworn Highways for inspiration. When I heard of the passing of Guy's sweetheart Susanna in Nashville on June 27th 2012, it was difficult not to feel some of Guy's pain. The two were married in 1972 and during their life together they collaborated on some fine songs such as Black Haired Boy, Old Friends and Shut Up and Talk to Me.
I think we are all agreed on the fact that 2016 is a dreadful year in terms of our musical heroes' mortality rate, which seems to have reached its annual average before we are half way through. Those who consider themselves lifelong Guy Clark fans were probably not too surprised when the news broke of Guy's passing on May 17; the singer had been ill for some time. When I met up with his friend Eric Taylor back in October, he told me that Guy wasn't doing great. Not a surprise then, but certainly a shock to the system nonetheless. Fans will remember Guy Clark as a masterful songwriter and poet, a songbuilder in fact. They will also remember the tales he told about his old friend Townes Van Zandt, the only person apart from Guy who was allowed to call Susanna 'Babe'. They will remember his wry smile and his infectious chuckle. Some will remember Guy Clark as a great source of inspiration. I will remember him as a friend.
"There ain't no money in poetry but that's what sets the poet free"
So long old friend.