A poet’s poet and a raconteur, Guy Clark filled his country-folk songs with eternal truths that made him one of the most respected singer-songwriters of his generation.
The Texas native died Tuesday in Nashville after a long illness, according to a statement from his publicist. He was 74.
Although he never found widespread fame, Clark recorded albums for almost 40 years, wrote hit songs for other artists and was revered by the Nashville music community for his songcraft and generosity of spirit. His best-known songs, such as “L.A. Freeway” and “Desperados Waiting For A Train,” were evocative tales of ramblers and dreamers, inspired by his own life.
Clark’s songs were recorded by a who’s who of country and Americana music, including Johnny Cash, Ricky Skaggs, Emmylou Harris, Brad Paisley, Alan Jackson, George Strait, Jimmy Buffett, Kenny Chesney and many others.
“Oh Lord, just heard Guy Clark passed away. He was a huge influence on me, and an amazing writer. God bless his soul. What a life,” Paisley said on Twitter.
“Travel safe, old friend. I would not be the songwriter I am if I hadn’t sat at your table and learned from a master,” added singer Roseanne Cash, also on Twitter.
Born in the dusty west Texas town of Monahans on November 6, 1941, Clark flirted with college and the Peace Corps before opening a guitar-repair shop in Houston. He spent his spare time playing coffee shops and nightclubs, where he joined a bluegrass band and befriended such fellow songwriters as Townes Van Zandt and Jerry Jeff Walker.
As a young man, he moved to Los Angeles, seeking fame and fortune. But he didn’t stay long, moving with his wife Susanna to Nashville in 1971. After he left California, he wrote the song “L.A. Freeway” — later recorded by many other artists — which included the line, “If I can just get off of this L.A. freeway without getting killed or caught.”
He later said it took him years after O.J. Simpson’s famous slow-speed Bronco chase before he could sing that line without breaking into laughter.
Clark released his debut album, “Old No. 1,” for RCA Records in 1975 and scored a No. 1 country hit in 1982 with Ricky Skaggs’s take on “Heartbroke.” He recorded 13 albums and toured consistently over the next three decades, sometimes with such fellow artists as Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt.
“It’s what I enjoy,” he once said of songwriting. “It gets harder, all the time. It doesn’t fall out of the sky, you know. But I have joy doing the work, I enjoy the creative process. I write and build guitars in the same space, and I find that one is right brain and one is left brain, and they kind of feed off of one another. But, I don’t know. It’s just a way to while away the time until you die.”
Despite a gruff demeanor, Clark was considered one of country music’s nicest men. He enjoyed helping young musicians and was perpetually looking for artists who might record a song written by one of his friends.
Clark was unpretentious in the extreme — a blue jeans type of guy — with down-home values summed up in songs like, “Stuff That Works,” with its opening line: “I got an old blue shirt and it suits me just fine / I like the way it feels so I wear it all the time.”
Clark won his first and only Grammy late in life in 2014, for a folk album called “My Favorite Picture of You.” The album title referred to a snapshot of his wife, Susanna, who had died two years earlier.