Guy Clark’s greatest 15 songs — a very challenging list by Ed Becker
Picking favorite tunes by Guy Clark is more an exercise in what to leave out, rather than what to include. The songwriting legend is entering his seventh decade, still at the top of his game.
He’s got new knees, plays homemade guitars and has that road-weary voice that blends perfectly with his wonderful observations on life. Guy, accompanied by sideman extraordinaire, Verlon Thompson will grace us with his presence three times in the near future: February 29 at the Old Rock House in St. Louis, March 4 at Richardet Floor Covering in Perryville, Mo. and September 12 at Wildwood Springs Lodge in Steelville, Mo.
Five — it could have been 10 — of my favorite songs come from Guy’s masterpiece “Old No. 1″ — in my opinion the best debut album ever. Guy was already 34 when he released this gem, and a lot of his friends were already doing his songs. The album would have been amazing with just Guy and his guitar, but add Emmylou and Sammi Smith’s vocals, future stars Rodney Crowell and Steve Earle, guitar wizards Chip and Reggie Young, piano player David Briggs, Mickey Raphael on harmonica and master fiddle player Johnny Gimble, and you have an instant classic.
1. “Desperados Waiting for a Train” Of all the songs Guy has had covered he says his favorite is character actor Slim Pickins’ version of this song.
2. “Texas 1947″ Vivid recollections of Guy’s childhood.
3. “Like a Coat From the Cold” There might be better love songs, but I’ve never heard them, especially when sung with Emmylou.
4. “She Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” How can you not include this one when Guy often mentions that it’s his favorite song, about “10 seconds in a woman’s life.”
5. “Let It Roll” As a music fan you know how you have those magical moments. One of mine would be with Guy from years ago at the Sheldon Concert Hall. He stepped forward and off-mic recited this classic. I’ve never heard anything more emotional or a room that quiet.
Usually when a debut album is so fine the followup is disappointing. Not so with Guy Clark. “Texas Cooking” again included a stellar cast and was almost as good. I could have included more songs from it on my list, but I just picked one.
6. “The Last Gunfighter Ballad” Guy was really proud and honored when this modern-day western ballad became the title song to a Johnny Cash album.
7. “Randall Knife” Guy’s emotional tribute to his father first appeared on 1983′s “Better Days.” A lot of people sing better than he does, but nobody recites a song like Guy.
The next two come from 1995′s “Dublin Blues.”
8. “Dublin Blues” The terrific title song about the rigors of life on the road. Have you ever tried a “Mad Dog Margarita”?
9. “Stuff That Works” As with many of Guy’s songs it’s the simple everyday things. This one was co-written with Rodney Crowell.
10. “Old Friends” The title song from his 1988 release written with two old friends: his wife Susanna (the magic must have rubbed off) and Richard Dobson (one of the “Gulf Coast Boys,” and if you don’t know his music you need to check it out; he’s been called “The Ernest Hemmingway of Country Music” by Nanci Griffith).
11. “Cold Dog Soup” William Butler Yeats with Townes, Ramblin’ Jack, Ginsberg and Kerouac hangin’ out, co-written with Nashville songwriter Mark Sanders.
A couple from 2002′s “The Dark.”
12. “The Dark” Another Guy Clark recitation, and my favorite cover by Terri Hendrix, on the wonderful 70th birthday tribute “This One’s For Him.”
13. “Queenie’s Song” The only co-write with Guy’s good friend, Terry Allen. Terry tells the great story about Guy and Susanna visiting Jo Harvey and him over the holidays when Terry discovers his dog “Queenie” had been shot. He came in and asked Guy what they should do. Guy’s reply was that there was only one thing they could do: write a song.
For the final two I wanted to mention songs Guy wrote, but never recorded. Many songwriters would give anything to write songs this good, but Guy’s got so many good ones he hasn’t gotten around to recording these yet.
14. “Mobile Bay” You can find this Civil War classic written by Guy and longtime songwriting partner Richard Leigh on Larry Joe Taylor’s 2000 CD “First Row Third Coast.”
15. “Step Inside This House” I think this is one of Guy’s most emotional and moving songs. His buddy Lyle Lovett does a great take on it as the title song of his 1998 release.
The scary thing about Guy is that the next 15 or 30 are just as good. So don’t miss him in or near town in the coming weeks. He won’t be on the road forever.