|I helped establish Songwriters Showcase with the late Larry Weir on 88.1 KDHX, and still host that program, every Sunday 10 a.m.-noon Central. Follow my blog for news and reflections on songs and songwriters in a variety of genres.|
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.
Every Sunday morning I make the hour drive from Mt. Olive, Ill. to the KDHX Magnolia Avenue Studios for the weekly edition of Songwriters Showcase, and every Sunday, when I walk into the building, I look around the corner and expect to see my friend Larry Weir at his desk. Larry’s been gone 8 months and it still hasn’t really sunk in. I still love the show, but I will forever miss the Larry Weir experience.
For 22 years I had an open invitation to sit in with a real master, who loved the English language and the art of conversation and used it and enjoyed it unlike anyone I have ever met. I knew from hanging out with Larry that he had a large and diverse circle of friends; everywhere we went Larry knew someone. It always amazed me. That being said, Kathy and everyone close to Larry were overwhelmed by the genuine outpouring of concern and affection that took place during those excruciating three weeks in January. I expected a lot, and it far exceeded that.
After Larry’s services we all headed to Off Broadway to the wonderful party, organized on short notice by Larry’s friends at KDHX and the local musical community, for a much needed unwinding. While sitting at Off Broadway, drinking a Stag and offering a lot of toasts to Larry, the comment both Kathy and I heard over and over was: “Now this is what Larry would want: a cold beer, a crowded bar, good music and being surrounded by special friends.” It was at that moment that we both thought, after the dust settled, that we should do a musical tribute to Larry and try to get some of the many songwriters and friends that Larry promoted and championed throughout the years to perform.
It was easy to put a wish list together. Larry had a lot of favorites, and the powers that be at KDHX wholly supported the idea. They secured a great venue (the acoustically perfect Sheldon Concert Hall) a date (Sunday, September 12, 7 p.m.) and gave us a budget to work with. Larry loved words, and when it came to songwriters, Larry didn’t take the word brilliant lightly, but he used it for a handful of his special favorites, including Bob Dylan, John Prine, the late Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, David Olney, Eric Taylor, Tom Russell, Butch Hancock and Terry Allen. Some on this list were out of our budget (including Emmylou Harris), and others were already booked. Eric Taylor recently underwent a triple bypass; though we were unable to schedule him for this night, I’m glad to report he is doing well.
So with a lot of the preceding list unavailable, we were delighted that we were able to get Terry Allen to headline the show. Anybody that listened to Larry on a regular basis knew that Terry was a special favorite. Larry never hesitated when asked to name his favorite album: Lubbock (On Everything). Allen plays live shows very infrequently, and I was with Larry several years ago when Terry brought his sculptures and music to Laumeier Sculpture Park, and a few years later when Terry and his wife, Jo Harvey, were at the Side Door on Washington Avenue. We are very proud that Terry is going to be part of the tribute night.