An Interview with the Legendary American Troubadour: Guy Clark

Artists, Interviews — By on July 20, 2011 9:40 am

On July 19, 2011, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing a true icon in the world of songwriting, Guy Clark. Terms like troubadour, legend, and master are used all too often when referring to songwriters/musicians of far lesser caliber who do not live up to the honor. You do deserve all of those accolades and more, however, when Bob Dylan proclaims you as one of his favorite songwriters. He has created an illustrious body of work that spans at least four decades, and he writes relevant superbly crafted songs even though he is well into  his sixties. Guy Clark is a troubadour, legendary songwriter, and grand-master of his craft. Guy is still, after all his success, a down to earth and genuine individual that was generous enough to laugh and joke with me while we talked like old friends about songwriting, his influences in songwriting, and his live album, Songs and Stories, which is set for release on August 16, 2011. He is a truly larger than life Texan that crafts songs from life experience and believes in the power of music and the English language. For more information on Guy, his latest album, and other news please visit http://www.guyclark.com/.

 

Awaiting The Flood- How did you begin writing songs and when did you know you would do this for a living?

Guy Clark- Well, I didn’t actually write any songs until 1966 or 1967, and I just kept doing it until I realized that I really could do it. I guess I was about thirty years old when I decided to try to do it for a living.

Awaiting The Flood- What inspired you at that point to make a go at writing songs.

Guy Clark- I had a regular job. I was an art director for a television studio, but I realized I had gotten bored with that very quickly. If I didn’t want to say, “I wish I would have done this,” then I better get started.

Awaiting The Flood- How/where do you get inspiration for your songs?

Guy Clark- Mostly from personal experience. Something that I saw or heard with my own ears or something somebody told me was the truth; all different kinds of stuff, really.

Awaiting The Flood- I heard you mention on your album “Songs and Stories” that Townes Van Zandt had written a song in a dream. Have you ever written a song in your dreams?

Guy Clark- No, (Laughs) I’ve never done that. I have written some songs pretty quickly, but I have never dreamed one.

Awaiting The Flood- What musicians/songwriters have influenced you most as a songwriter?

Guy Clark- Well, Lightning (Hopkins) for one and Mance (Lipscomb); mainly because they were writing their own songs and not just doing cover songs, and Townes (Van Zandt) who had only written about two songs when I met him. What I really admired about his work was his use of the English language. He was very smart and very bright. So, I guess you can say that was an influence, but I am influenced by everything I hear. I am like a sponge.

Awaiting The Flood- Who are some of your favorite songwriters of today?

Guy Clark- Awe man, there is so many of them. The guys I hang out with and write with like Shawn Camp and Steve Earle, who is writing some very good songs. Gillian Welch is writing some really amazing stuff. I hesitate to start on this because there is a whole bunch of stuff  I don’t really like.

Awaiting The Flood- Who were your mentors in songwriting?

Guy Clark- I don’t know if I had any mentors; certainly not formal mentors. That term just implies somebody that has been doing it longer than I have.

Awaiting The Flood- How has the music business changed over the years since you first started writing?

Guy Clark- Oh, I couldn’t speak to that. The music business is exactly what it is. There are trends that come up and go away.

Awaiting The Flood- What about as far as getting a song to an artist, how has that changed?

Guy Clark- It’s very hard.

Awaiting The Flood- I asked Bill Anderson this same question and he said he used to just play his song for the artist he wanted to have it and they would say yes or no. Now, he said, you have to jump through so many hoops to get a song to an artist. What do you think?

Guy Clark- (Laughs) Yeah, it’s all by committee. I mean there are some artists I can go to and say, “Hey man, play my song,” but, for the most part, it’s how you described it. You have to jump through hoops. Then you wait and see if somebody wants to do the song, but that’s not really my concern. My concern is with writing good work and if it gets produced or cut then, whatever.

Awaiting The Flood- What advice would you give to aspiring songwriters thinking of pursuing a career in the craft?

Guy Clark- Well, first of all, you have got to write good songs and have a pencil and a real big eraser. Go out to wherever there are good writers and hang out with good writers. Write every day. Listen to and read good poetry. Read Dylan Thomas poems. That’s what Townes and I used to do every time we would think we were pretty smart. We would put on a tape of Dylan Thomas reading his own work and it was like, “Oh Mercy!” (Laughs).

Awaiting The Flood- What do you feel is the key to your success as a songwriter?

Guy Clark- I am smart (Laughs). I have a good grasp of the English language and how to make it work for me. I have a fairly sharp education. I never finished college, but I went to a lot of them (Laughs). Go out and play for the folks, wherever that may be, whether it is a club with one hundred people or one hundred thousand people in theGolden GatePark. I prefer the smaller audience with four to five hundred people. I can connect with them better than a sea of faces. Playing for people is the last step in the songwriting process.

Awaiting The Flood- “Songs and Stories” is set to drop on August 16, 2011; How did this project come about? Who had the idea to do a live album?

Guy Clark- I guess it was the record company. We were just playing a gig down at the Belcourt Theatre (Nashville,TN) with the guys I play with, and it was kind of an album release. We did the whole album exactly the way it was recorded. You know the last album “Somedays the Song Writes You”? That was the first set, and then the second set we just played what we wanted to. We played the stuff we knew and just had some fun. It was good enough to try to put it out as an album. It wasn’t planned to begin with. It wasn’t like we said, “Hey we’re going to go out and make a live album.”  We just figured if we were doing the show we might as well record it. It just kind of happened.

Awaiting The Flood- Is there a new studio album in the works or any cuts on other artists album’s coming out soon?

Guy Clark- No, I am always writing for a new album, and whenever I get enough songs, that’s when I make a record. So there is always one in the works. It’s just whenever I have the songs.

Awaiting The Flood- So do you make that call? Do you say hey I think I have enough songs?

Guy Clark- Oh yeah, I actually go into the studio and then cut it. Then I take it to the record company. One thing I learned in this business is don’t ever ask anyone for their opinion (Laughs).

Awaiting The Flood- “This One’s For Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark” is set for release on November 1, 2011; How did this project come about?

Guy Clark- A woman named Tamara Saviano, who has been my publicist for the last two or three albums, it was her idea, and she completed it herself. I purposely stayed out of it. I didn’t try to control it or make suggestions or show up at the studio. I just let her do it and that’s how it came out. I’ve heard that some of it is really good. I mean it’s really flattering. It’s good work.

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