Nashville Songwriting Icon Guy Clark Dead at 74

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Guy Clark photographed circa 1998 in Oakland, Calif.

Grammy-winning country icon singer Guy Clark died on Tuesday (May 17) in Nashville after a long illness at age 74. Clark, who was best known of his literary songwriting style on such modern country standards as "L.A. Freeway" and "Desperados Waiting for a Train," had been battling cancer for several years.

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Born in the west Texas town of Monahans on Nov. 6, 1941, Clark grew up in a 13-room hotel that was the home to what his official Facebook obituary recalled were "bomber pilots, drifters, oilmen and a wildcatter named Jack Prigg," all characters who ended up in one of Clark's most beloved tunes, 1975's "Desperados Waiting for a Train." After a stint in the Peace Corps in 1963 and a short visit to the University of Minnesota, Clark opened a guitar repair shop in Houston in the mid-1960s, befriending a legion of fellow Texas songwriters whose names would soon be legend: Townes Van Zandt, Jerry Jeff Walker and Mickey Newbury among them.

He moved to Nashville in 1971 and began a songwriting career that included such iconic tracks as "Desperados" (covered by Tom Rush, Rita Coolidge, Slim Pickens and the Highwaymen), as well as "That Old Time Feeling" and "She Ain't Going Nowhere," with the latter appearing on his 1975 RCA Records debut, Old No. 1. As part of the outlaw country gang that brought a rough-hewn authenticity and rebel spirit to Nashville in the 1970s, Clark served as a mentor of sorts to a new generation of singers and songwriters, including Steve Earle and Rodney Crowell, teaching them the fine craft of injecting emotion and thoughtfully considered details into their lyrics.

Over a career that included 13 studio albums, Clark more than earned that reputation for the fine craftsmanship of his lyrics and the emotional stories he told on albums including 1997's Grammy-nominated Keepers and 2006's Grammy-nominated Workbench Songs. Along with his wife, Susanna, also a songwriter, Clark penned hits for a number of other country singers, including his No. 1 for Crowell, "She's Crazy for Leavin'," and a Top 10 for Vince Gill ("Oklahoma Borderline").

 

Through the 1980s and 90s he recorded for Warner Bros., Sugar Hill, Asylum and, in the 2000s, a series of well-regarded albums for Dualtone. "For more than forty years, the Clark home was a gathering place for songwriters, folk singers, artists and misfits; many who sat at the feet of the master songwriter in his element, willing Guy’s essence into their own pens," read his FB obituary. "Throughout his long and extraordinary career, Guy Clark blazed a trail for original and groundbreaking artists and troubadours including his good friends Rodney Crowell, Jim McGuire, Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, Joe Ely, Lyle Lovett, Verlon Thompson, Shawn Camp, and Vince Gill."

While platinum commercial success often eluded him, Clark continued to tour the world (and paint) as accolades came his way, including induction into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and a lifetime achievement award from the Americana Music Association. Susanna died from lung cancer in 2012, and due to his own health issues, Clark stopped touring shortly after. He released his final album, My Favorite Picture of You, in 2013, which won a Grammy for Best Folk Album.

"A day before he died, I went to see him/ I was grown and he was almost gone," Clark sang in "Desperados" of Prigg. "So we just closed our eyes and dreamed us up a kitchen/ And sang another verse to that old song/ 'Come on, Jack, that son of a bitch is comin'."