Photos and story by Mary Jane Farmer — First appeared in the June 2016 issue of Buddy Magazine.
“The thing about writing songs is, everything is songwriting. All you have to do is remember.” — Guy Clark
Guy Charles Clark
November 6, 1941 – May 17, 2016
Considered by most to be the first man to meet when one got to Nashville, Guy Clark and his wife, Susanna, kept their door ajar for 40 years to all who wanted to pick a few tunes or write a few songs. During these years, they became best friends with the also-great Townes Van Zandt, and considered Ray Wylie Hubbard, Rodney Crowell, Mickey Newbury, and dozens upon dozens more among their most intimate friends.
Texan by birth and Tennessean by choice, Guy Clark left his image permanently in the hearts and minds of many Kerrville Folk Festival longtimers. During this 45th-annual festival, memories are blowing like the winds through the oak trees of Quiet Valley Ranch.
Buddy Mondlock, singer/songwriter still a regular at the Kerrville Folk Festivals, told this story about meeting Mr. Clark there.
“I went to the Kerrville Folk Festival (the first time) mostly because I saw on the schedule that he was going to host this thing called the Ballad Tree one day and that anyone could sign up to sing a song. I might get a chance to shake his hand. That was my whole ambition. Somehow, after the whole thing was over, he was walking toward me. ‘Hey, I like that song you did. Got any more?’
“And then he went right on and changed my life. ‘Let’s see if we can get you in the music business,’ he said a few weeks later on the phone. He took the demo I gave him and started passing copies around to his friends in Nashville. When Guy Clark gives you a tape, you listen to it. And so everything changed. He just went on and kicked the door open. That was the most generous thing anybody ever did for me.”
Guy Clark (it’s almost impossible just to say ‘Guy’ — it almost demands both names be used.) taught in the songwriter school at Kerrville Festivals. Davis, the festival Corn Dog King, said he remembers Guy Clark as a mentor to budding songwriters at one of those early festivals. “He was such a mentor to all of these guys. It may not have been an organized songwriting class, but it could have been. They all wrote a song together with Guy Clark and performed it together on stage.
And Sue Medley, another longtime volunteer and now on the Quiet Valley Ranch Board of Directors, laughed when she remembered Mr. Clark as a true “homegrown tomato. He was the salt of the Earth. He never had a big head about his fame, he was just a good ol’ boy. That’s what I loved about him.”
Susan Roads, photographer, said one of her greatest satisfactions was learning that her work had helped Susanna Clark during her final years after Susanna’s health and despair made her a one-room hermit. Years previously, Roads had presented Townes Van Zandt with a photo she took of him at one of those late 1970s festivals. She said that, after Van Zandt’s death, she learned the photo then hung on the wall inside Susanna’s bedroom, where, she was told, it gave her much comfort. “It’s the ultimate fulfillment knowing something you created gives someone else peace and joy,” Roads said.
“Guy could take the simplest thing and show you what was profound about it. He knew that it’s all profound. And he knew better than anyone how to recognize it when he got it right. He also knew not to let it go until he got it right. Any one of his songs will tell you that,” remembered Mondlock.
The Monahans man, Guy Clark, split his childhood time there and on the southern Gulf Coast town of Rockport. During the past decade, while he could still tour, his Texas gigs included the Wildflower! Festival, Hank’s Texas Grill, and Poor David’s Pub. Even after his physical condition prevented him from going on the road any more, he kept going with his songwriting, and only a few short years ago released his last CD, My Favorite Picture of You. The title song, as explained in several articles, is about Susanna and many consider it his best song ever. But, this reviewer’s favorites are others in the collection, songs that show he was, even toward the end, the world’s premier songwriter. “El Coyote,” “Cornmeal Waltz,” and “The Waltzing Fool” are examples of just how Mr. Clark understood and captured people’s intrinsic pains and joys. An understanding of life on life’s terms that he took with him on May 17, along with the rogue’s charm that was Guy Clark.