Lyric Of The Week: Guy Clark, “L.A. Freeway”

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There are all kinds of songs about people trying to get to Los Angeles for one reason or another – stardom, the beach, whatever. But one now-iconic songwriter started his career by writing a song about trying to get out of the place.

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In addition to albums recorded under his own name, Grammy winner Guy Clark is known for great songs that have been recorded by such artists as David Allan Coe, Johnny Cash and Brad Paisley. But none of these artists have ever really delivered Clark’s material the way he has for nearly 40 years, including the song that may be his best-known, “L.A. Freeway.” From his debut album Old No. 1, “L.A. Freeway” is a song about how the City of the Angels just didn’t agree with the Texas native, and wasn’t the place he wanted to spend his life. The song has also appeared on live and greatest hits albums.

In an interview for lonestarmusic.com, Clark told fellow songwriter James McMurtry that when he got a publishing deal with RCA and was asked where he wanted to live, he replied, “Anywhere but L.A.!…I came to Nashville, because L.A. just didn’t suit me. It still doesn’t … We packed up the old Volkswagen bus and took off; we moved to Nashville, and I started doing what I do.”

Clark has always been one of those writers whose influences are broad and hard to pinpoint, as if he’s been influenced by nobody but himself and his own life experiences. He names his late friend Townes Van Zandt as an influence, though Van Zandt was actually younger than Clark. But then, Clark was in his mid-30s before he made an album, which gave his writing and vocal delivery quite a few years longer to ferment than, say, Dylan, who is the same age but made his first album at 20.

Clark today is one of the grand old men of Nashville songwriting, but not in a Harlan Howard or Charlie Black sense; Clark has never aimed squarely at Music Row, but has mostly just written to please himself. He’s also a respected luthier, a skill he no doubt developed partially during his early days working in the Dobro factory in Southern California. So at least he took something with him from L.A. when he got in the Volkswagen bus and headed east.