3 Songs That Showcase the Excellence of Guy Clark

Guy Clark was arguably one of the best songwriters the country genre has ever seen. The list of stellar songwriters who covered his songs speaks to the quality of his work. Willie Nelson, Steve Earle, Chris Stapleton, Jimmy Buffett, Johnny Cash, and many more have put their stamp on Clark’s songs. In short, the world lost a legendary talent when he passed away in May 2016.

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Fortunately, Clark left behind a deep catalog and an immortal legacy. He released a stack of albums, each packed with his wit, humor, and singular storytelling ability. A songwriter’s songwriter and plain-spoken poet, to say that Guy Clark had a way with words or a knack for tapping into the human condition would be a gross understatement.

With that being said, the three songs below illustrate Clark’s ability better than a lengthy tome on his excellence ever could.

“L.A. Freeway” – Guy Clark Comes Out Swinging

Clark wrote this track shortly after moving from California to Nashville with his wife Susanna. He included it on his groundbreaking 1975 debut album Old No. 1. In the song, Clark talks about moving and hones in sharply on the duality of the action. He touches on the mundane—leaving a change of address in the mailbox and throwing away moldy vanilla wafers—and the excitement of finding a new home in a new city.

“L.A. Freeway” is more than Clark telling the story of his move to Music City where he would help form what we now call Americana. It’s an early example of how he could draw inspiration from everyday life to create something beautiful. At the same time, you haven’t lived until you’ve sung along with the chorus at top volume with the windows down as you travel down the highway.

If I can just get off of this L.A. freeway / Without getting’ killed or caught / I’ll be down the road in a cloud of smoke / To some land I ain’t bought, bought, bought.  

“Dublin Blues” – Says So Much with a Few Words

Hailed as the King of Texas Troubadours and a mainstay of the Nashville scene until his death in 2016, Clark was also well-traveled and had a great appreciation for the arts. One needs to look no further than the title track from his 1995 album Dublin Blues for evidence of this.

Co-penned by Clark and Miles Wilkenson, it’s a song about unrequited love on the surface. At the same time, it sees Clark recalling his travels and experiences. More than that, it showcases how much he could say with just a few words. For instance, in the third verse, he sings And I have seen the David. / I’ve seen the Mona Lisa too. / And I have heard Doc Watson/ Play ‘Columbus Stockade Blues.  

Effortlessly comparing folk luminary Doc Watson’s interpretation of “Columbus Stockade Blues” to some of the finest existing art from the Renaissance period was both genius and telling.

“My Favorite Picture of You”—Guy Clark Went Out Just as Strong  

Guy and Susanna Clark tied the knot in 1972 and stayed together until she passed away in 2012. The next year, Clark released his final album, My Favorite Picture of You. On the album’s cover, he holds an old Polaroid photo of his late wife. She’s angry, glaring into the camera with her arms crossed.

“Me and Townes [Van Zandt] were in that house drunk off our ass, being totally obnoxious. Susanna had finally had enough, and said, ‘I’m leaving.’ I think John Lomax was outside and he took that picture,” Clark recalled. “And for some reason, that has always been my favorite picture of her.”

In the lyrics, co-written with Gordy Sampson, Clark describes the photo. The result is a beautiful and moving tribute to a lifetime of love, even without knowing the story behind the song.

It’s hard to believe / We were lovers at all. / There’s a fire in your eyes / You’ve got your heart on your sleeve / A curse on your lips but all I can see / Is beautiful.

Featured Image by Rick Diamond/WireImage

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