Behind the Song: “L.A. Freeway” by Guy Clark

“L.A Freeway”
Written by Guy Clark

Videos by American Songwriter

The year was 1970, a struggling Texas songwriter named Guy Clark was doing his best to adjust to life in Los Angeles, California. Like many other musicians, Guy had moved to L.A. during the 70s looking for success in the music business, only to find a concrete jungle full of smog and disappointment.

Although Guy had left his home state of Texas far behind, Texas never quite left him. Feeling like a homesick failure, Guy weighed the option of leaving many times, but the distant horizon of success kept him sticking around.  As Guy and his wife Susanna drove home from a gig in San Diego one night, Guy awoke from a half-drunken slumber in the backseat.

As Susanna drove along through the California darkness, Guy said the first thing that came to mind, “If I could just get off of this L.A Freeway, without getting killed or caught.” Realizing the weight of his words, Guy quickly borrowed Susanna’s eyeliner and wrote down the phrase on an empty hamburger sack.

Little did Guy know, he had literally foreshadowed his own musical destiny. 

Just a few months later, Guy said goodbye to his landlord, left that L.A freeway, and moved to Nashville to accept a new publishing deal. With all the bad memories of L.A in his rearview, Guy also left behind a few cherished ones of his good friend and bass player, “Skinny” Dennis Sanchez. Channeling his mixed emotions of living in California, along with the phrase he wrote on a hamburger sack, Guy wrote the song we know as L.A Freeway. 

Two years later in 1972, another songwriter by the name of Jerry Jeff Walker released L.A Freeway on his self titled album. The song quickly became a hit for Jerry Jeff, and brought overnight attention to Guy as a songwriter. By the time Guy released the song himself in 1975 on his debut album “Old No. 1,” he had no problem getting a few new friends like Steve Earle, Rodney Crowell and Emmylou Harris to sing backup on his record.

Guy passed away in Nashville in 2016, but his reputation as a songwriter and storyteller, live on in the hearts of many. 

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