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Clark finds a set of keepers

By Jeffrey B. Remz, June 1997

This set of "Keepers" had been a long time a coming.

After a recording career of 22 years, ace Texas singer-songwriter Guy Clark recently released his first live album, "Keepers." The concert was the culmination of three days of recording at the Douglas Corner Cafe in Nashville, where Clark lives, last fall.

"I kind of like the idea of live recording," Clark says from his home. "I'd had all these songs that I'd recorded early on that I was never quite happy with the way they were done, and these are songs that I do every night, so I know them. I just wanted to have a fresher take on them."

Clark, 55, felt he could improve on the past. "It was a long time ago, and I didn't really know what I was doing. It was a learning process, which it always is. I just thought I could do it better."

Clark says he wanted to do a live disc for years. "It just seemed everything (fell) into place. I don't know if there was any thing in particular that made it right other than I've always wanted to do it. Sugar Hill Records was amenable to it, so we just did it."

The disc contains 15 songs, including such favorites as "L.A. Freeway," "Desperados Waiting for a Train," the humorous "Homegrown Tomatoes" and several new songs.

"I wanted to do 25," Clark says. "I had a lot that I wanted to do, but it just got unwieldy to do that many. It was more a matter of paring down the list."

Clark's favorite on the album is "She Ain't Goin' Nowhere," about a woman who "ain't goin' nowhere she's just leavin'."

"I just think it's a very seamless piece of writing," Clark says. "It's like a little snapshot. The song is about 10 seconds in a woman's life."

And at only 45 minutes, was "pretty easy" to write. "That's probably why I like it," Clark says.

Clark's songs often are rich in detail despite a spare amount of words. The stories often are of down-and-outers, like "Let Him Roll," in which a Dallas whore showing up at the funeral of a wino, who eked out a living.

Clark and his band of son Travis Clark on bass, songwriters Verlon Thompson and Suzi Ragsdale on guitar and accordion respectively, Darrell Scott on guitar, mandolin and dobro and Kenny Malone on percussion rehearsed the songs for the live set. "We sort of picked the ones that came out the ones we felt most comfortable with."

Clark could have called in chits from friends to play on the disc, but decided against doing so. "I just wanted to keep it that little core band. I really enjoyed playing with them. It sounded good, and they like playing the songs, rather than relying on some sort of star value. Nothing wrong with that. I've ha a lot of different guests on all the studio albums, but in a live situation, to run people in and out, it seems a little awkward."

Only one part to the recording went wrong, according to Clark. "You learn something every time you do it," he says. "It was funny became after all the planing and rehearsal and everything we did, when we finally go down to mixing, the one thing we actually didn't have is 'ladies and gentlemn, Guy Clark.' We just had to make it up."

But that's in keeping with Clark's low-key style in which he just saunters onstage without any pretense of ego. His main interest seems to be putting his songs out to the fans.

The songs relate as far back as his childhood in Monahans, Tex., an oil community of about 5,000 people where the town was "just out in middle of nowhere" and the land was "flat as a pancake," according to Clark.

But raised by his grandmother because his father was in the Army and his mother worked, Clark hung out at his grandmother's hotel where all sorts of characters came through.

One was oil well driller Jack Prigg, the subject of "Desperados," also recorded by Bobby Bare, The Highwaymen and Jerry Jeff Walker.

Clark's parents encouraged his interest in the arts, both in music and poetry. Clark started playing guitar in high school. "I enjoyed doing it. It was fun. That's basically the driving point. I guess it was kind of for fun. I didn't make a solid decision or have a solid run at it until I was 30. I was kind of doing it on the side."

Clark attended college and then lived in Houston becoming friends with the late Townes Van Zandt, one of the premier songwriters.

The two met when Van Zandt was hanging out with Walker. "His songwriting is astounding I think. Some of the best I've ever heard. The songs are breathtaking. He is extremely bright. Smartest person I've ever met. Extremely funny. That's one thing people never got about him."

The two toured sporadically over the past 25 years. While Van Zandt had alcohol problems, he succumbed to a heart attack in January. "There was nothing to be done about it," Clark says.

"It's just a big hole in my life," Clark says. Referring to the loss, Clark says, "It's personal. It's musical. Everything."

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