Last Tuesday, I was in Guy Clark’s house to interview him for an upcoming column in 2nd & Church, Nashville’s quarterly literary magazine. Guy is one of the songwriters I admire most and I have followed his work since the mid-1980s. Sitting at a table with him in his home talking about songwriting was something I could never have imagined those years ago when I discovered his music for myself.
The theme for the magazine is Ernest Hemingway. Guy co-wrote the song Hemingway’s Whiskey. When the issue is published, you can read Guy’s comments about the man considered by some to be America’s greatest 20th Century author. But this is about my experience of being with a songwriting hero.
Guy Clark not only plays guitars, he has built them. I asked if there were similarities between writing songs and building guitars. “Sometimes I draw that comparison,” he said. “You have to take care with what you’re doing. I like to think of writing songs as art and poetry and at times, I feel that building guitars is the same thing. Except writing is so cerebral. You’re just sitting there staring out a window trying to come up with something from a pocket full of bar napkins from the night before. I’ve got one bar napkin that says, ‘my life was a blank bar napkin ‘til I met you.’”
As we continued to talk he reached toward a Flamenco-style guitar near him, handed it to me and said, “Check this one out. That may be my favorite.” I had told him that I had played some of his songs about the Texas Gulf Coast along the upper Gulf when I played clubs there frequently in the 1980s and 1990s. He asked which ones so I played him a little of “Blowin’ Like a Bandit,” his song about shrimping. I played one verse and realized that there I was, playing a Guy Clark song for Guy Clark. On a guitar Guy Clark had built that he may consider his favorite. In Guy Clark’s house. Wow.
The label inside the instrument was unlike any I had seen before. “I prick my little finger and smear blood on the label and then sign through it,” he said.
Then, when I thought life couldn’t get any better, he handed me a steel-string that he had also built. “I also build these to play on stage, but not this particular one.” It had no strap-pin or electronics for amplification. “That one sounds so good, I decided to keep it in the house,” Guy said.
“Do you mind if I put a pick to it,” I asked and he said, “Sure. That’s what you’re s’posed to do.” I pulled a pick from my pocket and played him one of my songs, Old Lighthouse.
“Thank you very much for letting me play your guitars,” I said as I handed it back to him. “Oh sure,” he replied, “I love it when other people play ‘em.”
In his song Dublin Blues, Guy refers to witnessing excellence in viewing Michelangelo’s David and da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, not to mention hearing Doc Watson pick the Columbus Stockade Blues. In my own case, I haven’t seen David or Mona Lisa. But I have heard Doc Watson play Columbus Stockade Blues and many other songs and I agree with Guy about that. Now, I’ve had a visit with Guy Clark and the opportunity to play his guitars. For me, that ranks right up there with anybody’s milestones of excellent experiences.
Text and photos copyright 2013 by Les Kerr.