Playback: Guy Clark 1941-2016

End Transmission: Adios Guy Clark, and Transmission Events as we knew it

Guy Clark at the Moody Theater on April 12, 2013 Graham Williams (l) and James Moody (Photo by Gary Miller)

Guy Clark, a universally lauded songwriter who wrote with complex simplicity and profound depth, died Tuesday morning in Nashville after being worn down by an extended illness. He was 74.

A Mount Rushmore of Texas' greatest songwriters wouldn't be complete without Clark's face. The West Texas native from Monahans penned brilliant vignettes including "L.A. Freeway," "Desperados Waiting for a Train," and "Dublin Blues," which lets out with, "I wish I was in Austin in the Chili Parlor bar/ Drinking Mad Dog margaritas and not caring where you are."

Johnny Cash covered him. So did John Denver, Emmylou Harris, Ricky Skaggs, Jimmy Buffett, Brad Paisley, and even the Highwaymen (Cash, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Waylon Jennings). Clark's five-decade recording career produced 14 studio albums. The last, 2013's heartwarming My Favorite Picture of You – dedicated to his late wife of 40 years, Susanna Clark – won him his first Grammy for Best Folk Album.

Houston's Rodney Crowell, a close friend of Clark's since the early Seventies, on Tuesday called him "the single most powerful influence on my artistry" and was in the company of his friend and mentor when he died. Also there were musicians Sam Bush, Verlon Thompson, Chris Stapleton, and photographer Jim McGuire, who shot the iconic 1975 portrait of Guy and Susanna, both smoking cigarettes, her head on his shoulder.

"Everybody was very reverently and quietly playing songs – the very thing that Guy loved so much," revealed Crowell. "It was a sweet thing. Hospice was going on and they were trying to make Guy comfortable and, at the same time, artists were expressing their love and appreciation by playing songs.

"In the stillness of the wee hours, Guy passed peacefully and quietly."

Time of death: 3:41am. It was typical of Clark to stay up late.

"He always outlasted everybody," said Crowell. "If we were staying up all night, Guy was the last one throwing in the towel and, therefore, he was there when the golden moment happened. He was always in pursuit of the golden moment."

An adept woodworker who as a young man made a living as luthier, Clark continued to build guitars in the basement workshop of his home in Nashville, where he lived since 1971.

"Songwriting is art. It's poetry. 'Craftsman-ship' in that sense is kind of a denigrating term," Clark told Doug Freeman for a Chronicle cover story ("We Were From Texas," July 19, 2013). "They can work with each other in a sort of symbiotic relationship, but one is right brain and the other is left brain. I think they feed off of one another. You get tired of being spiritual, and you just go over there and sharpen the tools and cut some wood. It clears your head."

"He was also a very skillful painter," adds Crowell. "Guy could handle a paintbrush and he had a beautiful stroke, but his writing was very painterly too. A song like 'Out in the Parking Lot' is a great painting – beyond Andrew Wyeth."

Jerry Jeff Walker, who released popular versions of "L.A. Freeway," "That Old Time Feeling," and "Desperados Waiting for a Train" in the early Seventies before Clark tracked them for his 1975 debut, Old No. 1, reiterates the legend that the Clarks' home became a songwriter's sanctuary over the decades.

"Their kitchen table was a gathering place for people like John Prine, Peter Rowan, Vince Gill," he said Tuesday. "It was a Renaissance situation with good creative thoughts all the time. Both of them painted, but nothing made Guy smile more than making up or hearing a good song."

Clark's influence extended beyond being a progressive country innovator and core Texas troubadour. He was also a creative counselor to younger songmen like Steve Earle and Robert Earl Keen, the latter of whom texted the Chronicle on Tuesday: "I loved Guy very much and I can't imagine a world without him." Lyle Lovett offered us, "Guy Clark was my friend and mentor. The world is a better place because he lived."

Multiple Grammy-winner Crowell recalls being schooled by Clark with Dylan Thomas poetry readings and deep studies into Townes Van Zandt, an intimate friend of the Clarks.

"He was never coddling and didn't suffer fools gladly, but man he was generous in sharing himself and his craft," says Crowell. "I called him Maxwell Perkins, after the great editor of Ernest Hemingway, because Guy is by far the best self-editor I've ever come across."

That patient dedication to the art of the song manifested into Clark's plainspoken, elegiac lyricism.

"I talked to Guy a lot about why we have this craft," says Walker. "He wrote to write stories that were in his life, which is the best you can do. Guy achieved that more than most of us ever have."

In his last Chronicle interview, Clark portrayed composition as an awareness and ability to document life.

"The thing about writing songs is, everything is songwriting. All you have to do is remember."

End Transmission

Graham Williams (l) and James Moody (Photo by John Anderson)

Is there anything more representative of Austin 2016 than real estate titans becoming the owners of Fun Fun Fun Fest?

The distinctly alternative music festival being ceded to developers was the most shocking reveal surrounding Monday's announcement that Transmission Events – Austin's largest independent concert promotions concern – was sold to their minority investors, Stratus Properties. The deal, finalized late last week, gave the latter full ownership of both the Transmission and Fun Fun Fun Fest brands, along with the former's event production and sponsorship divisions. Meanwhile, Transmission's founders – Mohawk owner/marketing guru James Moody and booking star Graham Williams – now have no involvement in the company they founded.

Williams thus breaks away with a new booking venture called Margin Walker Presents.

Transmission, established in 2007, entered into a strategic partnership with Stratus – owners of Block 21, which includes the W Hotel and Moody Theater – in 2013. The investment lent Transmission financial backing for its signature event, FFF Fest, and positioned them as an increasingly competitive entity to ACL Fest bookers C3 Presents. At the time of the deal, Stratus CEO Beau Armstrong characterized his team to the Chronicle as "geeks" who could help Transmission with accounting while financially supporting the company's proven path in the concert market.

Well, the geeks shall inherit the Earth.

Williams said he didn't make any money on the sale. From that, one can infer that the brand, event production, and sponsorship acquisitions settled any remaining monies owed on the initial investment. To "Playback," the divorce resulted in a draw: One side must start anew, and the other has acquired assets without the people who gave them value. Williams characterized the split as amicable, ending in handshakes, not a fistfight.

"I think they've been wanting to focus less on live music and less on show booking, and more on private events, corporate events, and production work," he said.

Indeed, a representative for Stratus Properties, speaking off the record on Sunday, confirmed the company's desire to move out of the booking business. Transmission GM Bobby Garza, who will remain with the company, said Monday that they want to grow the event production side of the business, which includes their annual staging of South by Southwest mega party Fader Fort.

It's currently unclear as to whether "Stratmission" will hold a version of FFF Fest this fall. Garza says an announcement is coming in June. Williams plans to start a new festival with Margin Walker.

"I would imagine it would be very similar to Fun Fun Fun," predicted Williams.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Guy Clark
Biographer Tamara Saviano’s Guy Clark Revelations
Biographer Tamara Saviano’s Guy Clark Revelations
The dean of Texas songwriters’ final days, the forthcoming documentary on him, and more

Doug Freeman, March 31, 2017

Book Review: Texas Book Festival Music Reviews
Without Getting Killed or Caught: The Life and Music of Guy Clark
The dean of Lone Star songwriting documented at the 11th hour

Doug Freeman, Nov. 4, 2016

More Transmission Events
Faster Than Sound: Growing Up Margin Walker
Faster Than Sound: Growing Up Margin Walker
I've only ever experienced Texas music under the independent reigns of Graham Williams. I didn't know how lucky I was.

Rachel Rascoe, Dec. 25, 2020

Playback: Sound on Sound Gets Medieval
Playback: Sound on Sound Gets Medieval
Sound on Sound’s über headliner: 23 acres of Sherwood Forest

Kevin Curtin, Nov. 4, 2016

More Playback
Playback: You Can’t Press Pause on Life
Playback: You Can’t Press Pause on Life
A musician’s life: laid off, livestreaming, and … giving birth?

Kevin Curtin, April 24, 2020

Playback: My Top 100 Austin Records of 2018
Playback: My Top 100 Austin Records of 2018
Kevin Curtin picks his favorite local sounds of the year

Kevin Curtin, Dec. 21, 2018


Guy Clark, Transmission Events, Rodney Crowell, Jerry Jeff Walker, Susanna Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Robert Earl Keen, Lyle Lovett, Stratus Properties, Graham Williams

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle