Shawn Camp on Guy Clark

Guy ClarkRecently, the American music industry was rocked by the loss of Guy Clark. The iconic singer-songwriter passed away at age 74. The author of such classic songs as Desperadoes Waiting For A Train (The Highwaymen), The Last Gunfighter Ballad (Johnny Cash), Texas Cookin’ (George Strait), New Cut Road (Bobby Bare), and more, Guy Clark was a staple of the Nashville music scene for decades, and a mentor to so many of today’s most popular songwriters, including Shawn Camp, Rodney Crowell, Darrell Scott, and more. Hailing from the Lone Star state, Clark had the ability to simply state human emotions in a way that was both simple and profound. The literary depth of his songs is truly remarkable, and worth absorbing by any music fan, regardless of background.

Surprisingly, several of Guy Clark’s songs have been turned into bluegrass hits. Here is a small sampling of the Guy Clark songs that have been recorded “bluegrass-style.”

  • Dublin Blues
  • Anyhow, I Love You
  • Sis Draper
  • Heartbroke
  • Out In The Parking Lot

To further grasp his impact, here are just a few of the artists from bluegrass and country who have recorded Guy Clark’s songs.

  • Ricky Skaggs
  • Earl Scruggs
  • Shawn Camp
  • Bryan Sutton
  • Vince Gill
  • Johnny Cash
  • Bobby Bare
  • Newtown
  • Darrell Scott
  • Tim O’Brien
  • Rodney Crowell
  • Shotgun Holler
  • Steve Earle
  • Willie Nelson

Shawn Camp performing with the Earls of Leicester at the 2014 IBMA World of Bluegrass - photo by Dan BonerThe reigning IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year, Shawn Camp, and Guy Clark were extremely close. Clark was a mentor and hero of Camp’s, and they remained great friends over the past couple of decades. Camp even produced Clark’s final album, the Grammy award-winning My Favorite Picture of You, as well as the Americana Music Award-winning tribute album to Guy Clark, This One’s For Him. Last week, Shawn Camp joined Clark’s family and friends, including Rodney Crowell and Steve Earle, in delivering Clark’s ashes to New Mexico, to be used (per Clark’s request) in a commemorative sculpture by Clark’s friend, Terry Allen.

I was grateful to chat with Camp regarding his relationship with the late, Guy Clark.

D: Unfortunately it is with the heavy heart that I’m talking to you today, because one of your dear friends has passed away, Mr. Guy Clark. You guys were very close weren’t you?

S: Yeah, we really were. He just was a mentor to me and a really good friend. I don’t know. He was a smart guy and just an artist. A real dyed in the wool, true Texas style artist. He knew how to get it done.

D: When did you first meet Mr. Clark?

S: When I got on Warner Bros. which was ’92, they said, “Is there anybody you’d want to write with that you don’t necessarily work with yet that we could hook you up with?” I was young and naive enough to think that I could just shoot for the stars and I said, “Guy Clark.” And that’s the only name I gave them. Before I realized it, I had a writing appointment to go to Guy’s house.

We wrote a song called Cow Catcher’s Blues. That was really our initial meeting. It’s a song that kind of bridges the gap between Texas and Arkansas. So, it had references to both Texas and Arkansas.

We hit it off, and after that I was gone a bunch on the road. I wasn’t around him for a year or two, and I still didn’t really know him and I didn’t want to bother him. I was just a kid, and I was on Warner Bros. They just kind of pushed me over there on him. I went over to — my buddy, Jim Rooney, I went to his wedding to his wife, Carrol, in ’95 or ’96. Guy was there smoking a cigarette and said, “When we gonna write another song?” I said, “Whenever you’re ready.” He said, “Come on!” So, I called him and started making appointments and went over there hanging out with him in his workshop.

He did a lot of that with young writers, and he was always eager to meet young people that had new ideas and had enough grit in them to want to dig in and do it. They had an excitement about them that I think he fed on. Seemed to be the way he worked. Every day, if he was able, he was working with someone or co-writing. I don’t know when he started doing the co-writing thing, but I know he did most of his early work solo. It kind of evolved from there. He was a master.

D: He was such a great mentor in Music City to guys like you and Rodney Crowell, Emmylou Harris. It’s so encouraging hearing him want to spread his wisdom with the generation coming up behind him.

S: I guess he did. He was never anything other than Guy Clark. He was always as real as you can imagine. His songs and his approach to performing those songs, it was just like he was sitting in your living room. So, he didn’t change what he did when these new kids would come through. He just did what he did, and the new kids would soak something up from that.

D: When did you just first fall in love with Guy’s songwriting?

S: I remember I started playing guitar when I was five and mandolin at about seven. When I was 15 I started playing fiddle. First six months of me playing fiddle, I ended up going to work playing fiddle. Must have sounded horrible, but fiddle players were hard to find in Arkansas. Haha! I remember when I was about 15 and had just started picking up the fiddle, I was standing on a step ladder with my daddy, we were remodeling a house, putting sheet rock up in the ceiling. We had a radio in there and Bobby Bare’s New Cut Road came on the radio. That was about 1980-81, and that thing just blew me away, and I immediately figured out who wrote the song, and Guy Clark was the one who wrote it. After that, I was aware of Home Grown Tomatoes on the airwaves, and he just kind of seemed to morph into my life and I don’t even know how. When I moved to Nashville In January of ’87, that’s when I really soaked it up more. Then, before I knew it, here we are.

D: You probably never would have been able to dream of being able to co-produce his last album would you?

S: No, I couldn’t have planned that. I don’t even know how it happened. I just really feel blessed to have been on the earth the same moment as Guy Clark was. He was a powerful, powerful cat, you know? Just a master. He’s one of the greatest writers that I ever heard of. You can put him up next to anybody.

D: What was the experience like being in the studio with Guy and producing his last album, My Favorite Picture of You?

S: Well, Verlon Thompson was right there through the whole thing. Verlon was one of those guys that was his sidekick. Probably his best friend, they worked together for 20 years on the road. He really should have been co-producer on there as well, but he wouldn’t accept co-production credit. He claimed he wasn’t there all the time, but he brought a lot to the table. I think with Verlon being there we pulled a lot out of Guy.

Guy was sick at the time and had been going through chemo. We just put it together and actually in the end, Guy’s vocals, to me, he sang better than he had in the last ten records. His voice sounded so right. It was aged to perfection. The delivery and sincerity and tone in his voice on that last record was what sold that record, you know?

I don’t know how much different they were than the other records; all his recordings had a common thread going through them. The band almost sounds similar from records from ’92 and ’93 and all the way up to the last one in a way. They have kind of the same musicianship in the band, even if it’s different musicians. I don’t know what made that record stand out more other than just Guy himself, maybe just finally ripened to perfection.

D: Like a home-grown tomato?!

S: Exactly.

D: That just had to be a surreal experience to be behind the board with the master laying doing such a masterful album…

S: Yeah, it was really cool. Chris Latham is co-producer too and I mean, Chris is an amazing engineer and a great fiddle player too. There are times on that record Chris would play string parts; he played violin parts on Guy’s records on occasion. He just put it together like magic. He’s a real great engineer and a great musician.

D: What was it like to co-produce the award winning tribute album to Guy Clark? How did the idea come about, and how were you able to grab such all-star talent?

S: I tell you what. We had to shut the door on droves of great artists that wanted to come be a part of that album because we ran out of budget and ran out of space. It started out just being one album, and it turned into a double album. Thirty-three artists are on that album. Tamara Saviano, the co-producer, she’s the one that brought me in on that album to do the band leader thing or whatever. It just kind of morphed into me being a co-producer. It was great.

Everybody wanted to be a part of it, because everybody loved Guy Clark. If you don’t have that album, do yourself a favor and go get it. It’s packed with really cool versions of Guy’s songs. We’ve got Kristofferson doing Hemingway’s Whiskey and Willie Nelson doing Desperadoes Waiting for a Train. I don’t even remember who all. Roseanne Cash, Lyle Lovett, Shawn Colvin. I’m blanking out. It’s just a great, great record. Steve Earle did The Last Gunfighter Ballad.

D: Before I let you go, Mr. Camp, what is your favorite Guy Clark song, and what made Guy so different than all the other singer/songwriters?

S: Man, I tell you what, I just think Guy was such an individual artist in a league all his own. There was never anyone who could understand how amazing that guy was. He’s as unique as a fingerprint. He built guitars that are like dream guitars. [He put] his autograph on the label in the guitar, then he’d stick his thumb, or cut his thumb and he’d use that thumb print and that would be the label inside his guitar. He put that label on anything he ever did, whether it was a painting…he was an amazing painter. He just had an eye for it. He knew who he was and how to get out the best piece of art that he was working on. He knew how to make it happen.

Hopefully, he left a little of that in us. As far as a favorite song? Probably Desperadoes Waiting on a Train. There’s so many. There’s all just babies. They’re all individuals. Listen to Randall Knife, that’s one of the best ever. Listen to The Last Gunfighter’s Ballad, anything. You listen to Home Grown Tomatoes, it has it’s place; it is a great song. Everything he did seemed to be the best that it could be. That’s all I know.

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About the Author

Daniel Mullins

Daniel is from southwestern Ohio and has been around bluegrass his entire life. He manages the Classic Country Connection, a music store in southern Ohio which specializes in bluegrass, classic country, gospel, and Americana music. He is the host of the Bending The Strings radio program, which plays a variety of bluegrass, newgrass, and Americana music. He also maintains the website for Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers. photo by LuAnn Adams