Vinyl Me Please Reissues Guy Clark's Old No. 1

Recently, a letter to the editor from Len Eggert arrived in Stereophile's digital mailbox that closed with a question: "How about coverage of other notable 'outlaw' singer-songwriters who shunned Nashville and put Austin on the musical map: Guy Clark? Kris Kristofferson? Jerry Jeff Walker? Waylon Jennings? Billie Joe Shaver? David Allan Coe? Are you listening, Robert Baird?"

Timely if nothing else, that email came just after I had serendipitously acquired a new-to-my-collection, first-pressing LP copy of the first Guy Clark album, Old No. 1. Killing time before a doctor's appointment near Washington Square Park in Manhattan, I wandered into Generation Records. As loud punk rock blared across the store—which was once filled with bootleg CDs but is now almost entirely new and used vinyl—I happened to glance up. Just below the ceiling, well out of reach of shoplifters, was a copy of Guy Clark's Old No. 1.

When I asked the burly, tattooed clerk, who looked every bit a metalhead, to get it down, he smiled and, much to my surprise, launched into a lengthy sermon extolling the outlaws of country music. Jennings, Walker, Shaver, and Clark all rolled off his tongue as he marveled out loud about their memorable songwriting and over how expensive the OG pressings of their albums have become. Original vinyl pressings of the best albums by these artists in VG+ shape often start at $50. At higher grades, that figure can easily exceed $100.

As I slid the record in question out of its custom inner sleeve and turned it over in my hands, the clerk, now in full pontification mode, drew other customers into the discussion. Young and old, female and male, heads were nodding, song titles were flying, and many were genuinely contributing. Most agreed that these one-time rebels were now cool. Even though I was obsessively slavering over the copy of Old No. 1 in my hands (which was in beautiful shape and $60), it all felt vaguely dreamlike. Here I was in a roomful of music fans ranging from NYU students to old white-haired dudes like me, in the middle of the day, in the middle of Manhattan, chattering about the wonderfulness of Guy Clark.

For those unfamiliar, Clark is among that group of songwriters who hovered between Nashville, Tennessee, and Austin, Texas, in the 1970s, whose collective body of songwriting is the foundation of the entire Americana genre, which is thriving as much as any genre can today. I suspect that it's the innate authenticity, lack of artifice, and—yes, deft songcraft that attract young musicians to its creative banner. Like many debut albums, Clark's Old No. 1 is brimming with all the great ideas he'd saved up to make his recording debut a success. Two of his greatest songs, "L.A. Freeway" and "Desperados Waiting for a Train," both autobiographical, are here. This album also contains some of his finest lyrical expressions, including these evocative lines from "That Old Time Feeling":

That old time feelin' limps through the night on a crutch/Like an old soldier wonderin' if he's paid too much/And that old time feelin' rocks and spits and cries/Like an old lover rememberin' the girl with the clear blue eyes.

On Old No. 1, Clark's voice is higher and more resilient than it would be later, after years of living and umpteen cigarettes. Johnny Gimble's fiddle parts are a sweet touch throughout the album. Simply recorded and logically mixed by Al Pachucki, Tom Pick, Ray Butts, and Neil Wilburn, with a close mike on the acoustic guitar and with keyboards and harmonica behind and the voices just a touch forward, Old No. 1 is a classic example of the kind of routinely exceptional audio engineering that was common at the height of analog recording.

Although I prefer original pressings over reissues, Old No. 1 has recently been reissued on 180gm blue-black vinyl by Vinyl Me Please. In further exciting news for Clark fans, Truly Handmade, a collection of Clark's demos and unreleased song was scheduled for release in March 2024. It is available for preorder on CD or LP via Clark's website,

For a taste of the camaraderie that existed among the so-called outlaws, Heartworn Highways, a documentary film shot around the time of the release of Old No. 1, centers on Clark and other left-of–Music Row songwriters. This cinematic hodgepodge ends with a boozy, festive Christmas Eve guitar pull between Clark, Rodney Crowell, Steve Young, Steve Earle, and others. The film also has footage of the songwriter who may have been the most talented and certainly was the most troubled of them all, Townes Van Zandt.

The state of music today can be depressing. Some genres have become disposable. And while streaming has "saved" the music business, that once-booming capitalist enterprise has desiccated to a dry skin of its former self. Dollars have drained out. The proliferation of alternative entertainment choices has made music less vital to many. For those who make music, it's even grimmer. Come up with an original beat or melody, and there's a good chance, thanks to the digital world, that someone will steal it. For musicians, the aforementioned streaming, convenient and affordable for listeners, is a marketing tool. Unless you are Taylor Swift, however, it doesn't pay a living wage the way physical media once did. Musicians must tour to survive, which most find fun when they're young, less so as they age.

As I walked toward the Washington Square arch, treasure in hand, I wondered if the return of vinyl culture, and the subsequent acknowledgement of songwriting heroes of the past, are revaluing music. Is this a step in making music more important, if not essential, in young lives again?

Glotz's picture

Whereas other generations had the strength of music from the 60's and 70's still being promoted on radio, late-night TV shows and tours that were very visible to the average consumer. Now everything is compartmentalized simply on the massive volume in the market in every genre of music. Clearly the revival of vinyl and Discogs as well have a huge impact here.

The request 'Are you listening, Robert Baird?' is a bit condescending. Honey, not salt.

Good stuff otherwise!