Let Him Roll

What can you say about a man who wrote a love song to tomatoes?

“Now you can go out to eat and that's for sure/ But it's nothin' a homegrown tomato won't cure/ Put 'em in a salad, put 'em in a stew/ You make your very own tomato juice.

"You can eat 'em with eggs, eat 'em with gravy/ Eat 'em with beans, pinto or navy/ Put 'em on the side, put 'em in the middle/ Put a homegrown tomato on a hotcake griddle

"Homegrown tomatoes, homegrown tomatoes/ What'd life be without homegrown tomatoes/ Only two things that money can't buy/ And that's true love and homegrown tomatoes.”

If songwriting is a lost art, then Guy Clark will always be one of its greatest old masters. Among the many musical passings so far this year, this one is especially painful to folks who love Americana, Texas Troubadours and the increasingly denigrated and disappearing craft of actual songwriting. His joyful, lyrically sharp expositions of culinary delight like “Homegrown Tomatoes,” and “Texas Cookin,’ ”his finely drawn laments like “Let Him Roll,” and my personal fave, “Desperadoes Waiting for a Train,” and then his hits so to speak, always in recordings by better singers “Heartbroke,” and “L.A. Freeway. ” As a body of work it’s almost a universe unto himself, part country, part folk, and all Guy.

Guy Clark was born and raised out in the west Texas town of Monahans, where his grandmother had a hotel and where he met a number of the tumbledown characters he later wrote songs about. In 1971 Clark married his wife, painter and songwriter Susanna-- whose paintings grace the covers of Emmylou Harris’ Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town and Willie Nelson’s Stardust--and moved to Nashville where his house became a clubhouse for the left-of-Music Row songwriters like Townes Van Zandt, Steve Young and Steve Earle who changed country rock music forever. The fascinating, if odd and creaky documentary, Heartworn Highways, which at one point depicts the goings on around the dinner table one boozy Christmas Eve at the Clark residence, is a must see for Americana fans.

As a fan of 30 years who saw and interviewed the man many times, there are a lot of memories. In 1990 at the re-opening of Tucson’s Temple of Music and Art Clark opened a double bill of solo artists that also included Peter Rowan. As Rowan played, and let his voice soar into its falsetto range on tunes like “Free Mexican Airforce,” Clark paced and smoked cigarettes on the wings of the stage, itching that Rowan was upstaging him. After a couple last drags and several slugs of whiskey for courage, Clark was back out onstage doing his best to run over Rowan. More songs, more falsetto by Rowan followed and so it went. Mandolins were played, heads were cut and the pair ended up smiling, patting each other's shoulders and playing the last song together. But for a time, the competition was really sharpening the performances. Troubadours was a plying their art. No prisoners were taken.

At the time a much younger and more breathless version of myself (who may have also had a stuck caps lock) wrote, “THE SHOW THAT Guy Clark and Peter Rowan put on to reopen the Temple Of Music and Art is one of the highlights of Tucson's musical history.” While you’d have to call the outcome of that titanic struggle a draw, it was an awesome spectacle to watch: two men armed only with six string acoustic guitars, trying to KO the other with their songs.

english pete's picture

Indeed another great loss and one that has gone unreported in the mainstream media.