I came to Guy Clark relatively late, after I was already familiar with Townes Van Zandt, and Joe Ely, and through Joe had discovered Butch Hancock and Jimmy Dale Gilmore. I’d probably heard a few of Guy’s recordings, maybe “Homegrown Tomatoes” on the radio, but I was more of a folk and blues (and rock, and jazz) fan than a country fan, and his major label records sounded like mainstream country to my uneducated ears. So the first time I recall focusing on him was a solo performance of this song on a two-LP set of Texas songwriters playing at the Kerrville Folk Festivals of the early 1970s, which came out on the Adelphi label in 1983.
I was blown away by the lyric’s blend of dry humor, sincerity, and tenderness, and the way the words fit so neatly into the curves of the melody, and I learned it immediately, and played it in some fairly rough bars, and it tended to quiet them down, which is the highest praise possible. And, of course, my girlfriend liked it, which, of course, was the point.
But more important in the long term, it introduced me to Guy as a songwriter and singer, and I went out and bought Old No. 1… and what more need be said? Over the years I’ve learned at least half the songs on that record, and if they didn’t all stay in my repertoire that was mostly because I liked Guy’s versions so much that I preferred to listen to him than to sing them myself. But I’ll be getting around to “Rita Ballou” before this project is over, and for historical purposes will have to do “Desperadoes Waiting for a Train,” and there’ll be at least one or two more of Guy’s later songs as well.
All of which was supposed to happen in a couple more months, when this project gets up to what I was singing in the 1980s, and I wish it could have waited, because I wanted the context to be what they meant in my life, not that he was gone and I wanted to do something about that… and of course what I’d really like to do about that is pretend he’s still around, but I can’t, so like a lot of other people I’ll do the next best thing, which is to keep singing his songs and reminding people to go back and listen to him.