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Steve Earle's Guy Clark Tribute Celebrates A Songwriting Craftsman

Steve Earle
Gabriel C. Pérez/KUTX
Steve Earle

From Texas Standard:

Steve Earle has been a lot of things: an actor, an award-winning musician and one of the more famous Texas natives to call New York City home. It's been a long time since the days when he was knocking around Texas as a protégé of Townes Van Zandt.

About 10 years ago, Earle and his band, the Dukes, recorded a tribute to his mentor and partner in crime, called Townes.

Now, Earle and the Dukes are paying tribute to another of Earle's early musical mentors, with an album titled Guy, a tribute to Guy Clark. Clark was a Texan who moved to Nashville in the 1970s, and that's where a young Steve Earle met him.

Earle says he hitchhiked to Nashville at that time to try to make it as a singer-songwriter. He had considered staying in Austin, but didn't think the city was good for his ambition.

"In Austin, the weather was too good, girls too pretty, dope too cheap and I knew I would never get anything done in Austin," Earle says.

Because Earle already knew Van Zandt, he was able to meet Clark and get a job in his band.

"If you were the kid, you played bass and you talked to Susanna when Guy wasn't talking, 'cause he was pretty stoic," Earle says.

Earle says he and the other young musicians in Clark's orbit learned from Susanna Clark, Guy's wife, to carry themselves as artists. Susanna was a performer and painter.

As a friend and mentor, Clark gave Earle practical help with his songwriting that matched Clark's own craftsman-like process.

"He would show me how he laid a song out on the page," Earle says. "And he told me ... 'What are you doing writing with a pen? Write with a pencil with a big eraser.'"

Earle's album of 16 Guy Clark songs focuses on Clark's early work, and the songs that are most connected to Earle.

"I finally surrendered to the songs that I knew by heart, and that was the core of the record" Earle says. "And I intentionally put in a few thing that were later, like 'Parking Lot' because I felt like they should be there."

One opportunity Earle missed in his relationship with Clark was a chance to write with him. Like Clark, Earle says he doesn't often co-write songs. After Clark got cancer, he asked Earle to work with him.

"He would have ups and downs with his health, and he wanted to keep writing," Earle says. "And one of the ways he found to do it was finding younger writers with some energy he could tap into, in writing with them."

Written by Shelly Brisbin.

Copyright 2020 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.

Leah Scarpelli joined Texas Standard in September 2015 from NPR’s Morning Edition, where she spent seven years as a producer, director and occasional reporter of music and arts pieces. As Texas Standard director, Leah is responsible for the overall practical and creative interpretation of each day’s program: choosing segue music, managing the prep of show content, and providing explicit directions for the host and technical director during the live broadcast. She graduated from Ithaca College in New York with a Bachelor of Science degree in Television and Radio. She enjoys riding her Triumph motorcycle and getting out for hikes in the Texas countryside. Her late grandfather was from Yoakum.
David Brown
David entered radio journalism thanks to a love of storytelling, an obsession with news, and a desire to keep his hair long and play in rock bands. An inveterate political junkie with a passion for pop culture and the romance of radio, David has reported from bases in Washington, London, Los Angeles, and Boston for Monitor Radio and for NPR, and has anchored in-depth public radio documentaries from India, Brazil, and points across the United States and Europe. He is, perhaps, known most widely for his work as host of public radio's Marketplace. Fulfilling a lifelong dream of moving to Texas full-time in 2005, Brown joined the staff of KUT, launching the award-winning cultural journalism unit "Texas Music Matters."