Legendary Songwriter Guy Clark Dead at 74

Singer-songwriter Guy Clark, whose hit compositions included “Heartbroke,” “Desperadoes Waiting for a Train,” “L.A. Freeway” and “She’s Crazy for Leavin’,” died Tuesday morning (May 17) in Nashville following a long illness. He was 74.

Elected to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2004, Clark was known as a “songwriters’ songwriter” for his narrative strength and eclectic, often quirky subject matter.

Among those for whom Clark’s songs became hits and even signature tunes were Jerry Jeff Walker, Ricky Skaggs, Vince Gill, Steve Wariner, Bobby Bare and John Conlee.

Guy Charles Clark was born Nov. 6, 1941 in Monahans, Texas, the son of a lawyer whom he saluted in his song/recitation “The Randall Knife.”

Clark began his musical career working the folk music circuit in Houston with such other soon-to-be luminaries as Walker, K.T. Oslin and Townes Van Zandt. From there, he zig-zagged to San Francisco, back to Houston and then to Los Angeles, where he signed his first songwriting contract. For a time, he worked building Dobro guitars in Long Beach.

He moved to Nashville in 1971 with his wife, Susanna, a graphic artist and songwriter in her own right. Soon after, the Clarks’ home became a salon for such fellow writers as Van Zandt, Rodney Crowell, Mickey Newbury and Steve Earle.

Among the first major artists to appreciate Clark’s songs was Johnny Cash, who recorded and released “Texas — 1947” in 1975 and “The Last Gunfighter Ballad” two years later. Cash would return to Clark’s catalog in 1985 — in the Highwaymen with Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson — to record “Desperadoes Waiting for a Train.” It became a Top 15 single for the group.

Clark’s fortunes as a recording artist were more subdued. Although he recorded for a variety of labels, including RCA, Warner Bros, Sugar Hill and Dualtone, his singles seldom rose far from the bottom of the country charts (when they charted at all). They did, however, become gold mines for other artists searching for lyrics that were almost photographically memorable.

“Heartbroke” became a No. 1 song for Ricky Skaggs in 1982. Bobby Bare had a Top 20 the same year with “New Cut Road.” John Conlee scored a Top 10 in 1987 with “The Carpenter.”

Clark and Crowell co-wrote “She’s Crazy for Leavin’,” which Crowell took to the top of the country chart in 1988. And Foster & Lloyd went Top 5 in 1989 with “Fair Shake,” which they co-wrote with Clark.

Three of Clark’s albums — Old Friends, Keepers and Workbench Songs — were Grammy finalists, and his 2014 collection, My Favorite Picture of You, won a Grammy as best folk album.

In 2005, the Americana Music Association honored Clark with its lifetime achievement award. He was further celebrated in 2012 with This One’s for Him, a double album of songs he had written or co-written, performed by a veritable parade of his admirers, including Willie Nelson, Rosanne Cash, Vince Gill, Lyle Lovett, Shawn Colvin, Rosie Flores, Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Emmylou Harris and John Prine.

In 2013, the Academy of Country Music conferred on Clark its Poets Award for songwriting.

A master craftsman of wood, Clark also designed and built acoustic guitars.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to CMT.com.