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.