This May will mark three years since we lost Texas singer songwriter giant Guy Clark. Clark’s songs and stories live on as some of the best songs ever written possessing that old school, literary quality not often represented in mainstream music. He and his wife Susanna spent some of their most productive years living and writing here in Houston along with his most famous contemporary, Townes Van Zandt. The mischievous duo launched an Americana movement where the living was fast and the songs were slow and heavy.
This will also be the third year of A Night for Guy, held at the famous Anderson Fair and hosted by Shawn Parks, owner of Bojangles Music School. The two previous years have sold out in just a few hours and brought big surprises to the small, historic Montrose club. The tribute is in part a benefit for the venue as well as a fundraiser for the production of a film, based on Clark’s publicist Tamara Saviano’s book, “Without Getting Killed or Caught.”
Parks describes the first year's event, “It was just a really beautiful vibe that came from the audience in my opinion. Everybody that was there respected the subject matter, the reason that we were there and the venue itself is a really important key to this too because it’s a very reverent place.”
The first year saw the audience and organizers floored by the surprise appearance of Texas sweetheart Lyle Lovett and the second year brought out unannounced guest Hayes Carll. This year Parks is tight lipped about any surprises they might have in store but is quick to say that tickets have yet again sold out.
Parks started this show after attending tributes in Nashville and Austin and returning home with a sinking feeling that Clark deserved one in Houston as well. “Houston does not tell its musical story at all; it’s a huge underrated music city. We don’t really talk about what really comes from here and what was birthed here.” says Parks.
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Parks continues, “He needed to be celebrated in Houston, Houston laying claim to the genius of Guy Clark isn’t the aim here, but he spent some real formative years here. He wrote his first songs here, he met Townes Van Zandt here.” Houston’s tribute show is the only one that has taken place consecutively since Clark’s death.
In little time Parks had the support and encouragement of Anderson Fair and many local musicians, some with personal ties to Clark. “I wanted to put my favorite Houston artists on display all in the same place.” says Parks. He immediately teamed up with co-founder and local singer songwriter Matt Harlan, who he had been a fan of. “We connected over this mutual appreciation of Guy Clark and Houston music.”
The venue itself holds the memory of Clark and his brand of storytelling in its small quarters and is the subject of the documentary For the Sake of the Song. The film tells the story of the volunteer-run venue and how it shaped now famous artists like Lovett and Lucinda Williams. The story wouldn’t be complete without the complete shock and awe to everyone involved that the club still stands to this day as a testament to the power behind a singer with a guitar and a good story.
Anderson Fair represents the tight knit singer songwriter scene that Houston had in the ‘70s and ‘80s that many in the city continue to hold dear. “That’s the thing Guy and Townes and those guys had was a community of songwriters. They held each other in check and held each other accountable, at least for the songs.” laughs Parks.
This year will feature Houston artists from the first two events including Paul Beebe, The Mighty Orq, John Egan, Brad Absher, Jaime Lin Wilson, Charlie Harrison and Harlan himself. Also from previous years will be Dick DeGuerin, the lawyer who famously represented Billy Joe Shaver after he shot a man between “the mother and the fucker” in a bar fight. This will also be the second year to feature long time Clark sidekick, Verlon Thompson. Thompson will also headline his own solo show the night before on the same stage.
Thompson, an established artist in his own right, jumped at the chance to work with Parks to honor his old friend. “All I know is that when I saw Shawn’s dedication, his sincerity and all the people that showed up with their same dedication and sincerity I just thought, this is the kind of thing I want to be a part of and I’ll do it every year unless I just can’t."
Thompson’s long friendship and partnership on the road with Clark took him all over the world but they never shared this particular stage together. Thompson continues to tour yearlong and when asked if he ever feels his old friend's presence he says, “I feel it every night but especially a place like Anderson Fair because Guy often told stories about it. When I finally stepped into the place, I could feel what it was that Guy must have loved about it too.” He continues, “There’s no other reason to come there but to sit within a few feet of the entertainer and really soak it in and Guy loved that.”
He describes his solo show, “Some people have called it a musical memoir. It’s basically my life through songs and stories that all intertwine and overlap each other. It’s about my blessed and beautiful life of being a songwriter, making music and doing nothing else.” He continues, “I’m a Nashville songwriter but I don’t just stand up there and play my songs that other people have recorded. I take the listeners on a journey with me and hopefully they get to see a lot of the world.”
Thompson accompanied Clark until the end, often helping the artist carry on his live shows despite his poor health. “I don’t know if I ran the ship but I tried to jump in and help as much as I could.” he says sincerely. Clark continued to perform even when his health was taking its toll on him. Thompson says, “A lot of people wanted him to quit, and I might have been one of those people at times too, but when you stop being who you are, it’s pretty much over and he pushed it as long as he could.”
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The two men couldn’t be more contrasting in their personalities. Terry Allen, Clark’s longtime friend, recently described him to me as “perpetually grumpy”, whereas Thompson exudes that sweet Oklahoma charm. “Here’s the crazy part about it, Terry’s right.” says Thompson. “Guy was always a big old grouch, and downright hateful to a lot of people, but here’s the crazy part, he was never mean to me.”
Thompson and Clark had a strong partnership built on their appreciation and respect for the craft. “In a lot of ways you could look at it as a dying art form. There are still people writing songs, but a lot of what you hear now a days is a new style. It’s not like the old simple stories with simple themes and emotional tugging on your heart strings kind of stuff.”
Parks and Harlan see this not only as a celebration for Clark but also part of the awakening for current artists to the craft behind a solid, timeless song, “We’ve gotten so far away from a good song and somebody playing an acoustic guitar that it's got to come back to that. I think we are just right on the edge of it and Houston is just really primed to be the hot bed and breeding ground that it always has been for that style of music.”
Verlon Thompson will perform his solo show Thursday, May 16 at Anderson Fair, 2007 Grant, doors open at 7:30 p.m. $25
A Night For Guy will take place Friday, May 17 at Anderson Fair, 2007 Grant, doors open at 7:30 p.m. $50, Sold Out