NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The cover of songwriter Guy Clark’s new album “My Favorite Picture of You” features a decades-old wrinkled snapshot of his late wife Susanna with her arms crossed and a glare on her face.
The couple moved to Nashville in the early 1970s and helped cultivate a community of songwriters including fellow Texans Townes Van Zandt and Rodney Crowell, but it wasn’t all artistic endeavors.
“Townes and I were in that house that she is in front of and we were drunk, drunk, just obnoxiously drunk,” Clark said of his wife, who died last year. “She had seen it all before and heard it all before. And she had just had enough.”
Clark, the West Texas songwriter who penned such hits as “L.A. Freeway” and “Desperados Waiting for a Train,” has physically slowed down at the age of 71, but his new collection proves his skills as a country music poet are still sharp.
The album, released in July, is filled with cowboy ballads emphasizing the storytelling lyrics he’s known for. Susanna inspired the title track, which he wrote before she died, but he also pens songs on topics as varied as immigration and veterans.
With songs made famous by country music legends like Johnny Cash, Ricky Skaggs and Vince Gill, he stopped a long time ago trying to figure out what the artists wanted or what was going to be a hit on country radio.
“I just quit wasting my time thinking about it because the best work always comes from writing for yourself,” Clark said. “Writing stuff you know about rather than, ‘What would George Jones like?’ Or, ‘What would George Strait like?’”
Clark still collaborates frequently with other songwriters like Pistol Annies’ Ashley Monroe, Shawn Camp and Chris Stapleton. That’s what drew him to Nashville and has kept him here, despite his clear affection for Texas.
“I don’t drink anymore but it is still fun to get in a room with other songwriters and say, ‘Hey, let me play you this new song,’” Clark said. “Townes and I were like that. He was always, anytime he had a new song, he would say, ‘Guy, you gotta hear this.’ And I would do the same for him. Rodney and I do that.”
This year the Academy of Country Music is honoring him with their Poet’s Award, a fitting award for a songwriter who counts Dylan Thomas and Larry McMurtry as his favorite writers.
“I am glad that I raised the bar to some extent, if in fact I did,” Clark said of his legacy. “But you can’t live on that every day. You have to reinvent yourself the next day. You have to write as good and continue to do so. And that gets harder.”
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