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Guy Clark: 12 Essential Songs

From iconic gunfighter anthems to vulnerable proclamations of love

Guy Clark

Guy Clark was one of the most celebrated country songwriters of all time.

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At least to the modern-day fan, Guy Clark may not have been the most well-known of country songwriters, but his influence and body of work are essential to the genre. A true poet, Clark died at 74 on Tuesday, May 17th, after a lengthy illness, leaving behind songs that are touchstones of Nashville songwriting. Here are 12 essential Clark tracks, from the California kiss-off “L.A. Freeway” to the evocative “Desperados Waiting for a Train.”

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AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - JANUARY 9: Guy Clark, guitar-vocal, performs at the Paradiso on 9th January 1992 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. (Photo by Frans Schellekens/Redferns)

“The Last Gunfighter Ballad”

It's not the bullet that puts the titular gunslinger in his grave in this stark ballad, but, almost anachronistically, a car. The tale of an old cowboy who can't forget the smell of the black powder or the "son of a bitch" into whom he empties his gun, the song was cut by Johnny Cash as the title track to his 1977 album. Over the course of a sprawling narrative, he remembers standing his ground in a dusty street that's now paved and overrun by traffic — which ultimately causes his demise. But Clark's lyrics, as in "Desperados Waiting for a Train," are, on a deeper level, more about the cruel passage of time than some superficial hit-and-run. For his own version, on 1976's Texas Cookin', Clark enlisted the era's alpha outlaw for harmony vocals: Waylon Jennings.

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