Ten years ago, Steve Earle took a break from recording original material to make Townes, a tribute to his longtime friend and colleague Townes Van Zandt. To Earle, Van Zandt was his Bob Dylan — or his “Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg,” alongside Guy Clark, whom Earle knew since the Seventies when he became his guitar player and, eventually, like family.
So for his 19th studio album, Earle decided to honor the late songwriter with Guy, a collection of Clark covers that also features appearances from Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, Terry Allen, Jerry Jeff Walker, Mickey Raphael, Shawn Camp, Verlon Thompson and Gary Nicholson and backing from his longtime band, the Dukes. The second release from Guy, a woozy version of the Clark classic, “L.A. Freeway,” is out today.
Clark wrote “L.A. Freeway” when he was living in Los Angeles and working at a Dobro factory, frustrated with the commercial pressures of life as a songwriter back in Nashville. He scrawled the initial lyrics on the back of a takeout bag with wife Susana Clark’s eyebrow pencil from the back of a car, and later turned the notes into a song that landed on Clark’s debut LP, 1975’s Old No. 1, for which Earle contributed background vocals. The two became close enough that Clark even influenced ink that adorns Earle’s son, Justin Townes Earle: his hands boast a pair of tattooed sledgehammers, after Clark would comment that he played guitar as if his thumbs were sledgehammers. For Earle’s version of “L.A. Freeway,” he keeps the melody intact while applying his signature raspy and relaxed vocal delivery to the potent words.
Guy will be released March 29th via New West Records.