When Guy Clark died in 2016, Vince Gill turned to his friend’s old melody. He began playing the rhythmic talking-blues guitar line that the Texas singer-songwriter had written to on classic songs like “Let Him Roll” and “Randall Knife.” Gill knew the melody well: back in the early Eighties, he had played guitar on Clark’s studio recording of “Randall Knife,” one of his favorite Guy tunes. During that session, Gill, who heard in Clark’s tribute to his late father a number of uncanny similarities to his own dad, can still remember “weeping all over [his] guitar.”
So when Gill began trying to write “Nothin’ Like a Guy Clark Song,” an ode to Clark comprising the Texas songwriter’s own song titles and favorite turns of phrases, he knew that talking-blues lick would be included. “It was only appropriate,” Gill tells Rolling Stone Country.
The first time Gill ever performed “Ain’t Nothin’ Like a Guy Clark Song,” which appears on Gill’s upcoming album Okie, he was at a campfire tribute to the late songwriter in Santa Fe. Clark’s cadre of old friends like Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, and Lyle Lovett had all gathered at Terry Allen’s ranch for an evening of Clark songs and stories.
“It was beyond terrifying,” Gill says of that night. “Everyone’s saying, ‘What Guy Clark song are you gonna sing?’ And me going, ‘Well, I wrote one for him.’ Amongst all those songwriters? It could have reeked of complete arrogance. It took all the courage I had in the world to sing this song I had just written.”
Vince Gill had listened to Guy Clark since high school, where his band at the time covered songs like “L.A. Freeway” and “Desperadoes Waiting for a Train.” He first met Clark when he opened for the singer at the Troubadour in Los Angeles in 1976. “I was always so drawn to the way he told stories,” says Gill. “It felt like home. There’s a really deep, deep, deep connection that I had with Guy.”
When Gill recorded “Ain’t Nothin’ Like a Guy Clark Song,” the first person he played the song for was Rodney Crowell. “He had big tears rolling down his face,” Gill says. “He said, ‘Don’t you die on me.’ Rodney and Guy were like a couple of brothers to me, a big brother and a bigger brother.”
“What do you do when your heroes die?” Gill asks in the song’s final verse. “Man, you let ‘em roll/you let ‘em fly.”
“Truth be told,” Gill says of the love-letter to his dear friend. “Guy wrote this song, not me.”
Okie will be in stores on Friday.