It’s been a little less than a year since legendary Texas songwriter Guy Clark died, but his friends and fellow musicians miss his presence every day, as was clear from Friday night’s tribute concert at the Paramount Theatre. Perhaps no one more than Tamara Saviano, who devoted years to chronicling Clark’s work in the biography “Without Getting Killed or Caught,” released last year shortly after Clark’s passing.
The Texas Heritage Songwriters Association honored Saviano with its Darrell K. Royal Texas Music Legend award, then followed the presentation with nearly two hours of Clark’s music performed by more than a dozen of his peers. It’s hard to pick highlights from a Guy Clark set list; he didn’t suffer unworthy songs.
We captured snippets of several in the video above, from the likes of Jack Ingram, Brennen Leigh, Joe Ely, the Trishas, Rodney Crowell and Verlon Thompson. Other standouts included Noel McKay’s beautifully hushed take on “My Favorite Picture of You”; a honky-tonk rave-up of “Rita Ballou” by Terry McBride, a late addition to the bill; and a rollicking show-opening run through “Texas Cookin'” by pianist Johnny Nicholas and the fine house band that backed up many performers throughout the evening: guitarist Scrappy Jud Newcomb, bassist Bruce Hughes, drummer John Chipman and fiddler Brian Beken.
Thompson, Clark’s longtime guitar accompanist, and McKay prefaced their songs with great stories about Clark’s expertise as a luthier and guitar collector. In the former’s case, it regarded a guitar Clark owned and Thompson coveted, so much so that Clark simply gave it to him. With McKay, a former Collings Guitars employee, it was about enlisting Clark’s help in building a guitar. Each story ended the same beautiful way: with revelations that the guitar they were playing onstage was the one the story was about.
The structure of the performances was egalitarian, with each artist playing a song and then introducing the one who followed. Crowell, who earlier in the day had played a brilliant set of songs at Waterloo Records from his new album “Close Ties” — including a couple that mention Clark and his wife Susanna — was the closest thing to a master of ceremonies, helping to kick things off and close it out. He also told one of the best stories, about a stretch in 1992 when Crowell was thinking of calling it quits as a musician. Clark showed up at his doorstep and by the end of the day, “we’d written this song, and I was back in the music business,” he said as he began to play “Stuff That Works.”
Near the end of the night, shortly before the entire cast returned to the stage for the perfect finale of “Old Friends,” Terry Allen summed things up quite nicely. “There’s so many old friends together here,” he said. “And Guy brought a lot of people together.”
- “Texas Cookin’,” Johnny Nicholas with the house band
- “Stuff That Works,” Rodney Crowell
- “The Guitar,” Verlon Thompson
- “L.A. Freeway,” Jack Ingram
- “Heartbroke,” Brennen Leigh
- “Dublin Blues,” Lee Roy Parnell
- “My Favorite Picture of You,” Noel McKay
- “Sis Draper,” Shawn Camp
- “Rita Ballou,” Terry McBride
- “Baton Rouge,” Bruce Robison
- “Magdalene,” Joe Ely
- “Desperados Waiting for a Train,” Trishas
- “Queenie’s Song,” Terry Allen & Verlon Thompson
- “She Ain’t Going Nowhere,” Rodney Crowell & Verlon Thompson
- “Old Friends,” Verlon Thompson and full cast