Steve Earle knew he had to make Guy, when Guy Clark died of lymphoma at the age of seventy-six in 2016, because he’d already made a record for Townes Van Zandt. “I knew when Guy died that I’d have to make a record because I don’t want to run into that motherfucker on the other side having made Townes’s record and not made his…I am not taking any chances.”
Earle doesn’t take a lot of chances on Guy, why should he with source material as good as Clark’s, and a band as hot as The Dukes. Earle voice is huskier than Clark’s, but that just adds to the gravitas. Playing it straight makes sense, especially on a song like ‘L.A. Freeway’, detailing Clark’s move to Texas. Amidst moments sentimental and sympathetic, there’s room for less tearful recollections, “Say goodbye to the landlord for me, that son of a bitch has always bored me.”
The breadth of material that Clark created over the course of five decades is legendary. Earle and The Dukes are up to the job of recreating that work, from foot stompers like ‘Sis Draper’, to the ache and heartbreak of ‘She Ain’t Going Nowhere’. Steve understands the dynamics Clark used ‘Desperadoes Waiting For A Train’ to illustrate the painful end of a relationship that’s taken on meaning over the years, and how things change, “to me he’s one of the heroes of this country, so whys he all dressed up like them old men?” And ‘The Randall Knife’ Earle again shows how Clark’s memories created men impossible to forget.
Guy Clark had been singing for years when he made his first record back in 1975, and Steve Earle was there, just twenty years, old singing harmonies, and playing bass in his touring band. In the intervening years Earle learned his own lessons, from seven marriages to six women, to spending time in prison and dealing with his own demons, but with The Dukes he has done justice to the legacy of Guy, making an album as unforgettable as the music of his mentor.