Steve Earle gathered a large crowd of middle age men (mostly) and women for his in-store performance at Amoeba on Tuesday night. He was celebrating his new album ‘GUY’ a heartfelt tribute to Guy Clark, just released on New West Records. The 16 songs of the records were written by one of Earle’s songwriting mentors, the legendary Guy Clark, and were recorded 10 years after Earle’s Grammy Award-winning album ‘TOWNES’, a tribute to his other songwriting mentor, Townes Van Zandt.
After meeting Guy Clark when hitchhiking from San Antonio to Nashville in 1974, Steve Earle became the bassist in Guy’s band at 19. ‘I was in his band for 30 seconds, I was a shitty bass player, so that didn’t last very long,’ he told us between songs. But the connection between both men stayed tremendously strong over the years.
‘Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark were like Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg to me,’ has declared Earle in interviews, ‘No way I could get out of doing this record. When I get to the other side, I didn’t want to run into Guy having made the ‘TOWNES ’record and not one about him.’
But ‘GUY’ is out now, so Steve Earle, who is only 64, can serenely face his two mentors in the afterlife, even though the two men had a very different influence on his life. ‘When it comes to mentors, I’m glad I had both,’ he has explained. ‘If you asked Townes what it’s all about, he’d hand you a copy of ‘Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee’. If you asked Guy the same question, he’d take out a piece of paper and teach you how to diagram a song, what goes where. Townes was one of the all-time great writers, but he only finished three songs during the last fifteen years of his life. Guy had cancer and wrote songs until the day he died…he painted, he built instruments, he owned a guitar shop in the Bay Area where the young Bobby Weir hung out. He was older and wiser. You hung around with him and knew why they call what artists do disciplines. Because he was disciplined.’
Surrounded by some musicians of his backing band The Dukes (guitarist Chris Masterson, fiddle player Eleanor Whitmore) Steve Earle sang just a few songs of his new record with his legendary deep graveling voice and his storytelling style, while Eleanor Whitmore was often contributing to back up vocals. He obviously made the songs his, and it was even difficult to imagine that he hadn’t written them. The band played ‘Dublin Blues’, then the almost country outlaw ‘Texas 1947’ with that rootsy country feel, and Earle was abundantly talking between songs, fondly talking about Guy’s life and his own early beginning and childhood in San Antonio.
From the upbeat ‘Rita Ballou’ to the very melancholic ‘L. A. Freeway’, there was an absolute respect and affection in the execution of the songs, and also a lot of emotions, even though the short set was punctuated by humorous anecdotes like his last encounter with Guy in Nashville where he died from cancer: ‘The last thing my teacher said to me was ‘pork!’’ joked Earle after explaining he was asking about the local barbecue, when Clark gave him the definitive answer to close this famous beef versus pork BBQ debate.
Recorded by Earle’s longtime production partner Ray Kennedy, ‘GUY’ also features guest appearances by Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, Terry Allen, Jerry Jeff Walker, Mickey Raphael, Shawn Camp, Verlon Thompson, Gary Nicholson, and was recorded very fast in just 5 or 6 days, ‘I wanted it to sound live’, said Earle.
And if Earle is one of the most acclaimed singer-songwriters of his generation, a master of storytelling whose songs have been recorded by country giants such as Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Joan Baez, Emmylou Harris,…, you could tell this recent project was dear to his heart: before dying Guy asked him if they could write a song together…‘for the grandkids’. But Steve Earle got busy and when Clark died it was too late. ‘That, I regret,’ said the Grammy Award winner. But he is certainly getting this regret out of his system with this vibrant tribute to one of his heroes.
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