Old No. 1
RCA signed Guy Clark in the early ‘70s but his debut album, Old No. 1, didn’t appear until 1975. By that time he was already a hero in the songwriting world, and his compositions had been recorded by the likes of Jerry Jeff Walker, Rita Coolidge and Johnny Cash. Meantime Clark made his living as a luthier, and Old No. 1 has the careful touch of a master carpenter. Clark isn’t as loose as Walker, or as poetic as Townes Van Zandt, but his songs were the best built. “L.A. Freeway,” “Instant Coffee Blues” and “Let Him Roll” are stories and paintings, but they are also fine pieces of furniture — every curve and fixture the product of an experienced hand. Clark was older than his peers, and his grizzled voice anchors cowboy tales like “Rita Ballou,” “Texas 1947” and “Desperados Waiting for a Train.” While a lot of his contemporaries were caught up in a cosmic cowboy fantasy, Clark was one of the few who delivered authentic Texas personality that broke with convention even as it respected tradition. Old No. 1 lives midway between Bob Wills and Bob Dylan — Clark was the only artist from that time able to incorporate the best of both.