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Musicians honor songwriter Guy Clark in song


Brian T. Atkinson

The best songwriters capture attitudes and moods in single phrases. Take this seven-second exchange backstage at the Long Center for the Performing Arts' Guy Clark tribute last week : "We get paid to do this?" Wimberley-based songwriter Kevin Welch asked gleefully. "Bonus!" exclaimed Joe Ely. Others nodded and winked in agreement.

That air of excitement set the tone for an epic gathering of top-tier artists — including Jack Ingram ("Stuff That Works"), Lyle Lovett ("Anyhow, I Love You"), Radney Foster ("L.A. Freeway"), Rodney Crowell ("That Old Time Feeling") and Ray Wylie Hubbard ("Homegrown Tomatoes") — who were together to celebrate the Monahan-born legend's 70th birthday, which is today, and the release of the forthcoming double-CD set "This One's for Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark," due Dec. 6. (Full disclosure: I was involved with the album and wrote its liner notes.)

The show's buoyant mood matched the light-and-loose feel backstage throughout the evening. James McMurtry ("Cold Dog Soup"), Jerry Jeff Walker (the unrecorded "My Favorite Picture of You"), Welch ("Magdalene") and Ely ("Dublin Blues") delivered particular highlights. "Every time I sit down to write, I get out my Guy Clark records," said Terri Hendrix, who hushed the crowd with her stunning version of "The Dark."

Many spoke with great gratitude backstage about being involved with the album and concert. "Guy and (guitarist) Verlon (Thompson) stayed with us about three weeks ago, and he played the (tribute) CD for us; I hadn't heard it yet," longtime friend Terry Allen said. "Its great. I like singing the song ‘Old Friends' because we've all known each other so many years. That's what makes the CD so special. I know this makes Guy proud."

Clark himself closed the three-set evening with songs not covered by others. "This is the first time I've made a set list in 30 years," he joked. "They played all my songs." Of course, plenty were left over. Clark's short final set, accompanied by Thompson and multi-instrumentalist Shawn Camp, included "Boats to Build," "The Randall Knife," "Better Days" and the new and unrecorded "Coyote." All assembled launched an impromptu rendition of "Happy Birthday" near the end.