Tom T. Hall, Guy Clark songs tell stories worth telling
By Reggie Ponder
Sunday, August 25, 2019
There are better singers and better pickers but I’m not sure there has ever been a better country songwriter than Tom T. Hall.
A close runner-up might be the late Texas song craftsman Guy Clark.
I first encountered Guy Clark by way of Jerry Jeff Walker’s version of Clark’s “L.A. Freeway,” which was on Jerry Jeff’s monumental late-1970s collection “A Man Must Carry On.”
I was introduced to Jerry Jeff Walker by the same friend who had introduced me to Buddy Holly. He and I were the only kids in eight-grade who were listening to Jerry Jeff Walker and Buddy Holly when everyone else was dancing to disco.
But I loved “L.A. Freeway” and the rest of that album. Over the years I became familiar with other Guy Clark tunes, such as “Desperadoes Waiting for a Train,” “Dublin Blues,” “Standing in the Rain in Durango,” “The Last Gunfighter Ballad” and “Step Inside this House.”
A year or so ago I first heard his song “The Dark,” and it was unlike anything I had ever heard before ... different ... and better.
What all these Guy Clark songs have in common is the way they tell a compelling story with rich detail and powerful figurative language. But the figures never get lost in the clouds; they have a way of keeping their feet on the ground.
All of which brings us back to Tom T. Hall. His story songs are good stories first, and then manage to be great songs.
Although there’s really nothing country about her, blues artist Samantha Fish has taken to performing an acoustic version of Tom T. Hall’s “That’s How I Got to Memphis.” It just shows how music really is a language that transcends genre, and in that case transcends gender as well.
Samantha’s version of the song is nothing short of gut-wrenching, which I suppose is why I dreamed not long ago about seeing her perform the song live.
In the dream, she asked if anyone in the audience knew the Tom T. Hall song “The Year That Clayton Delaney Died.”
I spoke up and said I knew it.
Oddly (but remember this was a dream) she handed me her guitar and asked me to do “The Year That Clayton Delaney Died.”
I agreed without even thinking about it.
And then about midway through the first verse I began to panic. These people hadn’t come to hear me. They had come to hear a virtuoso guitarist and soulful singer.
But there I was. I wasn’t the best in the world, or even the best on that stage, but I was the one who had somehow shown up on that occasion.
I’m glad Guy Clark and Tom T. Hall have shown up, again and again.
Reggie Ponder is a staff writer for The Daily Advance.