In this non-traditional Christmas season, I have found joy in my favorite non-traditional Christmas songs. Robert Earl Keen’s, Merry Christmas From the Family and John Prine’s, Christmas in Prison have been annual traditions for me at Christmas time.
My Wife has sometimes been known to call them “stupid” songs. Stupid is not a word I would use to describe such wonderful works of art! These songs bring happiness and good will to all! We even themed our Christmas party a few years ago “Merry Christmas From the Fam-O-Lee” in celebration of REK’s Christmas hit. Listen for yourself and I hope you enjoy!
This year I have added a third song to this Christmas set. How to Make Gravy by Australian singer/songwriter Paul Kelly.
I stumbled onto this song entirely by accident. I googled Prine’s Christmas in Prison but was led to an article about a different Christmas song. Much like my Christmas pick from Prine, How to Make Gravy is also set in prison. The main character of the song, Joe is writing home to Dan. It is December 21st and Joe who is stuck in prison is sending his family his Christmas Cheer. He is also a little concerned about how the Christmas dinner is going to turn out without him there to over see the kitchen.
Who’s gonna make the gravy now? I bet it won’t taste the same.
Just add flour salt a little red wine and don’t forget a dollop of tomato sauce for sweetness and that extra tang.
In 1996 Paul Kelly was asked to record a song for an annual charity album. Organizers notified Kelly that the song he originally chose to cover had already appeared on a previous year’s compilation. They encouraged him to write an original.
With no shortage of Christmas music out there Kelly wanted to pen something that was entirely of his own making.
“Why Can’t they get there? Maybe they’re overseas and they can’t get home. Then I thought, oh he’s in prison.”
He says the song sort of wrote itself from there.
To be honest, before hearing this song, the only things I knew about Australian Prison was what I learned by watching Wentworth on Netflix.
How to Make Gravy was originally released on November 4 1996. Now over a decade later the song still gets played at all of Paul Kelly’s live shows.
Fans of the song have dubbed December 21, How to Make Gravy Day.
After finding this guy I started listening to some other songs by him. He is a talented singer and one of the better songwriters that I have come across recently. So what if he’s Australian? Paul Kelly would fit right in with the Austin Music Scene.
“Song writing is mysterious to me. I still feel like a total beginner. I don’t feel like I have got it nailed yet.”
Paul, I think you nailed it a long time ago! I just have one question, Did Joe ever get out on good behavior?
The name Steve Goodman has been written into my mind since I was just a boy. I cannot count the number of times I have heard the singer David Alan Coe’s version of “You Never Even Called Me By My Name.”
Before the last verse of the song David Alan Coe has a speaking part that states:
“Well a friend of mine named Steve Goodman wrote that song
And he told me it was the perfect country and western song
I wrote him back a letter and I told him it was not
The perfect country and western song because he hadn’t
Said anything at all about mama,
Or trains, or trucks, or prison, or gettin’ drunk”
Less commonly known is that Steve Goodman didn’t pen the song alone. The song was co-written by John Prine.
Just today I learned that Steve Goodman and John Prine also wrote another song from the jukebox in my mind.
“The Twentieth Century Is Almost Over” is a song that I must have heard ten thousand times performed by the Highwaymen.
I do not recall ever hearing the song before it was released by country super group the Highwaymen in 1985. The song was the last song on the Album the Highwayman.
I found out that Steve Goodman released the song in 1977, on his album Say It in Private.
Goodman’s version shows many more aspects of bluegrass and a style of folk music. While Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Kris Krisofferson, and Waylon Jennings give the song more of a country feel.
Steve Goodman grew up in Chicago. His music spanned the Folk, Country, Rock , Pop and Blues genres. He began writing songs in his teens. Goodman’s contract with Buddah Records came as a result of an introduction by Kris Kristofferson to Paul Anka. Goodman met Kris after opening for him at a club in Chicago.
Steve Goodman was able to play a song he had written for Arlo Guthrie. Guthrie agreed to listen to Goodman play with the condition that he first buy him a beer. Guthrie would sit and listen to Steve Goodman play for as long as it took him to drink that beer.
The song that Steve Goodman played for Arlo Guthrie was “City of New Orleans.”
The beer that Goodman had purchased became a wise investment for him. Arlo Guthrie’s version of “City of New Orleans” became a top 20 hit in 1972. This gave Steve Goodman enough success both financially and artistically to make music his full time career.
Later the same song about the Illinois Central train would be recorded by many other artists. Johnny Cash, Judy Collins, and Chet Akins all had versions of the “City of New Orleans.”
Willie Nelson’s version of the song earned Goodman a Grammy Award for best country song in 1985. Sadly, the award was given to Goodman posthumously. Steve Goodman had been deceased since September 20, 1984 because of Leukemia.
In his career, Steve Goodman wrote more than one perfect country and western song.
Guy Clark was born on this day, November 6, 1941 in Monahans, Texas.
Finding Guy Clark was to me like taking that first drink. I heard Guy’s music and I couldn’t stop after just one. I eventually did sober up, but I have never quit Guy Clark.
If it weren’t for Guy, I don’t think that I would have the passion for music that I carry with me today. He influenced many other great singers and songwriters in his lifetime.
Today, I love the discovery of the root of the song. I find pleasure in hearing the original versions, and through reading the songwriters lyrics. I want to know what the writer was thinking, feeling, and what place he must’ve been in that inspired him or her to compose a certain piece of music or song.
So many other artists have covered songs penned by Guy Clark over the years. In my earliest childhood memories, I recall that music was an important part of my life. Back then, I didn’t even know who Guy Clark was. Even back then, I was hearing his music.
In 1972 Townes Van Zandt released ,“Don’t let the Sunshine Fool Ya.”
This song was written by Guy Clark. It tells a story about two friends. Guy often said that Townes was one of the biggest influences in his songwriting. More importantly, the two were best friends for a big part of Guy Clark’s life. They were friends up until Townes died of a heart attack on New Years Day in 1997. Even when death took Townes, I think that Guy carried his spirit along until his own last breath. Almost every single album that Guy ever recorded included songs by Townes Van Zandt, and Guy has released more than twenty albums.
Guy’s childhood was in Monahans, Texas. In the early 1950’s he moved with his family to Rockport, Texas. After graduating high school in 1960, Guy moved to Houston, where he spent almost a decade in the music revival that was going on there.
Guy and Susanna moved to the East side of Nashville from L.A. in November of 71. He and Susanna were married in 1972.
While living in Las Angeles, Guy signed a songwriting contract with Sunbury Dunbar. Sunbury Dunbar was the music publishing side of RCA. They gave him the option of continuing his residence in L.A. or moving to Nashville. He chose Nashville partly because his friend Mickey Newbury was there.
Upon arriving in Nashville, Guy, Susanna, and Townes Van Zandt lived together in a white stucco house at 1307 Chapel Ave. It was in that house, that Guy would complete the song “L.A. Freeway.” He had originally written “If I could just get off of this L.A. Freeway without getting killed or caught” on a burger sack while still in L.A.
Guy first played the song for Jerry Jeff Walker who released it as his first single for MCA that year.
In 1973 Guy Clark wrote a song about his Grandma’s boyfriend. Jack Prigg was like a grandfather to Guy and influenced him with his worldly views. “Desperados Waiting For A Train.”
Jerry Jeff Walker released it on Viva Terlingua in 1973.
Guy’s songs, “L.A. Freeway” and “Desperados Waiting for A Train” may have launched his career, but he had already began making his way in music. He was already influencing other singer-songwriters in their careers as well. Guy was a mentor to artists like Steve Earle and Rodney Crowell. He and Susanna had an open house to anybody who wanted to come in.
Rodney once said that a song wasn’t complete until it had the approval of Susanna Clark.
The Hearworn Highways videos that were filmed at Guy and Susanna’s home give a good indication to what it must have been like. I cannot fathom how it must have felt to be surrounded by such great talent. If only I could’ve been a fly on the wall I would have been more than satisfied.
In 1977 Johnny Cash charted with Guy Clark’s tune “Last Gunfighter Ballad.”
By 1982, Ricky Skaggs was topping the charts with “Heartbroke” which reached the #1 spot. Steve Wariner took Guy’s Song “Baby I’m Yours” to the #1 position in 1988. Rodney Crowell did it in 1989 with “She’s Crazy For Leaving.”
Rodney Crowell co-wrote “She’s Crazy for Leaving” with Guy Clark. It was the 3rd of 5 straight #1 hits in a row for Rodney.
Bobby Bare, Vince Gill, and John Conlee all saw top 10 on the charts with Guy Clark’s songs.
1985 saw the Highwaymen, Willie, Waylon, Kris, and Johnny re-release “Desperados Waiting For ATrain.” This brought the old song to a whole new generation. I had been raised listening to these outlaws who banded together to form the Highwaymen.
I had first heard “Desperados Waiting For A Train” being performed by Jerry Jeff on an album that I had found discarded in the trash. It must have been about that time, that I discovered the real Guy Clark and when I began to admire him for the works he had written. (Read the entire story of my dumpster diving days here on my blog from 10/24/20 “Viva Terlingua.”)http://www.pinkieandpancho.com/viva-terlingua/
Jimmy Buffett had two Guy Clark songs in 1997. “Boat’s to Build,” and “Cinco De Mayo in Memphis.”
John Denver recorded Guy’s tune “Homegrown Tomatoes” in 1988. It was then that I fell in love with John Denver’s music.
Guy also turned me onto John Prine and Emmylou Harris. They recorded a version of “Magnolia Wind” in 2011. Somewhere around that time, I also found and began to follow Tom Russell.
Tom Russell’s style in his own songwriting shows many characteristics of Guy’s work.
Steve Earle, who I had first heard on the Heartworn Highways album, recorded Guy’s song El Coyote in 2013.
Guy Clark continued to influence songwriters and write songs himself all the way up to his death May 17,2016.
Even after his death, the final song that Guy Clark wrote was released by Angaleena Presley. It was on the 2017 album Wrangled. Her song, “Cheer up Little Darling,” was co -written by Guy.
Guy Clark’s own recordings are catalogued on his multiple albums. His first album, Old No #1 recorded by RCA was done in 1975. The year I was born.
His final album was Guy Clark:The Best of Dualtone Years released in 2017.
I suppose that I have always been a fan of Guy Clark. Even before I didn’t consciously realize who that was. I appreciate all that Guy has done for music. He helped to create the Americana genre. A genre that will outlive us all. His 2005 AMA Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting doesn’t even give enough credit for all of the lives that his music has impacted. Guy loved to write music and he loved to share his musical talent with others.
“I have no reason to sit home and write songs all day without going out and playing for the folks and I have no reason to play for the folks unless I’m writing new songs…”
Happy Birthday Guy Clark. Thank You for the memories and for the music.