Mrs. Dough and I, along with a group of people I have been lucky enough to hook up with who are willing to let me play with them in our informal sessions once a week went out to see Guy Clark in concert last night. It took place in an old movie theater in downtown Petaluma (CA). The theater is in a particularly picturesque block of Petaluma with a cute little box office under an old fashioned marquee. It has actually appeared in a number of the movies shot all or in part in Petaluma, "Peggy Sue Got Married", "American Graffiti". It's a great location for 50s movies.
Originally, the concert was to be two acts, Guy Clark and Jesse Winchester, a singer with whom I am only vaguely familiar. For some reason, Jesse didn't show up. He was, according to management, "stuck in Canada". Clark appeared alone and as a result there were a lot of disappointed people. One of them was Dave, a friend from here in the Greater Petaluma Area. Dave said he had already seen four or five live Guy Clark shows and although they were good they were always the same.
Clark was appearing with an accompanist. Dave also explained that the accompanist used to be married and that he and his wife, for a number of years, had backed Clark with instruments and vocals. When the couple divorced, Guy got custody of the husband who is an excellent musician while the wife went off on her own. Clark called him one of the great songwriters of our time. Coming from Clark, who has written some wonderful songs of his own, it is a certainly meaningful compliment.
Almost as soon as the performance started, it was clear that this was going to be a special evening. For one thing, Clark and his accompanist seemed to be having a really good time. I was paricularly impressed by how much attentiont they paid to each other's solos. THey were really playing off each other. Dave said this was very different from the other performances. After a while, when the crowd was really warmed up and acting very appreciative, he said that he had a surprise guest - he announced that Rambling Jack Elliot was in the audience.
I've always liked Jack Elliot's simplicity and love of traditional music. He has bummed around the world and his voice as well as his face shows it. I don't know how old Jack is now, probably about seventy or seventy five although he may look older than he is because of all those hard miles he's put on over the past four, five or six decades.
Jack lives over in Marshall, on the coast about fifteen or twenty miles from Petaluma and oddly enough only a few minutes earlier I had wondered if he might show up in the audience for the show. It never occurred to me he might get up on stage.
Jack doesn't ramble so easily any more. He had a hip operation a couple of weeks ago and tonight had to be helped up on the stage, a skinny old man in blue jeans, big hat and sunglasses, bent over and hobbling, with those kinds of aluminum crutches that have braces to help support the arms. He had an athletic looking and much younger guy, a rodeo cowboy in town for the Grand Nationals. He was there with his girlfriend, to help Jack up the stairs from the audience. Once he made his way rather painfully to a stool about a third of the way across stage, he managed to sit down. He was charming but his voice was so whispery it was hard to hear him even with the microphone.
He told a few self-effacing kinds of jokes about his condition. He said that his doctor had told him that he had to stay out of cars for a couple of months until his hip healed. He smiled slyly as he explained that he had come to town in a pickup truck. Then someone handed him a guitar and he took probably two minutes to figure out how to get the strap off the tailpiece, get it around his neck and back on the instrument. It was kind of sad to see how much concentration it took this vigorous guy to get ready to play. However, the audience was on his side. Almost all of us knew of Jack Elliot so we were patient, waiting for the legend to get ready.
When he began strumming the instrument tentatively and very quietly, I had to concentrate to hear him say that this was the first time that he'd picked up a guitar since before "the hospital thing".
Then he broke into a blues and his voice strengthened. He began singing with a surprising power and his guitar picking became clear and purposeful. He then played San Francisco Bay Blues, told a story about the writer, and left the stage to thundering applause from a standing audience. The funny thing was that he walked so much more smoothly leaving the stage.
A while later, he came back on stage, this time to tell a story. The way it happened was that Guy Clark and his partner had started to introduce a song and mentioned that it reminded them of Jack's road manager, Caesar, a dog. The audience laughed when the two performers agreed that the sometimes the Labrador used to drive the car when Jack had to make long hauls between cities on his way to a gig.
Jack got back up on stage to explain that the dog used to drive the Volvo all right but the dog absolutely refused to drive the Land Rover - he just couldn't get the hang of shifting. It was a long, tall and very amusing story. This time when he had walked up to the stage a lot more smoothly and it sure looked as though he was in a lot less pain.
The story was hilarious and he had the audience laughing for five minutes, with outrageous facts presented dead-pan with lots of detail to clothe the adventure in a veneer of veracity. By the time he got to the climax the audience was nearly hysterical. He told us he was late for a club date in Denver. He had driven as long as he could and had to take a break. He told the dog to take over while he slept. He also told him that if he spotted a roadside pay phone, he should stop the car, set the hand brake and wake him. Three hours later when the dog woke him, they had traveled nearly 25 miles but the dog had found a phone, had stopped and had even remembered to set the handbrake. Jack said he made a phone call to the club in Denver and spoke to the owner who was very pleased because the place was full. Of course he was upset when he learned that Jack was several hours away in a lonely public phone booth in Nebraska. While feeding quarters into the phone, Jack gave a remote performance of four or five songs thanks to a microphone held next to a receiver at the club. He could even hear the audience applauding.
Well, the story went over very well. Guy Clark and his accompanist were laughing as much as we all were and Jack Elliot looked as though he was having a better time than any of us. His grin looked so broad that it appeared at times as though he might give up on the story and just break down laughing . He was a very happy man up there on that stage.
This time when he left the stage, he was walking almost straight.
He came on stage one more time. late in the show. This time he almost scurried up onto the stage. If there was ever an example of pain numbing endorphins at work, this was it. He even gave a little skip! He was like a different man.
All in all, it was a delightful evening. When I got home, I surfed over to Amazon,com and bought a CD from Guy Clark's collection and one from Jack Elliot's recorded library.