Photograph by David Ash
Sleevenotes for the original 1990 vinyl release
Terry Clarke has spent more years than he would care to remember on the perimeter of national recognition. Nothing however, has ever dampened his enthusiasm for music. He is the consummate fan. A walking encyclopaedia of our rock n' roll heritage since the fifties. You can't help but relate to a man who, in one breath praises Dion and Dylan, the Everly's and Tom Petty; then pitches in names like, Dwight Twilley and Van Dyke Parks - two of our more obscure American cousins. You can't help but admire a man who recognises that songwriting is an art to be nurtured; that songs are creations to be shared.
If albums were compass points which threw out ley lines for other songwriters to follow, then Clarke would probably quote Gram Parsons' vinyl legacy and Joe Ely's debut album, as the Krypton filled blockbusters which most sparked his imagination. From those sources and others, his songwriting skills were honed to the point they are today. Despite it's hokey image, country music possesses a heart and soul, a passion and a basic honesty which are hard to equal anywhere in the aural arena.
As a medium, music has gone through a ceaseless evolutionary process. Writers have consistently reinterpreted the work of other's; much sweat being expended in the process. And with that one magical and marginal variation, a new sound or song is born. The power of the imaginative and creative spirit remains hard to comprehend.
Let's continue with some historical data........
Terry Clarke was born in Reading, Berkshire the year our current Queen was married. He bought his first guitar - a Framus, from a schoolfriend when he was fourteen. By the late sixties, Clarke had served an apprenticeship with countless local groups; played numerous styles of music. Polydor issued his debut solo single in 1971. It didn't chart. Mike Cooper, the acoustic folk blues performer employed Terry as a sidesman during the mid seventies. Later came a band called Domino Effect, who released three singles during the early eighties. Success remained an elusive ideal. Prior to going solo in the mid eighties, Clarke teamed up with G.T. "Reggae Guitars" Moore in a duo by the unlikely name of, The Jeopardy Brothers. A solo career seemed the logical step after that.
Through all these changes, Terry had retained an abiding affection for country music. Possibly there was an excuse for that. Johnny Cash's "Songs that made him famous", a Xmas present from his parents, was the first album he ever owned. And of course, there were those ley lines......
To be honest, the story of the album which you are holding comes from the realms of "Once upon a time.....". The July 1987 issue of the acoustic music magazine "Frets", carried an advert for a Gram Parsons/Clarence White Memorial Concert to be held at The Cannery in Nashville. Terry's curiosity was sparked. Two transatlantic phone calls later, he had been invited to appear on the bill alongside the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Rodney Crowell and others. Fast forward a few months, to the state of Tennessee. While rehearsing for the show, Terry was introduced to Dwight Yoakam's ex-bassman, now a resident of Austin, Texas. Sufficiently impressed by the Brits' songs, J.D. Foster suggested they record some of them. At least the tape would be a memento of Clarke's visit. During a session at 16th Avenue Sound, Nashville on Sunday 4th October 1987, three songs were cut. The session had proved successful. It was only the beginning, but the participants weren't to know that.
Photograph by David Ash
Six months and countless transatlantic phone calls later, Terry Clarke walked on Texas soil for the first time. Money would be better spent cutting further tracks; talking about it was getting them nowhere. That was J.D.'s opinion anyway. What clinched it for Terry, was Flaco Jiminez's offer to play on the Texas sessions. During one of Flaco's UK tours, Terry had supported him on a couple of dates. No one had to tell them they shared a common musical vision. Flaco's offer to play on Terry's album, went something like "Austin is only a few beers from San Antonio". On 31st March and April Fools Day 1988, eight songs were cut at the Fire Station Studio, San Marcos. Three further tracks were laid down at Cedar Creek Studios, Austin on Wednesday 13th April.
And what of the songs which made it to this album. Some, like "Valley of the blue eyes" and "The stars of Austin", are the visions of an Englishman visiting his personal Holy Land. A rich lyrical perspective seemed to descend on Clarke in that Texas town. Elsewhere, there's a yearning expressed for those left at home. "Wish you were here" attests to that. "Buddy's waiting on the flatland road", was written three years ago. It is the oldest song on this collection and Terry's paean to our rock n' roll past and present. If ghosts are present on this album, listen for them on this track. The only Nashville cut to make it to the album is "Tennessee Wind". An appropriate title really. The song itself, being distilled from 100% essence of country music.
In the late sixties, The Old Quarter in Houston, was home from home for Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt and Mickey Newbury. Towards the end of the last decade, the Lubbock Mafia of Joe Ely, Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore appeared at the centre of an all consuming storm. Texas possesses a rich musical inheritance and for each generation there is a season......
In the first chapter of his book "The improbable rise of Redneck Rock", Jan Reid calls Austin - The Gay Place. The town certainly possesses a heartbeat which attracts musicians. Austin in the late eighties, is a grumbling volcano of talent. Should it explode nationally, the producer and bassman on this album will surely be in the vanguard. When he isn't locked in a recording studio, J.D. Foster plays bass in The Heels, David Halley's band. Foster's own band, The Barnburners perform an octane rich mixture of rockin' high speed bluegrass. As well as a appearing on this album, Rich Brotherton (guitar and mandolin) and Danny Barnes (banjo) are also alumni of that latter aggregation. Fred Krc (drums) has backed literally every well known Austin musician of the last two decades. These days he fronts his own band, Wild Country. David Grissom (electric guitar) has laid down bone crunching rhythms in Joe Ely's band, for nearly four years. The guy proves here, that he can also pick a sensitive axe. Mike Hardwick (electric guitar, acoustic guitar and lap steel) has been a stalwart of the Austin scene for countless years. Elsewhere on the Texas sessions, Erik Hokkanen (fiddle) and Herb Steiner (pedal steel) are featured. Apart from Foster, the common link between the Texas and Tennessee sessions, is the backbeat of Andy Arrow (drums). You can't help but look up to a guy who has driven his Toyota on the streets of Nashville for four years, bearing Bakersfield plates. That's country. Those initial Nashville sessions also featured, Chas Williams (guitar). More will be heard of all those involved in this project. That isn't even a calculated guess.