Americana Highways is happy to present this short story: a chapter from Seth Walker’s new book Your Van is On Fire. The book contains memoirs, anecdotes, poetry and original artwork by Seth Walker. This chapter chronicles his meeting with Guy Clark at Poodies Hilltop in Austin. The collection was edited by poet and essayist Leslie LaChance, with a foreword by singer/songwriter Oliver Wood.
“‘Poodies’, has been written and etched in my mind since the night it all went down. I just had never put it to paper. As I was writing it, I imagined myself again stepping back into that beautifully dank, dark and dingy bar, on a mission unbeknownst to me at the time—to get schooled on songwriting and life by Guy Clark and his troubadour friends.
The book really came into focus around April 2020, after the bottom fell out. It became very clear that I needed to reinvent myself in many ways. Before I knew it, my inner creative compass was pointed towards a new idiom—writing in long form, albeit mostly short essays. Through the years I have dabbled with poetry and journaling from the road, but my flaming hamster wheel touring life never slowed down enough for me to really dive in and submerge myself. I wrote for 6 months straight and barely came up for air. I learned a lot about writing and even more about myself in the process. Another perk of writing this book and having a break from touring, is the newfound inspiration it has sparked, springboarding me back into creating music again. Funny how space always brings you closer. — Seth Walker
I received a phone call from a friend as I was pulling into Austin, Texas after a long tour. The message was brief and simple: “Hey Seth, bring your ass out to Poodies Hilltop tonight at 9 p.m. Guy Clark is playing.” I am embarrassed to say that I wasn’t hip to Guy’s music at the time, and I was not overly excited about driving even further, in the crusty road worn state I was in. However my youth and curiosity had other plans and almost without knowing it, I was soon heading out Highway 71 to the Hill Country. I pulled into the gravel parking lot among the Lone Star license plates and mud flapping trucks with their impossible protruding CB antennas. Poodies Hilltop Bar was owned by none other than Poodie, Willie Nelson’s long time road manager. This place is where you go to drink beer, listen to music and watch people—simple as that. I approached the front door and saw the hand-written sign torn from a spiral-bound notebook reading: Guy Clark $12. “Are you shitting me? Twelve dollars?! I don’t even know who this country ass yahoo is,” I said to myself.
Well, being that I had already made the long trek out there, I coughed up the dough and bellied up to the bar. Crispy and tired, I ordered a cup of coffee from the barmaid and pulled up a stool beside an old timer with a leathered face and a giant, straw ten-gallon hat. As I scanned the joint for my friends who hadn’t arrived yet, I turned back to the bar, only to find my new found cowpoke compadre pouring something brown out of his flask into my coffee. “This shit right here will make a cowboy wanna fuck another cowboy,” he said with a toothless grin. Whoa, Nelllly! I thought, then took a sip out of some strange politeness, threw him some shade disguised as a smile and made my way to find a seat for the show.
Poodies, out in Spicewood, is home away from home to many blue collar Texas folk. All walks. From hardscrabble ranchers to lay-about drunks and all points in between, but mostly men playing Dominoes and telling lies. I observed it all and waited. Then out of the crowd stood three unassuming gentlemen dressed in denim who made their way up onto the stage. The opener? They grabbed their instruments, plugged in and laid on. “Hello Ladies and Gentlemen. My name is Guy Clark, and this is Verlon Thompson and Darryl Scott.”
They proceeded to lay me out with tune after tune of simple, poetic truths, wrapped up and disguised as songs. I saw grown, hardened men get lost in a lyric, entrapped in a ponder while peeling the label back from their sweaty bottle of Bud. Guy’s simple song about homegrown tomatoes, broke ‘em down, leaving ‘em all sitting there singing along and grinning. Then he unleashed “Let Him Roll”, and levelled the joint with his broken tale of a wino in love with a Dallas whore. The real shit.
Everyone from a deep thinking scholar to a simple ranch hand can get on board with Guy Clark. I just sat there feeling the wallop in my chest looking out across the dark and wooden bar. They kept pouring ‘em out in rapid succession flooring me with more tunes like “Desperados Waiting on a Train,” “Coat from the Cold,” “LA Freeway,” “Stuff that Works,” “Out in the Parking Lot,” and “That Old Time Feeling.”
My friends never even arrived that night, but a new side of me showed up instead. I had, as they say, an epiphany. And I enrolled right away as a student in Guy Clark’s School of Truth and Attention. Attention to the beautiful details of the broken and the ordinary.
You never know when it’s your turn to turn a corner. Lessons come in many forms. Sometimes you have to earn your seat in the class by driving way out to the hill country of Texas, paying $12 and getting schooled by some old troubadour songwriters out at Poodies Hilltop Bar.
P.S. Sometime around March of 2005, I was performing at the Springfest down in Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, Florida. Guy was one of the headliners and my name was way down at the bottom of the marquee, in small print. I was playing my afternoon set under a side stage tent when I saw him saunter up and lean against a pole to have a quick listen. He stood there, his towering frame a presence in the stillness for a few songs, puffing easily on a cigarette. I couldn’t take my eyes off him, wondering what he might be thinking of my little two-bit songs. After 10 minutes or so, he strolled away, disappearing through the people and vendor tents. Later that evening, I was hanging backstage at the Amphitheater, when I saw him walking towards me.
“Hey, were you playing out under that tent earlier this afternoon with your little band?”
“Yes that was me Mr. Clark” I said. He thought for a moment and then said,
”Well, you played a song I swear I would never forget— but damn if I didn’t.”
That was Guy Clark.