NASHVILLE, Tenn. — When Tamara Saviano began working on Without Getting Killed or Caught: The Life and Music of Guy Clark, her no-holds-barred biography of the beloved Americana music icon, she already knew Clark’s peers and fans loved and respected him. She’d also heard that profiling still-living subjects was harder than chronicling those who’d departed. But she was still surprised that every single one of her 200-plus interview subjects checked with Clark before agreeing to talk.
He gave them all the same answer: “I’m not out to rewrite the truth. Just tell her everything. Don’t hold back.”
And so they talked candidly, during countless hours of conversations she recorded starting in 2008. Saviano’s 406-page book, completed just before Clark passed away on May 17, takes an honest look at one of America’s most revered musical storytellers and his relationships with two key figures: his wife, Susanna, and her soul mate, Townes Van Zandt — who was also Clark’s best friend. Without Getting Killed or Caught: The Life and Music of Guy Clark (Texas A&M University Press, Oct. 18, 2016, ISBN: 978-1623494544, $29.95) is a title in the John & Robin Dickson Series in Texas Music, sponsored by Texas State University’s Center for Texas Music History. Already listed at amazon.com as the No. 1 new release in both country and folk & traditional music books, the title may be preordered on the site at a discount.
Clark and Van Zandt, the two most revered wordsmiths in a long line of Texas-born songwriters, wrote songs popularized by members of the outlaw country movement as well as more traditional artists; Clark’s contributions included classics such as “Desperados Waiting for a Train,” “The Randall Knife,” “She Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” “L.A. Freeway” and “Texas, 1947.” Always keeping the focus on the song, not the performer, Clark’s poetic lyrics sketched characters both fictional and intensely real, using slice-of-life imagery to peel away external layers and carve into the deepest reaches of human souls. Though he released only 13 studio albums in his lifetime, his work has been recorded by Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Ricky Skaggs, Jerry Jeff Walker, Emmylou Harris and countless others.
His long list of friends and admirers included Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle, Lyle Lovett, Joe Ely, Rosanne Cash, Jack Ingram and others, many of whom shared insights for the book. Saviano also includes 113 photos from all phases of his life and storied career.
In Texas and later in Nashville, Guy and Susanna, a formidable songwriter herself, attracted a circle of friends and acolytes who loved nothing more than sharing songs (and substances) together. Clark, also a luthier, and Susanna, a visual artist, met when he was dating Susanna’s sister, Bunny. When she committed suicide, Guy and Susanna bonded over their grief. Saviano delves into details of their relationship, aided by Susanna’s own journals, as well as interviews with family members who also gave her unfettered access to documents, photos and memorabilia.
“It was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. I went back to every part of Guy’s life and found the people who were there at that time,” Saviano says. “I learned details that nobody else knew, including his closest friends.”
But the book is far from straight biography; in the third section, Saviano herself becomes part of the narrative. She was managing editor of Country Music magazine when she met Clark in 1998. In 2006, she became his publicist for the album Workbench Songs, a role she repeated for 2009’s Someday the Song Writes You. In 2011, she produced the Grammy-nominated album This One’s For Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark, which was named the 2012 Americana Album of the Year by the Americana Music Association.
“I had no idea that I was going to grow to love the old curmudgeon, but I did,” Saviano says. “I felt I needed to make it very clear that I was not only a reporter. We had become good friends and Guy confided in me about many things. I’m not sure it was a typical relationship for a biographer and subject.”
Advance praise for the book is already rolling in. Says Joe Nick Patoski, author of Willie Nelson: An Epic Life and Stevie Ray Vaughan: Caught in the Crossfire: “Tamara Saviano hasn’t just written the definitive biography of the definitive Texas singer-songwriter. She goes deep in unfolding the intimate relationship between Guy Clark, his wife and creative muse Susanna Clark, and their best friend, the other definitive Texas singer-songwriter, Townes Van Zandt.”
Saviano is also at work on a documentary further exploring the relationship among Guy, Susanna and Townes, whose death in 1997 sent Susanna into a spiral from which she never recovered before passing away in 2012. (Clark’s love song “My Favorite Picture of You” became the title track of his final album, released in 2013.) But as Van Zandt’s son, J.T., notes in the book, the two men spurred each other on as songwriters. “I don’t think that either one of them could’ve made the impact that they did on music without the other one, as best friends, in the time that they did it,” he says. “… The fact that they both … existed together is not a coincidence. It was meant to be.”
About Tamara Saviano: Saviano moved to Nashville in the 1990s to work in radio promotions at Capitol Records, then segued to Country Music magazine, where she became managing editor. Moving to TV, she became operations manager/producer at the Great American Country cable network, and has since served as a publicist, project manager and artist manager for some of Nashville’s top talent. Her credits include producing Beautiful Dreamer: The Songs of Stephen Foster, which won the 2005 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album, and The Pilgrim: A Celebration of Kris Kristofferson, a 70th-birthday tribute album. She also published a memoir, The Most Beautiful Girl: A True Story of a Dad, a Daughter and the Healing Power of Music, in 2014. tamarasaviano.com