‘Guy was not afraid to be human’ – Tamara Saviano on writing Guy Clark’s biography

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Tamara Saviano (Courtesy Photo)

Grammy-award winning producer Tamara Saviano had a special relationship with the late Guy Clark. She was a fan first, then his publicist and producer, then, finally, the one who told his life story.

 

A fixture in Americana and country music for many years, Saviano produced the 2-CD tribute set, “This One’s For Him.” The set was nominated for a Grammy for Best Folk Album and was selected as the Americana Album of the Year in 2012.

The Texas Heritage Songwriter Association is giving her the Darrell K. Royal Texas Music Legend Award, which honors those who have supported the careers of Texas songwriters.

“It’s been my life’s work, and it means the world to me that the THSA have chosen me,” she said of the honor.

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Without Getting Killed or Caught – Texas A&M University Press – 416 pp. – $22.45 – Five out of five stars

This fall, Saviano released “Without Getting Killed or Caught,” an in-depth look at Clark’s life, written with his encouragement. Now in its third printing, it’s been embraced by fans and critics.

She’s been on the road promoting the book, which she says has put the focus “back on Guy’s life and work instead of his death.”

Clark died in May after a lengthy illness.

“My goal is to keep Guy’s music and legacy alive,” Saviano said in an email to the people who, through Kickstarter, helped fund the documentary she’s working on about Guy’s music. “I think I’m ready to look at footage of Guy again. When I tried during the summer, it was just too difficult to watch.”

Saviano took time from her busy schedule to talk about the women in Clark’s life, her access to his life and her favorite memories of the legendary Texan.

The Winnsboro News: How did it come about that you were the one to tell Guy’s story?

Tamara Saviano: I was at the Chili Parlor Bar with Gary Hartman from the Center for Texas Music History.

He asked me to write a book about Guy but I declined thinking Guy would never participate. Once again I learned to never second guess what Guy might want. He threw himself into the project wholeheartedly.

TWN: His fans, especially those who had been with him since the early days, just thought we knew his stories. There was so much we didn’t know. What surprised you the most as you worked through his life?

TS: There were many surprises along the way. I was not surprised that there was much we didn’t know because on stage Guy always told the same stories over and over again and I knew there had to be more to his life than those stories.

I am truly surprised that he was willing to share so many intimate details about his life and relationships.

TWN: Guy grew up surrounded by strong, independent women who made their own way in the world. You spend quite a bit of time on his grandmother in the book. How did she influence his life?

TS: Guy’s maternal grandmother was a judge in Oklahoma who made it her mission to throw bootleggers in jail.

Guy’s paternal grandmother was an amputee bootlegger who ran a hotel for wildcatters and bomber pilots. To say he was surrounded by strong women is an understatement.

I think it made Guy appreciate women to a degree many men never reach. He revered strong women and had no patience for shrinking violets.

TWN: Guy was especially protective of his sisters. Talk a bit about that.

TS: Guy was the big brother to his sisters Caroline and Jan and he took the role seriously.

I think it was one of those things where as a kid his parents would tell him to look out for his sisters and, like everything Guy did, he tried to do it well.

Guy’s parents were very much in love and in many respects only had eyes for each other so the kids had to be independent from a young age. To some degree, perhaps Guy was a parent to his sisters.

TWN: When you went on tour with Guy and Verlon Thompson, you were surprised at the amount of junk food he consumed. Did he have a favorite fast food pit stop?

TS: He loved them all. I was especially surprised by the amount of cookies, candy, donuts, cake and pie that Guy consumed. He had a sweet tooth.

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TWN: Verlon played at Winnsboro Center for the Arts in September. Talk a little bit about the role Verlon played in Guy’s life, especially during the last years on the road.

TS: Verlon and Guy were songwriting and traveling partners for so many years and I don’t think anything I say can convey the depth of their friendship. I know that they loved each other and that Guy thought Verlon was the best guitar player on the planet.

TWN: What is your favorite Guy Clark memory?

TS: My favorite memories of Guy are just sitting at his kitchen table talking.

We did our formal interviews at his workbench in the basement but many days I just went over to hang out with him.

Guy and I both love soup and I made him pot after pot of soup and would try different recipes out on him. He especially loved my chicken and vegetable soup and my sweet potato and black bean chili.

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Susanna and Guy Clark in front of the painting she did for his album, “Old No. 1.” (Courtesy Photo)

TWN: After Guy’s wife, Susanna, died in 2012, he gave you her diaries. What was it like to read them? Did they help you understand her complexity?

TS: Yes, I think they did help me understand the complexities of their relationship and also gave Susanna more of a voice. I came to fall in love with Susanna by reading her diaries.

I know I’m romanticizing things, but I often wonder what would have happened if she never went back to Guy after their long separation.

In some ways, I think Guy and Townes ruined her, although it was her own choice to be with them and she loved them.

TWN: Guy placed a lot of trust in you to tell their story. How did that weigh upon you as you wrote that part of the biography?

TS: It weighed upon me to get the facts straight and to try to tell Guy’s story as honestly as possible, but Guy was so giving about making sure I knew everything was on the record.

He did not try to hide his flaws.  That’s one of the things I loved most about him, Guy was not afraid to be human.

TWN: Talk about the trip from Nashville to Santa Fe with Guy’s ashes … and the gathering of friends when you got there.

TS: The epilogue of the book tells the story exactly as it happened.

We boarded a bus in Nashville after a wake at McGuire’s and drove 18 hours to Santa Fe to deliver Guy’s cremains to Terry Allen. Terry will eventually incorporate the cremains into a sculpture although we don’t know when or what that will be.

TWN: What do you see as Guy’s most lasting legacy?

TS: His songs and his influence on other songwriters. No question.

TWN: What’s next for you?

TS: I am producing a documentary film on Guy. I hope to roll it out in 2018.

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Saviano will be doing one more book signing event this year. She’ll be at Waterloo Records in Austin on Thursday, Dec. 15, beginning at 5 p.m.

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