Very quietly, the world lost a legend.
There haven’t been a rash of tribute concerts. Buildings Aren’t changing their lighting schemes. There are no mass gatherings to show appreciation for a lifetime of musical influence.
Nope. The legend that was Guy Clark slipped into the ether like a stone sliding beneath the surface of still, dark water.
If you don’t know who Guy Clark is, I’m not going to write you a biography. That’s what Wikipedia is for. I will say that Guy Clark isn’t the kind of man that left a footprint in the music industry. Guy is the kind of man that made up the sand that the other footprints are cast in. He wrote songs for everyone from Johnny Cash and John Denver to Kenny Chesney and Brad Paisley. Most notably, “LA Freeway” is a Guy Clark Song.
Again, Not here to write the man’s bio.
I’m here t share the heart behind one of Clark’s most famous songs: Desperados Waiting on a Train.
The song is so iconically Texan, that I’m pretty sure if you were born in the state you should automatically get goosebumps when you hear the lyrics.
“Desperadoes” is about Clark’s life-long relationship with his grandmother’s boyfriend who was a wildcatter (oil speculator).
I’d play the Red River Valley
And he’d sit out in the kitchen and cry
And run his fingers through seventy years of livin’
And wonder, “Lord, has ever’ well I’ve drilled gone dry?”
We were friends, me and this old man…
Like desperados waitin’ for a train
In the funny way that memories and music combine themselves in our minds, There is something about ‘Desperadoes’ that has always reminded me of Bob Pitchford.
You see, Bob Pitchford is a man who holds a unique place in my heart. He was my Grandmother’s husband, yet he wasn’t my grandfather. The way the story goes, or as I like to tell it, My grandmother and Bob were high school sweethearts in Weatherford, Texas. Some time after school, they went their separate ways. My Grandmother eventually married my Grandfather, Paul, who passed away before I was born. Bob married and had children of his own, and his wife passed away some years later. So, Bob Pitchford, being the man he was, found my Grandmother who was living all the way out in Lubbock, Tx and said, “Shirley, you’re the only other woman I’ve ever loved, I want you to come to Weatherford and marry me.” So , she did. Two hearts who’d strayed so many miles through so many years – reconnected.
To me, as a young boy growing up in the heart of the suburban jungle that is Plano, Tx, Bob was as real of a cowboy as I’d ever met. Bob was the definition of what people who aren’t from Texas think of as “Texans”. Hell, Bob was Texas to me. He loved old tractors, old trucks, tending cattle, and cutting hay. He loved his children and his grandchildren. And most importantly to me, he loved my grandmother.
If you ever had the pleasure of knowing Bob, you knew that Bob had what I can only describe as a “Pace”. He spoke slowly and very deliberately. He moved with that same slow deliberation. He drove SLOWLY. Legendarily Slowly. I’ll always remember a trip that My Dad, stepmom, and I made to Weatherford from San Antonio for a weekend visit back around 2002. Bob had come across an old fashioned water pump somewhere and told us that my grandmother wanted it as a decoration in the front yard. He had a form that the pump would fit into, and with the addition of some ready-mix concrete – the perfect yard art was ready to assemble.
We gathered the supplies, which consisted of some 2×4 boards, the pump (which weighed about 90 pounds), nails, a level, and a tape measure. All we needed was concrete. More importantly, someone to go with Bob to the hardware store to get the concrete. Not that Bob couldn’t do it on his own, Bob could move the whole damn hardware store if he wanted to. Bob just liked having a passenger. Of course, that was my job. I had no problem spending time with Bob, I loved Bob. It was just that Bob wanted to drive.
I mentioned that Bob was a legendarily slow driver right? I’d never ridden with him, I’d only heard stories. Not a single one of them was an exaggeration. I think at one point, a large woman on a rascal scooter passed us on the left extending her middle finger. As the rough-and-tumble 20-year-old in my head was screaming out to speed up, Bob just set about his slow, deliberate trek. He took me through downtown Weatherford, through the town square, through the old industrial buildings. Pointing out historical points of interest and telling me stories of him growing up there in his slow Texan drawl. Everywhere we went, people waved and hollered, “Hey Bob!”. What originally felt like a slow drive through a warm tar pit, suddenly left like a parade route with a local celebrity.
Not one car. Not a few people. Almost everyone we passed or stopped nearby. When we got to the hardware store, Bob walked up to the counter, had a cordial conversation with the attendant, told him what we needed, and by the time he was finished talking – the concrete was already in the truck. We made the same rambling drive full of greetings and salutations back to the house. My dad and I spent the rest of the afternoon mounting this beast of a water pump into the wooden form and pouring the concrete around its base. Overnight the concrete set and the yard art project was complete.
A few years later we lost Bob. In the truest tribute that a township can give one of its patron son’s, the funeral procession went not only through the town square – but AROUND it. If you know anything about Weatherford, Tx, to shut down the town square is to basically shut down ALL of the traffic in town. So that Bob could make one last lap through the town that loved him so much.
I still think about Bob every time I make the trip out west to see my grandmother, and see that stubborn old pump still standing in the front yard. We never did determine who’s idea the pump really was, but that simple memory of going to town with Bob is one of my favorites in life. It’s also why “Desperadoes Waiting on a Train” affects me like it does, even to this day. Like I said, at the time that the memory of making that trip with bob was made, I doubt I’d ever heard that song. But now, all these years later, it’s almost like it was the song that was playing on the radio while we rambled through town.
Texas lost a piece of itself the day Bob Pitchford passed away. Everyone that knew him lost a piece of their hearts that he filled. Music lost a piece of itself when we lost Guy Clark…
But thanks to great songs and old water pumps, we have those irreplaceable memories of slow drives through town, and the men in our lives who taught us the patience of life…
We’re just waiting on trains.