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Gil Clark: Biography

Singer/songwriter Gil Clark began playing guitar and writing songs as a teenager In Northern Michigan. Gil arrived on the Detroit music scene in the early 80's and immediately joined forces with Rob Tyner, the former lead singer of the legendary group The MC5. He began playing the clubs of Detroit including Alvin’s, The Old Miami, Union Street, the Latin Quarter, various art galleries and other venues. He was a staple performer at the Community Concert Series on the campus of Wayne State University and was featured in a Detroit News article about that scene. These musical adventures culminated in a trip to New York City to record with Rob Tyner's National Rock Group with Motown bassist Bob Babbitt in the role of producer. While in New York City, Tyner and Clark stayed with noted rock critic Lester Bangs. Gil was one of the last people to see Lester alive and these events have been documented in the Jim Derogatis book "Let it Blurt". "We were recording at The Daily Planet on 30th Street and it was really cool. John Lennon's band was playing with fellow Michigander Dick Wagner. I was sleeping on Lester Bang's couch. At night I would go down to Greenwich Village and play Gerdes Folk City and some other places. I also got to witness what a musical legend Rob Tyner was. He was known everywhere we went. We drank at the White Horse and The Other End. I remember singing in the alley with Tyner and Jay from Jay and The Americans - Bring it on Home to Me."

     Gil recorded his first solo album Singin’ Songs in Ann Arbor, Michigan with Lindsay Tomasic at Superior Sound in 1986. "This project came together because I was playing in a band called American Flyer with Darryl Antieau. He had helped to build Lindsay's studio. I worked fast I would come in with a tune and Lindsay would record me and my guitar and add everything else. Greg Kjohlhede played banjo on Family Song and Darryl played on something as well. Artist Patrick Wise did the cover for me." Gil toured the country from California to Maine playing coffee houses, clubs and festivals in support of the release. Gil performed with Rob Tyner, Rodriguez, Country Joe McDonald, Jonathan Edwards, Taj Mahal and many others. "One night after playing a show in Detroit with Country Joe McDonald, we drove back to my place on Whitmore Lake. It was an all night drive and we didn't make it there until about 7am. My brother was sleeping on the couch and you should have seen the look on his face when I kicked the couch, woke him up, and said "say hello to Country Joe."

 In 1987, Gil released his 2nd album, Folkster. A 45-rpm single from this album, The Record Song, was released and featured Rob Tyner on harmonica. This photo below was taken at The Old Miami playing a gig with Country Joe and Rob Tyner.

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Gil later returned the favor by singing back-up vocals on Rob Tyner's 1990 CD release of the Blood Brothers album.

Gil says, "I like to take credit for getting Rob to come out and play his autoharp and sing his songs live. When we were in New York, I would play the hoots and I would try to get Rob to come with me. He was so fantastic and I knew the crowd would be blown away, but he had his rock reputation to protect. When he wrote songs like Kick Out The Jams, he played a guitar in an open power-chord tuning that he learned from John Lee Hooker. It was DADADD. He later got an autoharp and he could play more complicated chord progressions and he wrote even better songs after the MC5. He was such a great singer that he could write really melodic songs. He wrote great love songs for his wife. I got to witness the birth of many of his songs. So he finally started playing in the singer/songwriter style about the time of the Community Concert Series. In the eighties when we were playing the art galleries and clubs such as Cross Street Station and Union Street we would add a third guy to the show. We called this troup Trouveres, Jongleurs and Troubadours. We even went so for as to take a publicity photo for getting gigs." Alan Zee join this trio on occasion as did Greg Kjolhede and other musicians. My dream was always to get Rodriguez to join us but in those days his performances were few and far between. The photo below features Rob Tyner, Gil Clark and Greg Kjolhede.

 

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During the period of the late eighties and early nineties Gil crossed paths with legendary singer/songwriter, Townes Van Zandt. This proved to be one of the most significant events of Gil's musical life. Gil says, "Townes was playing a small club in the early eighties and my brother gave him a copy of my Singin' Songs cassette. I got to hang out with Townes and he was in good shape and he told me some great and funny stories. He was disappointed that Willie and Merle didn't actually know the song Pancho and Lefty when they recorded it. I told him David Alan Coe had ripped him off but Townes never cared about money he said karma would get him. A couple of years later when he was on tour with the Cowboy Junkies, I was standing in the alley by the Michigan Theater and who should come walking down the alley but Townes Van Zandt! He told me he listened to my tape all the way to Oklahoma. That is most certainly the best review I have ever received. We hung out on the bus for a while and it was another great Townes experience with me asking all kinds of questions and him showing me the gadgets on the bus. I wanted to talk about Steve Earle but Townes didn't. When I heard the tapes from the mid nineties, I was shocked at his decline and I couldn't listen to that stuff for a long time. The booze killed him and I miss him."

     The early nineties found Gil with a steady club gig in Hamtramck that resulted in the Live at the Rhythm Room recording. "The Rhythm Room was owned by Shawn Friend another native from Petoskey. Shawn was about as big around as she was tall, cock-eyed as hell but she could sing like an angel. She loved Bonnie Raitt and I would play Angel From Montgomery and she would sing from behind the bar. My friend Patrick Wise hooked me up with this gig and I played there on Sundays until I showed up one night and the place was closed down. Motown piano player Joe Hunter also played there one night a week. The Rhythm Room was made completely of rotting wood - the tables, chairs, bar, floor, walls, ceiling - the whole shot and the sound was great. I used to sit behind the grand piano and play my guitar. On breaks I would tend bar.  Bar owner Shawn Friend has since passed away. Patrick Wise has found a new, beautiful life. We culled the original songs from the DAT tapes to make the live album. I have always wanted to make my own "Live at the Old Quarter" or whatever. I also had a Country Joe McDonald Vanguard twofer album which had a live side that blew me away. I am still trying for something like that."

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 In the mid nineties, Gil picked up a gig as the bass player in The Michael Katon Band. Several European tours followed. The photo below shows Gil on stage with The Michael Katon Band at the Bospop Festival in the Netherlands June 21,1997.

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In 1999, legendary Motown bassist Bob Babbitt arranged a recording session in Nashville at Studio X with engineer Bob Kruzen. Bob assembled an all-star band and the result was the Ridin’ On release. This release received many positive reviews. "That was an experience I am treasuring more as time passes. To be able to play with musicians of this calibur was incredible. The drummer, Tim Smith had played with the Doobie Brothers and Poco. Tim had been playing with Babbitt in Branson for Brenda Lee. Bill Kelly who played electric guitar was with Pure Prairie League during the Vince Gill era. I had seen his band Dakota warm up for Queen. Everywhere we went around Nashville he would tell people "Gil saw my band, Dakota!" Bill later became an off-stage utility man for Queen. He had similar roles in the groups Boston and Chicago. Jimmy Clark was the auxilary guy and he played mandolin, fiddle and 4 string electric like Clarence White. When I asked Babbitt if he had an auxilary guy, he said "yeah". I said "Can he fiddle?" He said "yeah". I said "Is he any good?" Babbitt started yelling "He plays fiddle in Charlie Daniels band - Do you know how good you have to be to play fiddle in Charlie Daniels band?" Jimmy also played the TV shows in Nashville at the time, Nashville Now, Ralph Emory etc. The keyboardist Mike Shrimpf was in Conway Twitty's band and has his own studio. He also blew some great harmonica. The girls - Vickie Carrico and Kim Morrison were a special treat, they are on tons of albums and are great singers. The engineer and owner of Studio X Bob Kruzen and I wanted to put out a CD of their banter in between takes because it was so priceless.

     Babbitt's passion was undeniable. The last song we recorded was "Closer" a song I had struggled with. I was so happy we got it. Bob was telling Tim that his drumming allowed Bob to create the bass line and he was literally crying with joy. All those songs and gold records and he cared that much about one of my little tunes. He was a great and larger than life character. I had a great time in Nashville. Bob took me around town. We sat at the Sunset Grill and he pointed out the stars and musicians. At night I went down to Jack's and Lilly's and saw the bands. It was like going to camp and I came home with this awesome recording that I will treasure for the rest of my life.

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  Gil’s next project was a band featuring former Rockets lead vocalist Dave Gilbert with Clark on bass. The project was short lived and ended with Gilbert's death. "I had known Dave from my days with Rob Tyner and I was a huge Rockets fan. It was great to be in a room with him and hear him sing. He had lost some power but he still had his unmistakable voice."

 In 2002, Clark formed Shining Farmer with Mike Gentry and Amy Morgan. Before the group became Shining Farmer they were known as The Falls with drummer Pat Cummings coming over from Gil's solo band to join Gil, Mike and Amy. "We all knew each other from music school and then we all worked at DayJams, a rock camp for kids. The first time we played together was after a DayJams event. We have great chemistry together and it was instantly recognizable. We were idealistic and the band made beautiful music and that makes the world a better place and we believed in that ideal. It was a very noble outfit and by being a part of it and being around Mike and Amy helped to make me a better person. I recommited to sobriety during that period." The self-titled Shining Farmer CD was released in 2003. The band played clubs, bars, festivals and showcase events to promote the album . "We returned to the Old Miami, played at Rockabillie's Record Shop, the 4th Street Fair in Detroit and did several shows with the group Maybe August in Mid-Michigan. Shining Farmer never even learned a cover song. We made a great album that really has a timeless quality to it. We recorded it in my home studio and Mike mixed it and made it sound great. The thing that I am most happy about is that I finally made a recording playing bass the way I wanted to. I love old 60's albums. Even when the band is bad, the bass is usually great and interesting. McCartney probably has a lot to do with that. Mike's songs were the perfect vehicle for my bass playing." 

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In 2009, Gil released his fifth album entitled Still Around and continued performing as a solo acoustic act in support of his original material. "Still Around was recorded at my home studio, The Gilzone, around the same time as Shining Farmer. Mike played drums on a lot of tracks for me. I also used guys from my solo band and some music school guys. Shining Farmer plays on We'll Meet Again and the basic tracks were taken from a live performance at Pease Auditorium. Some of the tracks are all me. I was going through a lot of personal changes and trying to get back on track. After Ridin' On I really thought I was going to move to a place where most of my songs would be uplifting but Still Around includes a range of emotions that include death, addiction and divorce. Mike mixed Still Around and tried to pull it all together sound wise. After the demise of the studio, I was left with the master and I sat on it for a couple of years until I was afraid I would lose the recordings all together. Those songs made up a good portion of my live set for quite some time and I'm still playing a number of them.

    In March 2010 Gil entered Backseat Studio in Ann Arbor, Michigan with producer Jim Roll to record a new album of material called "Thanks For The Ride". Gil was assisted once again by Mike Gentry on drums and piano player Jesse Morgan with Jim Roll contributing guitar, percussion and fiddle. Mike also played some amazing guitar parts on My Only Love and Nobody Loves Her. "All these songs were written and played live during my Still Around gigs, so they are all fresh. The recording session fell together in a synchronistic way. These albums, CDs, whatever become snapshots in time and I am very satisfied with the way this all turned out. Even the photos, graphics, the whole package came together very easily and it is my best package to date. Photographer Chris Schwegler and graphic artist Ken Cummings did a great job on this package.

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In July 2010, Gil signed on with Tate Music Group located in Mustang, Oklahoma and in November he traveled there to record with producer/keyboardist Don Johnson.

"When Don told me that he played Pancho and Lefty every night with Emmylou Harris I knew we were on the same page. The house band at TMG was just fantastic. The arrangements are very simple, acoustic and tasty and they complement my songs nicely. It was a great leg of the journey that I have been on. I have always had an Oklahoma yearning since Townes Van Zandt told me he listened to Singin' Songs all the way to Oklahoma way back when. We did a photo shoot out in a golden Oklahoma field and they created a beautiful CD package. I chose all songs about relationships and mostly about love for the album. The whole experience at TMG was a positive one and I am very satisfied." Love Carries On was released in April 2011. lovecovers.png

 In May 2015, Gil returned to the TMG studios in Oklahoma with a new batch of songs to record. This resulted in the CD "Love's on the Way". "I gave Don Johnson and the band very primitive demos and they really ran with the material. I have always loved reggae and I skank out the title track live. The band played it full on reggae style. Likewise, "Oxycotton Blues" had been in my repertoire for a few years and I couldn't get it recorded right. The band made this blues come alive and I am very grateful. "The Last Call for the Colonel" has been requested quite frequently and I didn't know what they would do with this Johnny Cash style narrative, but they nailed it and I have a solid recording of one of my recovery songs. "Eye of the Needle" is another song I didn't know how to approach. The band really ran with this simple spiritual song and the harmonica was a nice touch. "The Damage is Done" may be one of my most rocking songs ever and they really rocked it great! I wish I was still in my twenties to scream it out but oh well at least I'm still around to rock out a bit. I really think that "Love's All You'll Get" is one of my best compositions ever. It is revealing itself more to me even since the recording session. I really see this as a sixties style singer/songwriter song and Tim Hardin comes to mind. I hope it finds the recognition it deserves. "Laughin'" closes the set and it is a cosmic little Bob Dylan inspired piece of psychedelic musicology. If you wonder what it all means, ask me sometime."


LOTW cover

Gil returned to Oklahoma and TMG in May of 2016 to record the material for the "Fearless Heart" CD. 

 

 



Fearless Heart CD cover