David Clark
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David Clark

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"Sharing Words of Wisdom"

Songwriter David Clark loves small towns and the values their residents hold dear. In fact, he’s been sharing words of wisdom and stories about hometown America in his syndicated column for the last six years.

Many of his songs and stories recall simpler times, like growing up in Macon, Ga., in a home cradled by fragrant pine trees. As a boy he rode his bicycle down dirt trails with his faithful dog loping close behind. And there, he learned about God, nature and gardening—themes that often appear in his column.

“His style makes readers feel comfortable; like a visit from a close friend,” says Tom Clinton, executive editor of the Madisonville (Ky.) Messenger, one of the first newspapers to publish Clark’s syndicated essays in 1998.

His column began by chance. Longing for the rural setting of his Macon childhood, 12 years ago, Clark, 45, bought an 1893 farm house in Cochran, Ga. (pop. 4,455). From time to time, his “city friends” back in Macon inquired about his country lifestyle. Clark sent them entertaining letters using the expressive language spoken by his new neighbors. Those friends, who knew Clark to be a talented guitarist and vocalist, encouraged him to record the letters.

Before long, Susanna Capelouto of Georgia Public Radio aired Clark’s essays on Georgia Gazette, giving his work a wide audience for the first time.

“What drew me to David’s stories at first was his great regional accent,” Capelouto says. “Then I discovered he was talking about a vanishing part of Georgia—the rural life and landscape. He tells his stories in a Southern tradition that is steeped in spirituality.”

For that, Clark credits his late father, a railroad agent and Sunday school teacher. “Sometimes I talk about prayer in my articles,” he says. “But I’m not a preacher, I’m just a regular guy. If I hit my thumb with a hammer, I cuss. But I see part of my column is to challenge people to look at life in a new way.”

Today, Clark’s columns are syndicated in 15 newspapers in Kentucky, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas and South Carolina, as well as in national and regional magazines. His stories, sometimes accompanied by his guitar, have aired on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered and Mount Washington Observatory’s Weather Notebook, a New Hampshire-based weather report that blends fact and folklore for radio stations nationwide. He’s also produced several music and storytelling CDs, and his first book of memoirs, The Peanut Farmer Stories, was published in 2002.

In February, Clark hit the road to see America’s other small towns as part of a tour he calls The Shaking Hands Tour. “I want to hear what people are thinking,” he says. “I want to report back to readers of my column what my neighbors in America believe.”

As the tour’s title implies, he asks his audience at the end of each show to shake hands and to introduce themselves to one another. “The guiding principal is bringing people together,” he says. “That’s what my work is about, to introduce people to each other and create neighbors.”

The shows, staged at old community theaters, incorporate Clark’s talents as a singer, songwriter, guitarist and storyteller.

“The stories may be about my great-grandpa discovering oil in Texas in the 1800s by digging a well. He found bad water as far as he was concerned, so he moved back to Georgia,” Clark says with a laugh. “Or it may be more serious about my mother having Alzheimer’s.”

So far, he’s traveled to some 50 small towns, including Headland, Ala.; Mansfield, Texas; Van Buren, Ark.; Danville, Ill.; and Hicksville, Ohio, trying to bring people together.

“It’s corny in a way for one man from Cochran, Georgia, to think he’s going to do anything by introducing people to each other,” he says, “but I see that it makes a difference.

“These folks that live in small towns, sometimes they don’t realize how blessed they are. Sometimes it takes a guy from the outside to write about them or to stand up and say, ‘Man, you live in a beautiful town here and it has the nicest people.’ It’s like we can’t see ourselves until someone tells us how we look.” And from Clark’s perspective, that’s a good reason to keep telling hometown America’s stories.
- American Profile

"Sing Us a Story"

MURPHYSBORO -- When acclaimed Southern storyteller David Clark first took his tales to the road, he was bothered by the young men he met. It seems no one had taught them to shake hands.

While most people wouldn't even blink at the boys' limp attempts, Clark -- whose value-based tales of small-town life and rural traditions are gaining a national audience -- wouldn't stand for it.

"After this happened a half dozen times in a row, I started thinking, 'Man, we've got to do something about this.' If we lose the handshake we're in deep trouble," Clark said by cell phone. He spoke from his parked 1964 GMC tour bus, as trucks whistled along the highway leading to his first Southern Illinois visit, a part of his 60-city "Shaking Hands Tour.

"When you teach someone how to shake hands, you're also teaching him about character, that your word is your bond, about integrity, about honor, about telling the truth."

Those also happen to be things Clark's stories teach us. The lessons, it turns out, are a joy to learn.

In his soft Georgia baritone, this "Garrison Keillor of the South" spins heart-warming yarns about the goodness of people, the beauty of America's freedom and the power of prayer. But the tales -- at once philosophical and familiar, simultaneously intelligent and endearing -- still never spill over to the preachy side.

Instead, he takes us back to the world of his youth, nestled safely in his secret "Honeysuckle Cave," where "there's enough room for all (our) imaginary friends" and "where everything is fair and everyone is happy."

Clark is not so much a storyteller who strums his guitar as a man on a mission to reunite Americans with their small-town roots and the values he sees in such simple traditions as shaking hands.

"Stories are like the handshake," he said. "If we quit telling stories we're dead. We are very close to losing this country, not only our way of life but things vitally important to the way this country works. People believe that it's somebody else's responsibility to maintain those things, things like truth and honor and integrity. They're the same things that go along with a handshake."

The stories started for Clark (who had careers as a musician, a mechanic, a recording studio engineer, a newspaper publisher and a graphic designer) as letters to his former colleagues in Macon, Ga. The letters, filled with stories about his rural life, were written after Clark left town for Cochran, Ga. (pop. 4,455) and an 1893 farm house in it.

The stories soon turned into a weekly column, "Dirt Roads," that has since been syndicated throughout Kentucky, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas and South Carolina, as well as in national and regional magazines. His column will soon find itself at home with a larger audience, as Clark will be a regular in American Profile, a weekly Sunday magazine inserted in more than 1,000 daily newspapers nationwide.

Clark's touching tales, sometimes accompanied by his guitar, have aired on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" and Mount Washington Observatory's "Weather Notebook," a New Hampshire-based weather report that blends fact and folklore for radio stations throughout the United States.

While the storyteller's words are making it into big markets, his "Shaking Hands Tour" is decidedly prejudiced toward the small town, like Murphysboro, where his Saturday performance will take place.

"The noise in this county is made in New York and Washington and LA. Any time you put too many critters in one pen, you're going to have a lot of racket. The noise of America is made in these big cites, but America lives in the small towns," he explained.

Clark is equally as high-hat about his venues for the tour, choosing only to perform in community theaters like Murphysboro's century-old Liberty Theater.

"Old theaters are important. They're like old people. You should go visit them just because they're there," he quips, then clarifies that theaters are one of the only truly democratic gathering places in America. "So many places have a club mentality, where if you're not a part of the club, you're not welcome, and that includes churches. Baptists do something and only Baptists come. Methodists do something and only Methodists come, whereas at the theater, Baptists and Methodists and whoever else come together. That's what this country is about. The men and women who died for this country didn't do it so we could have a bunch of clubs. We need to be together."

That's why, at Clark's "Shaking Hands" performance, you'll find yourself shaking some hands. He introduces audience members to each other as part of the tour, so that people "meet their neighbors and see that the world is more like us than not."

He's also coming to introduce himself to his Southern Illinois neighbors who, like the rest of the country, are liable to hear a lot more from him in the near future.

"People are often reluctant to go hear someone they - The Southern Illinoisian - Carbondale, IL

"Greetings from Cochran, GA"

From Georgia Magazine Published by Georgia Electric Membership Corporation July, 2002

Greetings from Cochran, Georgia Georgia's storyteller, David Clark, incites 'golden memories' through music and words By Vyvyan Lynn

Voices that impact our lives in meaningful ways sometimes arrive as whispers: a story on Georgia Public Radio's "Georgia Gazette," a provocative newspaper column, a song associated with special memories, or even a theater show.

David Clark's whisper touches hearts. Clark is a 43-year-old columnist, storyteller, songwriter and guitar player from Cochran. He lives a quiet, yet busy life weaving songs and stories that relate to life experiences about farming, relationships, or the simple pleasure of watching a hound dog lope across a freshly plowed field. His syndicated newspaper column often carries a spiritual message.

Theatre Macon opens its Christmas season each year with a Clark performance. "David's presence and voice in writing and performing captures the life and people of the South. I can't think of many others who do a better job. Maybe nobody," says Artistic Director Jim Crisp.

Clark holds his audiences transfixed as he reads original essays that blend seamlessly with the strings of his 30-year-old Guild acoustic guitar. Then the young and the young-at-heart get the "silly giggles" as the storyteller goes into character and reads Uncle Remus tales.

Clark was introduced to Uncle Remus by his first babysitter, whose habit of giving voice to each character left an impression. "I've loved Uncle Remus stories all my life," Clark says. He started telling the stories in concerts and found others loved them, too. His audiences wanted to carry the stories home, so Clark responded with an Uncle Remus CD. "Tales from Uncle Remus, Volume I" was recorded live at Golden Bough Vintage Books in Macon and released to anxious fans in December, 2001. The CD, initially sold by advance order, paid for its pressing in just three weeks.

"David seems to have the people with him at every note or every word, whether he is playing his exquisite guitar or reading one of his own essays or some of the wonderful Uncle Remus stories, which he does very well," says Lilly Ambrose, owner of Golden Bough Vintage Books. "His skillful rendering conveys the wisdom and depth of humor inherent in the stories, and it's just plain fun to listen to. His soothing Southern drawl doesn't hurt either."

Animal stories have been used to communicate wisdom in many cultures since ancient times. As Clark points out, "We can see this in 'Aesop's Fables.' It's easy for us to see the point of a story when it is told in the context of a rabbit and a fox. We can all see ourselves and laugh at ourselves when Uncle Remus describes how the animals interact with one another."

The Uncle Remus stories are not without controversy, including allegations of racism. Nor is Clark unaware of the controversy. But "I always ask how many Uncle Remus stories objectors have heard," he says. "The Uncle Remus stories honor the wisdom of old black folks; the stories honor old folks in general."

"I was taken with the rhythm in the reading of the Uncle Remus stories," he says. "These stories relay an old man's wisdom. There is at least one sentence in each Uncle Remus tale that teaches."

In fact, Clark recently introduced the Uncle Remus stories to a group of men -- most of them black -- from a nearby prison. The Uncle Remus stories are written and meant to be told in the old- style black country dialect. During his performance Clark went into character as Uncle Remus and asked in dialect, "Now can all you white boys understand me?" Some audience members were hearing the dialect of their ancestors for the first time. "The place exploded in laughter because that's exactly what most of the crowd was thinking," Clark remembers.

When the concert was over, prisoners lined up to shake Clark's hand. Many of them asked about the Uncle Remus stories. "Each one said their grandfathers had told them the stories," Clark says. "The one who impressed me the most was a man who hung back at the end of the line. When he finally got up to shake my hand, he was almost trembling. He had tears in his eyes. He asked if he could hold my Uncle Remus book. He held the book in his hand, and started crying."

Clark asked, "What is it, brother?"

"I thought these stories were gone. My granddaddy used to tell me these stories, and I thought they went with him when he died," the prisoner replied.

Clark told the prisoner, "But brother, these are your people's stories." Clark then wrote the name of the book down so the man could take it to the prison library and perhaps get a copy. "It was quite interesting to think about me -- a white man -- introducing black men to the stories told by their ancestors," he marvels.

"Some people say my writings are simply nostalgic. But here's the thing: I like talking about the realities of yesterday, - Georgia Magazine

"David Clark Live"

David Clark Live at the Six String Cafe
October 25, 2001 Cary, NC
by Jennifer Layton Indie-Music.com

Singer, songwriter, and storyteller David Clark seems to feel right at home at the Six String Cafe in Cary, North Carolina. "I?ve been in Virginia for the past several days," the Georgia artist says in his warm, lazy drawl, "and it?s nice to be down here where the folks talk right."

The American flag hanging as a backdrop behind him was placed there weeks ago by the cafe owners as a show of patriotism after the September 11 attacks. But it?s the perfect symbol of Clark?s work as well, making its presence even more appropriate. Clark writes about southern life and values through his music and a weekly newspaper column that appears in 28 U.S. papers. He?s read his essays on National Public Radio?s "All Things Considered." But tonight, he?s here to create a safe haven.

As the packed listening room settles in with their sandwiches and sodas, Clark speaks to them in his serene, unhurried style. "We?ve all been breathing a little too fast these past few weeks. That?s to be expected ‹ we?re only human, and we get scared. But we?re in a safe place right now. No one can hurt us here in this place tonight."

He then spends a few moments just strumming on his acoustic guitar, letting the audience learn to breathe slowly again. The notes seem to sway through the room. Despite the fact that the front of the cafe is made up of big windows, the world outside melts away. Conversations trail off. Everyone becomes still. The cafe becomes a warm, safe cocoon.

Clark slowly opens his eyes and sees that everyone is quiet and ready. He tells them about growing up on a farm and watching a hound dog running through a field of cotton. Then he plays the scene for them on his guitar. The melody is alive, waving through the air like tall grass in the wind. Listeners sit still in rapt attention, their food uneaten in front of them.

He tells stories of growing up in Georgia, taking long pauses between sentences, letting his words sink in. He introduces "Mama?s Rain," a melody off his 2001 Myth America CD, by relating the phone call he got from his father with the frightening news that his mother had been diagnosed with Alzheimer?s Disease. He describes the way the rain sounded on that day. "Slow rain on an old tin roof is the ear?s version of a campfire," he muses. "A mind can get plumb lost in that sound."

His strong Christian upbringing is the base of much of his storytelling. But it?s not a pulpit-pounding, condemning Christianity. It?s warm and loving, searching for what all people have in common and letting that one thread pull them together. That thread runs through Clark?s music. In a song about a friend who?s serving seven years in a Georgia penitentiary, he sings, "There?s a part of me I can?t describe, and it bears your name."

As he finishes each melody, letting the reverberation of the last strum fade away, he stands with his eyes closed. No one moves. Finally, he opens them and says simply, "Thank you." The room erupts with applause and whistles.

He closes his set with "The Hawk Flew," also off his Myth America CD. "Some Indian tribes say that when you see a hawk flying, you?re supposed to ponder the big picture of your life," he says, before painting the scene with his guitar. And through the notes, the hawk is flying.

The audience?s enthusiastic applause at the end of Clark?s set isn?t just for the music or the stories. It is also for the secure feeling that has enveloped them for that one quiet evening. It is for the gift of one night of deep, easy breathing.


- Indie-Music.com

"David Clark's voice resonates pure Georgia."

While that is unremarkable in Cochran, where he lives today, or Macon, where he was raised, it catches the ear on public radio, where he reads his essays.

When Clark tells Peach State Public Radio listeners about Daddy 'n Mama 'n them, he introduces the world of classical music and professorial public-policy discussions to a heritage of swept-dirt yards, red clay and ol' dawgs under the porch.

Yet he's not pitching corn-pone humor or a caricature of the South. And his own background is more complicated than that.

Clark offers slivers of reality and recollection, filtered through the eyes and ears of a 41-year-old Southern man with a penchant for reflection and a knack for graceful prose.

He has written about everything from picking up turtles in the middle of the road to the frustration of a child's first Little League game and the extraordinary experience of a rare snowfall in south Georgia.

Some of what he writes about is painful. Much of his work dwells on the death of his father and his mother's journey into Alzheimer's disease.

Through it all he laces a gentle spirituality that blends his Baptist upbringing with an eclectic sprinkling of Zen, American Indian traditions and the teachings of psychologist Carl Jung.

Clark also plays guitar. Audiences who attend his occasional performances at Golden Bough Vintage Books experience an evening of storytelling interspersed with rambling musical meditations.

He will bring his music and words to a larger venue, Theatre Macon, on Nov. 25. Tickets to the 8 p.m. show are $10.

When Clark e-mailed an announcement of the event to 200 Georgia friends, he said some of them sent back puzzled replies: "I thought you were a writer. What do you mean perform?"

"One fellow asked me if I rode a unicycle or something," Clark added.

He said he likes to perform because the music and stories complement one another.

"I've never been in my audience, so I don't know what my audience gets out of it," he admitted. "I want to give people an experience. Stories and songs evoke emotions that are present in all of us. Sometimes the combination of stories and songs goes together in a way that brings out emotions that we had forgotten about or tried to hide. I want to give people a chance to feel."

Clark delves into his own feelings and does his writing in an isolated setting: an 1893 farmhouse on the outskirts of Cochran. He came to Cochran eight years ago in pursuit of a romance that didn't survive. He has lived in the farmhouse for the past four years, in the company of his dogs, his garden and the local wildlife.

He still wears the shoulder-length brown hair he has sported for the past couple of decades, though it's a little thinner on top than it used to be. And he still drives the 1970 Ford that he's had since he was 16, though now it shows daylight through the floorboard.

While his writing draws heavily on images from rural Georgia, Clark grew up in a comfortable home on the north side of Macon. Back then, he said, Rivoli Drive was "the boondocks," and he said he experienced the isolation of a child raised in the country.

After his high school years at the private River North Academy, he played a succession of roles.

A youthful fascination with the Allman Brothers and Led Zeppelin led to years of playing guitar both in and out of bands.

He has been a delivery man, recording engineer and auto mechanic. For two years in the late 1980s he was a publisher with his own upstart magazine. After that he ran a graphic design business.

And now he is a writer.

Clark says he barely gets by, placing his column in newspapers and a couple of magazines.

"I live real lean," he said. "I don't have air conditioning and I ain't gonna get it if I make any money."

But he feels fortunate to be doing what he loves.

"Mostly I'm a writer," he said. "It amazes me to be so lucky."

It takes a heavy dose of self-promotion. Clark is frequently on the phone pitching his column to newspaper editors.

He developed his technique based on the advice of a veteran self-syndicated columnist who told him, "It's real simple. You call and call and call and call and call. And if 'no' bothers you, you shouldn't start.'"

His work now appears weekly in 28 newspapers around the country and monthly in Peanut Farmer Magazine and Farmer's Digest.

'Liked how he sounded'

Clark has aired regularly on radio since 1997 when he sent a recording of a column about the Georgia drought to Susanna Capelouto at Peach State Public Radio.

"He sent us his CD," Capelouto said. "We just liked how he sounded. He had that central Georgia accent and we loved the content. We put him on on a regular basis."

Clark's ruminations have appeared on a statewide show called Georgia Gazette, and they also have aired nationwide on National Public Radio.

Larry Caldwell, one of Clark's former teachers a - Macon Telegraph


Kindly Curious (1998)
Dawg, It's Christmas (1998)
Concert Collection, #1 (1999)
Myth America (2000)
Tales from Uncle Remus, Vol. 1 (2000)
Concert Collection, #2 (2000)
Old Guitar for Christmas (2002)
Live Free or Die (2002)
Tales from Uncle Remus (2003)
Ten (2005)


Feeling a bit camera shy


David Clark
February, 2005

David Clark sings and ignites his guitar with fiery precision. Fingerpicks on all five fingers bare the soul of everything he plays, from country to blues to Bach.

"I grew up in the shadows of the Allman Brothers Band in Macon, Georgia," Clark explained. "Around my hometown, you better burn up those guitar strings or sit quiet for the musician who can. After 35 years of playing, I’m not one to sit quiet."

No, for a Southern gentleman and an all-American farmer, David Clark is hardly quiet.

Think Will Rogers with a spiritual kick in the ass.

His powerful music and probing stories captivate audiences—young rockers to old folks in rockers. Clark delivers his one-man show to the people as part of "The Passion Tour 2005."

The tour name resulted from experiences during last year’s "Shaking Hands Tour." Clark wrangled 34,000 miles of 41 states in a 1964 GM bus dubbed The Blessed Donkey.

"After one of my shows last year, a well-heeled elderly lady came straight up to me said, ‘I watched your hands on that guitar. There’s passion in your fingers, young man,’" Clark recounted. "Then she smiled knowingly and said, ‘Yes, sir, you make love to that guitar.’ She didn’t blush a pink petal. For once, I almost did."

Passion, it turned out, was sorely missing among the audiences he encountered.

"I’m convinced too many Americans don’t give a damn. They hide behind fear. They’re like drugged junkies. A nice, middle-aged woman said to me, ‘I feel much more peaceful now. No ups and downs. Life’s just a flat line.’

"Flatline—that’s what doctors call dead people," Clark said, adding that she never caught the connection. "So, I’ve got this guitar, my songs, and my stories. And I’m sounding the warnings. We’re dying of comfort. You gotta be careful when the eatin’ is good. That’s about the time the hogs are fixin’ to go to the slaughter house."

Clark recently released his tenth album in eight years. His weekly newspaper and Web columns, read across America, and his NPR essays share lessons he’s heard chewed over in diners, factories, and front porches. Clark's purpose is focused, but his work dodges definition. He quotes from the Bible, the I Ching, Carl Jung, African stories, Native American legends, and his daddy.

A Minnesota theatre manager described him as a huge tree with tire swings swaying from lots of branches. Everyone in the audience just picks a swing to ride, and there's plenty of room so no one bumps into each other.

Why does he go on the road to play and sing and talk, when he could just stay home and get a job and forget it?

"I have to stand," Clark answered plainly. "God hears our prayers and moves in our lives. I talk about faith from my own perspective. I don’t claim my way’s right. When I go and do, there’s a power that comes into play, and things work out."

For David Clark, it’s all about stoking the fire—challenging one audience at a time to find the passion. And that’s hardly a quiet task.