Guy Clark’s “L.A. Freeway” was born back in the ‘70s when he was a struggling writer from Texas who came to Los Angeles, California. At the time, just like many musicians, he put his life in Texas far behind and moved to L.A., hoping to be one of the few successful ones to make it into the music industry. But the lush jungle of music turned out to be a dark, concrete one where he experienced disappointment after disappointment. There were times when the failure felt so heavy that he would feel homesick, but he kept trying.
Then one night, while half-drunk Guy and his wife Susanna were driving home from a gig in San Diego, he just kind of snapped awake and mumbled, “If I could just get off of this L.A. Freeway, without getting killed or caught.” As a songwriter, the line hit him with impact, and he quickly asked for his wife’s eyeliner and wrote it down on an empty hamburger wrap.
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A few months later, Guy packed up his old Volkswagen bus, got away from L.A., and moved to Nashville to accept a new publishing deal with RCA Records. And that was the time he started doing what he does and wrote “L.A. Freeway.”
The song was a story of his life, saying goodbye to all the concrete of L.A., referencing his landlord, the moldy box of vanilla wafers, and the pink card in the mailbox. He also included a whole verse for Skinny Dennis, also known as Dennis Sanchez, an L.A. country musician who played the upright bass, saying that he was the only one he’d miss. And as much as the song was a diss to L.A. and his escape, it also talked about Guy Clark’s life moving forward and getting back on the dirt road and the back street.
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Though the song was written by Guy, it was another songwriter named Jerry Jeff Walker who first released the song on his self-titled album in 1972. It quickly became a big hit and put Guy Clark into the limelight as a songwriter. Three years later, Guy released the song himself on his debut album Old No. 1.
Guy Clark passed away in 2016 and in 2019, his longtime friend Steve Earle covered the song as a tribute to the songwriter. Listen to Guy Clark’s “L.A. Freeway” in the video below.