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Singer/songwriter/guitarist/keyboardist Jeff Clark is one of Austin, Texas’s most beloved hidden jewels. His work with the boogie-flavored progressive rock band Too Smooth should have afforded him an international music career, but instead he remains a cult icon within the city’s rich musical heritage. He’s a master songwriter with a flair for imaginative arrangements and virtuosic instrumentation. Clark’s recently released Just Visiting is a stunning career overview that documents a small portion, but varied cross section of his work from 1974 to the present.
Too Smooth is remembered for finely crafted pop rock with twin-guitar harmonies, intricate and innovatively melodic guitar solos, and soaring angelic vocal harmonies. In its heyday, the group was often compared to Yes and Wishbone Ash. TheDay.com recently said: “All-original Austin rock band Too Smooth is without question one of the best groups I've ever heard or seen.” During the 1970s, Too Smooth counted fellow stellar Texas musicians such as ZZ Top, Johnny Winter, Edgar Winter, Steve Miller, and Steven Stills as its peers. The band shared stages with Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Rush, Judas Priest, Foreigner, the Kinks, and Rory Gallagher. Too Smooth was recently the subject of a DVD, The Texas Music Café Presents Too Smooth (for PBS television), showcasing the group in prime flight with live footage capturing its dazzling musicianship, gorgeous vocal harmonies, and ingenious pop-rock songcraft. The documentary also chronicled how bad luck in the industry dimmed one of rock’s potential bright stars. The band dissolved after three major label deals fell through. Clark soldiered on with the cover band 14K, with its own inventory of "catchy" originals, before retiring from the music business in 1988.
Just Visiting is a revelatory release because it spotlights Jeff Clark as a songwriter in the many stages of his musical career. “The common themes in this CD are relationships and good love. It shows different viewpoints from a romantic standpoint from age 20 to 60” he says. The disc features rarities from his post-Too Smooth band, 14K, and it boasts 3 new recordings, remakes of “You Are My Life” and “We Can Make It” and an entirely new composition called “’Then, Now and Forever.” This fresh version of the 14K gem “You Are My Life” has an inviting lush country-pop acoustic makeover with a gorgeously searing guitar solo from former bandmate Brian Wooten. Joining Clark on these new studio recordings is a core of his former Too Smooth associates. These players have gone to be top shelf session players with impressive resumes. Guitarist Brian Wooten is now with Trace Adkins and bassist Danny Swinney is now with Suede. Also lending exceptional talent were Tommy Taylor on drums and background vocals, currently with Eric Johnson’s band, and Mark Miller on electric guitar and background vocals, currently with Bubble Puppy.
Clark also recut his classic and inspirational “We Can Make It” with these world class musician friends mentioned above and guest vocalist Christopher Cross. “Chris and I have been admirers of each other’s work for decades,” Clark says. “I sent him ‘We Can Make It’ when it was mixed down and he said, ‘It’s a really cool song. Your voice is still relevant.’” An alternate mix featuring Christopher singing the first and last verse will be released separately.
The sweetly amorous “’Then, Now and Forever” is a celebration of 25 years of married life. On the track Clark’s daughter Jamie sings gorgeous harmonies and his son Kevin provides tastefully accomplished acoustic guitar accompaniment. Another former Too Smooth/14K bandmate, Chris Skiles, played drums on this secretly recorded track. It’s the first finished track in decades that Clark had professionally recorded and it was born out of love. Clark and his wife met a couple on a cruise back in 1983 that they recently reconnected with and visited in Southern California. The memories and vibrant love the meeting brought forth inspired the composition. Clark made a video for the track and gave it to his wife on Christmas. Of all the powerful moments captured on Just Visiting, Clark says: “Undoubtedly, that was the most emotional for me. It comes from my heart and soul, and to have my kids involved had me holding back tears.”
Clark is from a family of musical talent. His mother, grandmother, and father were accomplished musicians—his mother and grandmother taught piano and his father was a singer. “I would come home from school and my mom was teaching upstairs teach and my grandma was teaching downstairs. "Towards the end of her teaching day, Mom would dart, to and fro, from her music room to the kitchen, prepping dinner. She would hear a wrong note and yell, ‘B flat in the left hand’” Clark says laughing. He started on piano at age 4 and on guitar in third grade. At 9, he made his first television performance on the Saturday morning kid’s show, Uncle Jay. In junior high and high school he was a utility musician, playing keys, piano, guitar and singing backup vocals in a variety of bands.
In the early 1970s Clark formed various bands leading up to Too Smooth. His band Stump featured Clark sharing guitar duties with a 19 year-old blues virtuoso named Stevie Ray Vaughan. “He was already established and a great player. I remember one time we opened up for John Lee Hooker and we both got called onstage for the encore. Stevie was so happy,” Clark recalls. When Too Smooth finally did coalesce the band quickly secured management, a producer, and went on to record at the plush and esteemed Record Plant studio where they rubbed elbows with Larry Graham, Stephen Stills, and Roy Buchanan. Music business frustrations led to the demise of Too Smooth. Clark then formed 14K who did mostly covers; that band went on to win an episode of Star Search. 14K’s revolving door membership made gaining any real traction difficult. Clark folded that tent in 1987. From then on, Clark built a solid career in the financial sector—currently he is a life and qualifying member of the Million Dollar Round Table, an international organization of the top 6% of producers worldwide.
Since 2003 Too Smooth has done 5 reunions with charter band members Jeff, Brian Wooten, Danny Swinney, and Tommy Holden. “The band members of Too Smooth always look forward to playing, it’s magical,” Clark says. “It’s fun and challenging to get back out there and find I can still do it, with major help from my soul brothers. I guess you might consider this project kind of a bucket list thing.” Despite the accolades Too Smooth has received in their reunion years, one of the most meaningful things for Clark has been his family enjoying his music endeavors. “My kids came to see one of the first Too Smooth reunions. There jaws dropped at the response of the friends and fans,” Clark says thoughtfully. “The crowning moment was when my daughter said, ‘Dad, it is kind of like these people idolize you.’”