Not many people can honestly say they were friends with a vampire.
But I can. Doug Clark had fangs like a vampire (they were dental implants). He also believed that he was a mythological being and celebrated that lifestyle for many years. When you would ask about it, the answer would always be different, too, just like a real vampire would do.
But vampires can have heart attacks. Doug Clark, the guitarist in the influential death rock group Mighty Sphincter, died on March 22, 2020. Over the 38 years they were a band, Mighty Sphincter released five full-length records and a half-dozen or so singles and EPs (if you count official recordings). Numerous tapes and bootlegs are floating around out there.
Clark was truly one of the most talented musicians to come out of Phoenix. “He was a big part of how Phoenix punk developed its weirdo sound," remembers Michael Cornelius.
Clark started Mighty Sphincter after having been in both Exterminators and Brainz. When I messaged Slope Records (who released Mighty Sphincter's 2017 album, Darkest Angel) owner Thomas Lopez to tell him about Clark, his first response was that it couldn’t be real. After all, Mighty Sphincter were a band known for their hoaxes.
What many don't know is that Clark wasn't a fan of that aspect of his band. He was earnest in his need for Mighty Sphincter to be respected. Clark was deadly serious about his music and was something of a perfectionist. If something didn't sound just right, he was known to hold up practices or cancel performances. He was temperamental because of the extremely high standards that he set for himself.
I met Clark in 1987. A friend and I filmed Mighty Sphincter at a venue called Crash on Seventh Street and Pima Road in Phoenix. He was very gracious to us, and it was such a great feeling to be part of the Phoenix underground that night. It felt as if Clark had opened a door for me that I hope never shuts.
He was small in stature and inherently kind. He would volunteer his time to distribute food to those less fortunate. To say he lived a spartan lifestyle is an understatement. I was lucky enough to spend many hours at several of his small apartments over the years, and by no means was Clark living an opulent lifestyle. Clark rarely had more than a couple of nickels to rub together.
As is often the case with local rock 'n' roll royalty, he could slip into sometimes long and frightening bouts of manic behavior that would make you wonder if this uglier version of him was the real him. It was not. Clark suffered from mental illness throughout his adult life and, but the real and sensitive Doug Clark would always show through in the end.
Mighty Sphincter played as recently as February 16, at Chopper John’s for the Sarah Shelton memorial benefit show. No one knew it that night, but it would be their last show. The band can simply not go on without Clark. This also means there will never be another Exterminators show, which is something Clark wanted to do again as he shared with me as recently as January 2020.
The saddest part of all of his is that in our recent conversations, Clark excitedly talked about the future. He was so proud of his daughters and told me in January that he looked forward to being a grandfather someday. There was also his excitement about the new music he was working on. He wanted to get out there and play it for people. He felt the best was yet to come.
Doug Clark is survived by two daughters, two older brothers, and a sister-in-law. Services are not planned at this time due to concerns about the coronavirus. The Phoenix music community will mourn his loss, and I will miss my friend even though I hope that I will see him again … after dark.
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Tom Reardon has written for Phoenix New Times since 2013. He's been in several notable bands over the last 25 years including Hillbilly Devilspeak, North Side Kings, and the Father Figures.