Producer was present at the birth of rock ‘n’ roll.
Producer, engineer, songwriter ‘Cowboy’ Jack Clement, who worked at Sun Studio in its heyday and later influenced country music, died in Nashville on Thursday August 8 at the age of 82 after a prolonged battle with liver cancer. His passing was confirmed by Tina Wright, a spokesperson for the County Music Hall of Fame.
“I’ve been walking around for the last hour thanking God for the privilege of knowing Cowboy Jack Clement,” singer Marty Stuart said in an email reported by ABC News. “He was one of my dearest friends. To know the Cowboy was to know one of the most original people to ever walk the Earth.”
Jack Henderson Clement, a native of Whitehaven, Tennessee, was born April 5, 1931. After four years in the Marine Corps, he toured with a bluegrass band before settling temporarily in Memphis in 1954 where Sun Records founder Sam Phillips hired him as the label’s staff producer-engineer.
During his time with Sun (1956-59), Clement worked with artists including Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Charlie Rich. He also penned ‘Ballad of a Teenage Queen’ and ‘Guess Things Happen That Way,’ both N0.1 country and Top Twenty pop hits for Cash in 1958.
Clement moved to Nashville in 1960, after being fired from Sun in what he later claimed was a ‘misunderstanding.’ He worked as a songwriter and producer for Chet Atkins at RCA but soon relocated to Beaumont, Texas, where he co-founded Gulf Coast Recording Studios. According to his bio, Clement met George Jones in Beaumont and suggested he cut Dickey Lee’s ‘She Thinks I Still Care,’ a No.1 hit for Jones in 1962 and ‘A Girl I Used to Know’ the same year.
In 1965, Clement moved back to Nashville, financed a demo session for Charlie Pride and persuaded Chet Atkins to sign Pride to RCA. Clement produced or co-produced Pride’s first thirteen albums for RCA.
In the 1970s, Clement established the JMI label, early home to Don Williams, expanded his publishing company (that later saw artists from Elvis Presley to Eric Clapton recording from its catalogue of songs), and opened three Nashville recording studios. In 1975, he produced Waylon Jennings’s classic album Dreaming My Dreams and also hosted recording sessions for Merle Haggard, Ray Stevens, and Mickey Newbury. Like Williams, Bob McDill (“Amanda”) and Allen Reynolds (“Dreaming My Dreams with You”) were members of Clement’s songwriting stable.
During the 1980s, Clement produced records for Johnny Cash as well as tracks for U2’s Rattle and Hum and remained active as a performer, writer, studio owner, record producer, and filmmaker. Clement had recorded several sides for Sun in the 1950s, and his album debut, All I Want to Do in Life was originally released in 1978 with Guess Things Happen That Way released in 2004. Cowboy Jack’s Home Movies was named best documentary at the 2005 Nashville Film Festival.
Clement was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1973, the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and Nashville’s Music City Walk of Fame. The Country Music Association announced in April this year that Clement would be inducted officially into the Country Music Hall of Fame on October 27, 2013.
Clement’s musical colleagues and friends staged a concert in his honour on January 30 this year at the War Memorial Auditorium in Nashville with Vince Gill, John Prine, Kris Kristofferson, Jakob Dylan, Charley Pride and Dan Auerbach performing, and videotaped comments from Bill Clinton and US First Lady Michelle Obama.