Cowboy Jack Clement Dies at 82

By Peter Cooper, The Nashville Tennessean

April 5, 1931 – August 8, 2013

Whimsical maverick Jack Clement — singer, producer, ringleader, writer of classic songs, discoverer of stars and member of the Country Music Hall of Fame — died this morning at his Nashville home. He was 82, and suffered from liver cancer.


Jack Clement

Known as “Cowboy Jack” in spite of his avowed dislike of horses and his propensity for wearing sneakers and Hawaiian shirts, Mr. Clement leaves a singular legacy. At Sun Records in Memphis, he was the first to record Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison. In Nashville, he brought Charley Pride to popular attention and desegregated country music in the process.

He wrote and produced historic records for best friend Johnny Cash, and he produced what many believe to be the highlight of the much-vaunted “Outlaw Movement” of 1970s Nashville, Waylon Jennings’ “Dreaming My Dreams.” He conceived and produced what was likely country music’s first story-oriented “concept album”: Bobby Bare’s “A Bird Named Yesterday,” released in 1967. He arranged the horns on Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.”

Mr. Clement schooled studio protégés Garth Fundis, Allen Reynolds, Jim Rooney, Mark Howard and David Ferguson, men who who went on to work with Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, John Hartford, Nanci Griffith, Crystal Gayle, John Prine, Iris DeMent and others. Mr. Clement wrote “Just Someone I Used to Know” for Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton. He co-produced “Angel of Harlem” and “When Love Comes To Town” for international supergroup U2.

What else? Loads. . .

Read more here.

And here’s a New York Times obituary, by Bill Friskics-Warren:

Jack Clement, Producer and Country Songwriter, Dies at 82

So many have fallen by the wayside in recent times that you wonder if there’s a virus that has targeted traditional country music down there in Tennessee.  By all accounts one of the most engaging, and delightful, characters to inhabit Nashville, Jack Clement will undoubtedly be remembered by the world at large for the many great songs he wrote.  Here are three:

Jack sings “It’ll Be Me”:

Porter and Dolly sing “Just Someone I Used to Know,” with Jack playing guitar and smiling fondly:

And here’s Jack singing the magical “When I Dream,” a hit for Crystal Gayle (produced by Allen Reynolds in Jack’s Cowboy Arms Hotel and Recording Spa):

What a good singer he was, too! /CL

CORRECTION: Cowboy did not write “When I Dream.”  The writer was Sandy Mason Theoret (sometimes Theorét), published by Jack Clement’s company, and first recorded by Crystal Gayle:

Crystal Gayle is the eponymous debut album by Crystal Gayle, although she had previously recorded material which was not released until later. The album peaked at #25 on the Billboard Country Albums chart, and included three charting Hot Country Singles: “Wrong Road Again” at #6, “Beyond You” at #27, and “This Is My Year For Mexico” at #21. Also included is her first rendition of “When I Dream,” which would become a big hit three years later on the release of her 1978 album When I Dream. . . [from Wikikpedia]

About the time Crystal re-released “When I Dream” (in a sweetened version, with strings, 1978), Cowboy Jack Clement released an Elektra album of his own, called All I Want to Do in Life (title song written by producer Allen Reynolds and Sandy Mason Theoret), unfortunately out-of-print.  He also included “When I Dream.”  While Cowboy is no Crystal Gayle, I think you’ll agree his performance (at least in the video above—I don’t have the album) is equally magical.  [Hat tip: Cousin Kate at WZBC, for researching S. M. Theoret while I was on the air Saturday.]

UPDATE: Re Jim Rooney’s comment below mentioning Cowboy’s appearance in Boston, Gordy Brown reminds me that he discussed the Hayloft Jamboree in his self-published “Yankee Country Echos” some years ago, and that Jack Clement, Buzz Busby, and Scotty Stoneman appeared as The Bayou Boys.  He adds,

You might let folks know to look in on for all things Hillbilly, however not much after mid-’60s.  Here’s link to the Jamboree where you’ll see a pic of Bayou Boys playing with Ralph Jones, etc.: – Hayloft Jamboree

Left to Right: Buzz Busby, Lou Mondon, Scott Stoneman, Jack Clement, Ralph Jones (Credited to Country Song Roundup, No. 30; March/April 1954, American Folk Publications, Inc., Derby, CT; possibly from a WCOP Hayloft Jamboree Souvenir Program.)

[Additional hat tips: Jeff Boudreau, Louis Feinstein]

UPDATE 2: Marshall Chapman, in her newsletter The Tall Girl Skinny (new issue not available yet on her website, but you can subscribe here), writes:

My dear friend and mentor Cowboy Jack Clement died last Thursday at age 82. Cowboy was the first person I met in the music business. I could write a book, and actually have written some about him in my first two. Condolences to his main squeeze Aleene Jackson, his children Alison and Niles, and to all who knew and loved him.
The night after Jack died, I made my debut on the Grand Ole Opry. It was like a dream … and something I never imagined would happen. Special thanks to Woody Paul Chrisman (Riders in the Sky) for introducing me and to Boo Ray and Matraca Berg for lending their voices on “Let’s All Help the Cowboy Sing the Blues,” which we sang at the last minute to commemorate The Cowboy. To stand in that little circle of wood where Elvis, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and so many of my heroes have stood … was an honor beyond words. . .
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2 Responses to Cowboy Jack Clement Dies at 82

  1. Jim Rooney says:

    Cowboy entered my life in April of ’76 when I played him a song, “Only The Best,” I had recorded in Massachusetts, thanks to the backing of David Gessner. Everett Alan Lilly, Tennis Lilly, Kenny Kosek and Larry Feldman were among the pickers. Jack had played in Boston on the Hayloft Jamboree with Buzz Busby and Scotty Stoneman in 1953 before he was at Sun Records, so I didn’t have to explain to him about the country music scene in Boston. In addition to liking the song—he loved waltzes—he liked the fact that I had an M.A. from Harvard in Classics and that I played the guitar upside-down and backwards. He liked odd people, and I definitely qualified. Jack gave me and countless others many opportunities and was the most generous person I’ve ever known. Talking to two of those people last night, Allen Reynolds and David Ferguson, they both compared Jack’s final days to the bringing down of a fader on a mix. And what a mix it was! What a life!
    —Jim Rooney

  2. Beautiful, Jim. Love that fader image.

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