R.I.P. Cowboy Jack Clement (1931-2013)
Legendary producer and songwriter Cowboy Jack Clement has passed away at the age of 82. Read Paul Zollo’s meditation on the man from our May/June issue.
He’s a genuine songwriter’s songwriter, in that he writes the kind of songs other songwriters yearn to write, and they record them. A quick look at the list of legends who have cut his songs confirms this: Johnny Cash, John Prine, U2, Kris Kristofferson, Hank Snow, Cliff Richard, Ray Charles, Gram Parsons, George Jones, Dolly Parton, Garth Brooks, Charley Pride, Jim Reeves. And that’s not to mention Elvis, who worked with Jack from the very start. Songs by Jack include “Miller’s Cave,” “I Know One,” “Just Someone I Used To Know,” “Guess Things Happen That Way” and “It’ll Be Me.” A January Nashville concert tribute to him at the War Memorial Arena showed the full range of his impact, starring as it did Cowboy acolytes Prine, Hiatt, Kristofferson, Bono, T Bone Burnett, and Dan Auerbach, as well as Michelle Obama and Bill Clinton. The man is beloved.
For he’s more than a songwriter. He’s a catalyst who has always had a keen knack for hooking up with great talent, and bringing out their best. Born in Memphis on April 5, 1931, he studied at Memphis State from 1953 to 1955, during which he played pedal steel, earning the sobriquet “Cowboy.” He made a giant leap by hooking up with Sam Phillips at Memphis’ own Sun Records. Adept not only at the technical aspects of the job, he also had great musical instincts, as proven most overtly when Sam was out of town and a young rocking pianist named Jerry Lee Lewis showed up and Jack wisely recorded him. It was a legendary discovery, and showed that this cowboy knew what he was doing. He recorded “A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On,” which propelled the pianist to superstardom, and secured Jack a seat at the console.
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