Thursday, August 08, 2013

I Don't Like It But I Guess Things Happen That Way

Category:  Obituary

Cowboy Jack Clement has died.

The legendary songwriter and producer died this morning (8/8), four months after being announced as one of the members of the "Class of 2013" Country Music Hall of Fame inductees.

Cowboy Jack then
The legendary Jack Clement
Courtesy of

Jack Henderson Clement was born April 5, 1931 in Whitehaven, Tennessee, near Memphis.  He served in the Marines during the early 50's ("And I have the tattoos to prove it," he once quipped).  After his discharge he returned to Memphis.  He became an engineer and producer at Sun Records, where he worked with most of the legendary roster artists.  He also began writing songs.  One of Sun's artists, Johnny Cash, had hits with Clement compositions "Guess Things Happen That Way" and "Ballad of a Teenage Queen."  Soon people lined up to record Clement's tunes:  "I Know One" (Jim Reeves), "Miller's Cave" (two different hit versions by Hank Snow and Bobby Bare), and "A Girl I Used to Know" (George Jones), which was later reworked as a duet ("Just Someone I Used to Know") by Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton.

Clement moved to Nashville in the early 1960's and continued to write songs, both serious ("She Thinks I Still Care") and silly ("Egg Sucking Dog" and "The One on the Right Was on the Left," both of which were recorded by Johnny Cash and Homer & Jethro).  While his prolific songwriting career was enough to solidify his status as a future Hall of Famer Clement turned back to record producing.  His most successful stint was as the producer of Charley Pride albums, beginning with Pride's first release in 1966.

Clement also recorded his own material, although his stint as a performer was the least successful area of his career.  He had three songs make the Billboard chart in 1978, but none reached higher than #84.

Johnny Cash, one of Clement's most frequent songwriting customers, credited Clement with solidifying one of the most legendary openings of a country song.  Cash said he woke in the middle of the night from a dream in which mariachi horns peppered the song he was recording.  He told the dream to Cowboy Jack, who arranged the horns just as Cash had heard them in his dreams.  The result:  the classic "Ring of Fire."

Clement had a home studio in his attic, which numerous artists utilized.  Sam Bush recorded his 2009 album Circles Around Me at Cowboy Jack's studio.  In June 2011 the home, studio, and most of Clement's memorabilia from a lifetime of country music were destroyed in a fire.

On April 10 Bill Anderson introduced Cowboy Jack as one of the three 2013 inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame (along with Bare and Kenny Rogers).  Clement was ostensibly inducted in the "Non-Performer" category, which struck me as strange at the time, given that Clement was most definitely a performer (Elvis Presley once opened for him during their Sun Records days) as well as a songwriter.  However, given this morning's news that Clement had been suffering from liver cancer it could be that the Hall of Fame simply wanted to ensure his induction while he was still alive.

Colorful, legendary, beloved -- all these words have been used to describe Cowboy Jack Clement in the tributes that have poured in since the news of his passing was made public this morning.  They are all fitting.  He was, as many have said, one of a kind; and we will never see another one like him.

Cowboy Jack Clement was 82.

No comments: