Cowboy Jack Clement Dead at 82
Cowboy Jack Clement shaped the careers of Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, U2 and many, many other superstars across multiple genres during a multi-decade career as a songwriter, record label head and — most importantly — producer. The influential “catalyst” died Thursday (Aug. 8) after a long battle with cancer.
Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton, Kris Kristofferson, Garth Brooks … these four are just a few of the dozens of music superstars who worked with or recorded music written by Clement. In January, a tribute concert to him brought out stars like Bono, T Bone Burnett, First Lady Michelle Obama and former president Bill Clinton.
Born in 1931, Clement’s musical career began in 1956. Soon after getting a job at Sun Records, he wisely recorded Jerry Lee Lewis when Sam Phillips was out of town. That song — ‘A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On’ — would cement him as a more than capable producer.
As a songwriter, his hits include Cash’s ‘Ballad of a Teenage Queen,’ Porter Wagoner and Parton’s ‘Just Someone I Used to Know,’ Bobby Bare’s ‘Miller’s Cave’ and Waylon Jennings‘ ‘Let’s All Help the Cowboy.’ Among his most important work may have been producing Charley Pride, an artist he convinced Chet Atkins to sign in the thick of the mid-’60s Civil Rights movement. The two worked together on 13 albums for RCA, the most powerful label in Nashville at the time.
Other famous contributions from Clement include arranging the horns on Cash’s ‘Ring of Fire’ and pioneering a wild, live studio vibe for ‘Great Balls of Fire.’ His Jack’s Tracks Studio is where Garth Brooks recorded most of his albums. A complete list of his well-known works would fill a book.
The Memphis-born singer (‘All I Want to Do In Life,’ 1978) served in the Marines before attending Memphis State University and landing work at Sun. In his later years, he became an artist in residence at the Country Music Hall of Fame and film producer and radio host on Outlaw Country, a channel on Sirius XM Radio.
“I’ve been a music bum all of my adult life,” Clement told American Songwriter. “Making music has always been my hobby and it still is. I’ve always said that we’re all in the fun business, and if we’re not having fun then we’re not doing our job.”
Clement is survived by a daughter named Allison and son named Niles. In April, he was announced as inductee for the 2013 class of the Country Music Hall of Fame. That ceremony is in October. Funeral service details have not been announced.