In a town where individuality might often be looked at as the exception rather than the rule, “Cowboy” Jack Clement was a true original who marched to the beat of his own drum. Clement, who passed away earlier today at his home in Nashville, carved out a musical career that lasted some sixty years, culminating with the April 10 announcement that he would be one of three inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame this October. He was 82.
Clement was born April 5, 1931 in Memphis, TN. He grew up enamored with the guitar and the dobro at an early age, though he didn’t entertain thoughts of a career in music until he returned home from a stint in the United States Marines in the early 1950s. He made a record for Boston, MA – based label Sheraton in 1953, but took a realistic approach to the business, enrolling at Memphis State University.
The year 1956 would change everything for Clement, as he took a job under Sam Phillips at Sun Records. It was there, at 706 Union Avenue, that he would work with acts such as Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash — artists already signed to the label. Clement proved his worth to Phillips when he recorded a newcomer from Louisiana while the label owner was out of town. His name? Jerry Lee Lewis.
He also started to gain success as a songwriter, penning records such as “Ballad Of A Teenage Queen” and “Guess Things Happen That Way” for Cash. Fired by Phillips in 1959, he moved to Nashville, taking a job with the powerful RCA Victor.
The move wouldn’t last long — at least the first time around. A couple of years later, Clement moved to Beaumont, Texas. It was there he established the Gulf Coast Recording Studio and the Hall-Clement publishing company with producer Bill Hall. 1965 would see him return to Music City, and the rest – as they say – is history. He became a giant figure in the business, establishing his own publishing company and recording studio. Already successful as a producer (with Cash on such hits as “Ring Of Fire”), Clement helped Charley Pride gain fame on RCA by producing a long line of hits that included “Just Between You And Me” and “The Easy Part’s Over.” In 1971, he added the title of record executive to his resume by establishing The J-M-I Record Company, where he was instrumental in launching the career of Don Williams.
Throughout the 1970s, Clement dabbled in a variety of adventures in the entertainment business – producing the 1975 horror film “Dear Dead Delilah,” but record making was always close to his heart. He produced several albums for Waylon Jennings as well as noted singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt. In 1987, he collaborated with U2 at Sun Studios for portions of their landmark album “Rattle and Hum.”
In later years, Clement continued to make music — recording a 2004 album that featured a guest appearance from longtime friend Cash. The legendary figure reunited with Pride for a 2006 project entitled “Comfort Of Her Wings.” He was also inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and the Music City Walk of Fame, and was also a 1973 inductee of the Nashville Songwriters Association International Hall of Fame.
A 2005 documentary on Clement called “Shakespeare Was a Big George Jones Fan” was comprised of his own home movies (watch a clip below). Recently, Clement has hosted a weekly show on Sirius XM Satellite Radio.
Clement passed away this morning following a battle with liver cancer. He is survived by two children. Funeral arrangements are pending.