Born Jack Henderson Clement, 5 April 1931, Whitehaven, Tennessee
Nickname : Cowboy Jack Clement.
Jack Clement had his hand in thousands of records as a songwriter, producer, arranger, singer, engineer, guitarist, publisher, studio owner, mentor and all-round behind-the-scenes figure, during a career of six decades. Born in the Memphis suburb of Whitehaven, Jack Clement was musically active from an early age. After high school, he enlisted in the Marine Corps, ending up stationed in Washington, D.C., where his musical career began. Following his discharge in 1952, Clement played on the country and bluegrass circuit along the East Coast. As one half of the duo Buzz and Jack, he cut his first record in 1953, for the Sheraton label in Boston. Returning to Memphis in 1954, he soon enrolled at Memphis State University to study English. On weekends, Jack played country music with Slim Wallace. They planned to launch a new label, Fernwood Records, with Billy Riley as the first artist, but after Clement took the tapes of "Trouble Bound"/"Rock With Me Baby" to Sam Phillips for mastering, Sam offered him a full-time job as an engineer at Sun Records. Riley was signed as a Sun recording artist and his two sides came out on Sun in May 1956.
Phillips entrusted the technical side of his operation to Clement, who would work with all the main Sun artists. In September 1956, while Sam was out of town, Clement was informed by receptionist Sally Wilbourn that "There's a guy here who says he plays the piano like Chet Atkins". Jack was intrigued by this claim, seeing that Atkins was known to play guitar, not piano. Thus he was the first person at Sun to hear Jerry Lee Lewis. He cut a few demos with Lewis singing country songs, but Jack told him that the market for country was shrinking and if he wanted to record at Sun, he would have to come up with some rock n roll songs. Jerry came back with "End of the Road" and had his first session on November 14, 1956, again in the absence of Sam Phillips, who enjoyed his first vacation in years, in Florida. Clement recruited three of his friends for the accompaniment : Roland Janes (guitar), Jimmy Van Eaton (drums) and Billy Riley (bass, who only played one note on the session, at the end of "Crazy Arms"). It was amazing how quickly Lewis, Janes and Van Eaton, who hadn't played together before, found common ground and sounded like a complete band. The three men would continue to play together (in the studio, that is) for the next four years.
Clement wrote several songs for Sun artists, most notably "It'll Be Me" for Jerry Lee Lewis and "Ballad Of A Teenage Queen" and "Guess Things Happen That Way" for Johnny Cash, who scored two number ones (on the country charts) with the songs in 1958. By that time Clement had commercialized the Sun sound, sweetening the recordings with choruses and emphasizing melody over raw energy. This is also evident on his first solo single, "Ten Years"/"Your Lover Boy" (Sun 291), recorded in Nashville with the Anita Kerr Singers, who made their presence felt too prominently. Nevertheless, "Ten Years" was a good seller, reaching # 24 on the Cash Box country charts, good enough for a UK release on London American in September 1958. Jack's second Sun single, "The Black Haired Man"/"Wrong", fared less well, but got a surprise release in my country, the Netherlands (London FL 1943).
In March 1959, Clement (along with Bill Justis) was fired by Sam Phillips for "insubordination", under circumstances which have never become quite clear. After a failed attempt to start his own label and working briefly for Chet Atkins at RCA, Clement decided to try something different. He moved to Beaumont, Texas, and teamed up with Bill Hall, operating both the Hall-Way label and Hall-Clement Publishing. Their publishing successes included Dickey Lee's "Patches" (# 6 pop) and a song that Lee co-wrote, "She Thinks I Still Care" (# 1 country for George Jones in 1962). Clement produced Johnny Cash's big hit "Ring of Fire" (1963) and also wrote "The One On the Right Is On the Left" for Cash (# 2 country).
In 1965 Cowboy Jack finally moved to Nashville and became a linchpin in the studio scene there, discovering and producing Charley Pride (the first Afro- American country star), Don Williams and many others. In 1970 he opened his own much-in-demand studio. Signing with Elektra, he cut his first solo album in 1978, "All I Want To Do In Life". The title song and "We Must Believe In Magic" were minor country hits that year.
In 1987 Clement was asked if he would like to record "a major rock & roll group" at the recently reopened Sun Studio in Memphis. It turned out that the band was U2. Clement had never heard of them, but had a lot of fun recording the album "Rattle and Hum" with Bono and his band mates.
His second album, "Guess Things Happen That Way", came out in 2004. A documentary on Clement entitled "Shakespeare Was a Big George Jones Fan" was created by Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville and released in 2005, also on DVD in 2007. It offers a unique peek into Clement's life and mind. On June 25, 2011, a fire destroyed his home and studio on Belmont Boulevard in Nashville. Clement was unhurt, but many priceless recordings and memorabilia were lost. In April 2013 it was announced that Jack would be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Alas, on August 8 2013, Jack Clement died at his home in Nashville, after a long bout with liver cancer. He was posthumously inducted on October 27, 2013.
More info :
Discography / sessionography :
CD : "Guess Things Happen That Way" (Dualtone Records, 2004, 12 tracks) is still in print. "Ten Years" is available on several Sun compilations.
Acknowledgements : Colin Escott & Martin Hawkins, Bob Mehr, the official website, Wikipedia.
Dik, December 2013
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