Cowboy Jack Clement - Just Someone I Used to Know.
Update: I originally wrote the article below in June, 2013. Unfortunately I am very saddened to add this update. Nashville and the world mourn the loss of one of Country Music’s great icons. On August 8, 2013 at the age of 82, Cowboy Jack Clement succumbed to liver cancer. Tonight the world is a little less rich, a little less musical and a lot less fun. There was never another one like Jack and likely never will be. He was honest and sincere and the kind of friend we should all be. He always gave more than he ask for and always met you with a smile. His career was phenomenal. He was finally recognized earlier this year by the Country Music Hall of Fame for his unmatchable accomplishments and contributions to Country Music. The one thing I know for sure is that in his new digs Jack is still having fun and heaven is a much richer place for our loss. So Long Jack! We know that you’re there waiting for us with the kitchen door unlocked and the light on. I’ll bet even ole Eugene is there giving you five and getting three! You will never be forgotten my friend.
By: Bill Lord
I guess just about everyone in Nashville in the late 90’s either knew Cowboy Jack Clement or at least knew of him……. except me. It was the summer of 1998 and my partner, Larry Hester and I had been putting together a recording studio on Merritt Avenue in Nashville. We had recently taken over an entire building. It included a large video sound stage and set storage area on the upper floor and our sound recording studio on the lower. We felt like we were really on our way to establishing credibility in the music business. I was mixing a project in the control room one day when our receptionist came and said there was someone who wanted to see me. She said his name was Jack. Well, I didn’t know Jack, in more ways than one as it will become painfully apparent by the end of this story, and told her to send him away.
A week or so later she said Jack was on the phone and wanted to talk with me. I told her to get his number and tell him I would call him back. Of course I never did. About a week after the call my partner, Larry, came into the control room and said that Jack was back. This time he had caught Larry out front and we were trapped. I asked Larry to describe him to me. See, by this time I was becoming a legend in my own mind and didn’t want to give up any of my important time to just any ole Jack. Larry said he was an older gentleman wearing one of those “south of the boarder” shirts, you know the kind with the embroidery down the front, and slip on sneakers. Oh, and he was driving about a 10 year old Chevrolet. Just exactly what I thought, another has been or never was songwriter, a relic of country music history looking for someone, anyone, to listen to him.
Without much choice in the matter I strolled out to greet Jack intending to give him a smile, a pat on the back and the famous Nashville brush off, which I knew quite well because I had suffered it many times myself. That was my plan, but the minute I walked into the room I knew there was something contagious about him. Maybe it was the glint in his eye or his unassuming grin but most likely it was the sincere and friendly warmth you felt from Jack that I would later learn was as honest and genuine as a Hank Williams song. He had me! He knew it and I knew it but I still didn’t know who Jack was.
After a brief tour of our studio he asked if he could see the sound stage and set storage. He explained that it was what he had come to talk about. He told us he had started a video production company of sorts and needed a place to store sets. We were kind of astonished and in a way disappointed to learn that he wasn’t here at all to seek the great knowledge and insights we had accumulated in our 4 years in Nashville. He was just interested in our building. Not even the part we had built and were so proud of; our 32 track all digital recording studio, but the storage room. We were convinced that may be Jack didn’t know Jack either!
After walking around the upstairs and a lot of um’s and yes this will do nicely, Jack said he’d like to discuss it more and asked if we would like to visit him at his home and talk about it. I am sure we both looked at him like we thought he was off his cracker but he wrote down his address on the back of his “ClementVision” business card and was on his way with a promise to call. We could hardly wait.
Jack did call and after putting him off just as long as we possibly could, and bordering on being rude, we finally gave in and scheduled a visit for the next afternoon. When we arrived at Jack’s “house” we were pretty surprised by its large size. There were also a lot of cars parked all over the place including Jack’s Chevrolet. We just kind of shrugged and went to the front door and knocked. When no one came we knocked again and still no answer. We were just about to leave when someone yelled, it’s open. We walked into a fairly large room that resembled a living room but also had the trappings of a very casual office. There were about 10 or so people milling around, some at the desk and some sitting around in chairs with guitars but none of them Jack. After the shock wore off I asked if this was where Jack lived. One of the guys kind of pointed toward the hall and said he’s in his office.
As we approached the hall we noticed a framed award on the wall that said “To Jack Clement” It was a publishing award for the song “She Thinks I Still Care”. Not just a hit country song, an iconic hit country song, and Jack Clement has published it! As we turned the corner down the hall that leads to Jack’s office there were gold records lining the walls on both sides, floor to ceiling. Along with the gold records there were pictures of just about everyone and anyone, most either signed to Jack or with Jack actually in the picture. It was about then that we realized that although we didn’t know who Jack Clement was, he was certainly somebody, and we may be the only two people on earth who didn’t know it.
We stepped up to Jack’s door to find him sitting at his desk. On his lap stood a large cat that we would later learn was Eugene, famous in his own right, at least with those who knew Jack. Jack looked up and flashed that grin again and said come on in boys, meet Eugene. As we looked around at all the awards, pictures, gold records and memorabilia on the walls it suddenly occurred to us that we were in the presence of greatness, a bonafide legend. After 4 years in Nashville and all we thought we knew it hit us that we really didn’t know Jack!
It immediately occurred to me that maybe Jack had brought us over to his place just to humiliate us and show us what a pair of rubes we were. I could not have been more wrong. He treated us like we were very important and thanked us for coming. He sensed that in our realization of who Jack Clement was and what he represented we felt overwhelmed and embarrassed. Like only Jack can do he smiled a little and said, “You know boys we are in the fun business and if you aren’t having fun, you aren’t doing your job”. It put us immediately at ease. Even in surroundings that screamed of his success, influence and importance to the business that we clawing to get a foot hold in, he remained unassuming and genuinely humble. Like so many Nashville insiders already knew, we learned exactly who Jack is.
We discovered that the man in front of us was one of the most influential producers, song publishers and songwriters in country music history. He had written dozens of songs, many of which became number ones and had published countless others. He was the man who first recorded Jerry Lee Lewis at Sun Records in Memphis. The man who recorded what is now known worldwide as “The Million Dollar Quartet”, an impromptu studio jam session at the Sun Records studios involving Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. Jack had built the first 16 track studio in Nashville and as a producer added the trademark mariachi horns to Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire. He discovered and produced Charlie Pride and with him would once again make Nashville history. It would be easier to list the artist, songwriters and producers whose careers Jack didn’t influence than the ones he did. Even today you can hear the influence of Jack Clement in just about every country record made.
Over the next year Jack and I became casual friends. He would occasionally drop by our studio to use the sound stage or just hang out and I would often drop by Jack’s house just to visit. The atmosphere there was creative and amazing. Occasionally Jack would grab that old Gibson flat top off the wall behind him, I think it was a 1956, and start playing. It was always like a scene from an Elvis movie where you’d suddenly find yourself surrounded by musicians jamming with Jack. They wouldn’t be just any musicians either. It would often be the likes of Del and Ronnie McCoury or other country and bluegrass greats who were recording in Jacks studio upstairs. It was in Jack’s office during just such an impromptu concert that I first met Chet Atkins. To say the least, those times were magical and unforgettable just like Cowboy Jack Clement.
On April 10, 2013 Jack Clement, Bobby Bare and Kenny Rogers were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Jack’s plaque will hang alongside folks like Hank Williams, Roy Acuff, Johnny Cash, Charlie Pride, Waylon Jennings, Owen Bradley and so many more who helped make country music a worldwide phenomenon. Oh, and Jack, He’s still in the fun business and still having fun.
We are in the fun business. If we are not having fun then we are not doing our jobs!
Cowboy Jack Clement