Obituary: Jerry Clower

FROM THE minstrel tradition of the black-face duo Jarnup and Honey in the 1930s through the "Golden Age" of Minnie Pearl and Rod Brasfield, to the current redneck humour of Jeff Foxworthy, comedy has long played an important, if underrated, role in the history of country music.

Simple, direct and invariably drawing on the Southern character, it has been both light relief from the hardships endured by its core audience and a cultural barrier that outsiders have found difficult to surmount. Its appeal is largely regional - a New Yorker is as likely to sit stony- faced through such a routine as is a Londoner - but that alone ensures it an audience of millions.

Known as "The Mouth of the Mississippi", Jerry Clower was for nearly 30 years the biggest star in the field, with a string of gold discs, countless television appearances and membership of the famed Grand Ole Opry to his credit.

His monologues were bathed in nostalgia for simpler times and for activities like 'coon hunts, impromptu rodeos, molasses-making and church picnics. Many chronicled the comic misadventures of the fictional Marcel Ledbetter and his family, whilst others were laced with an overt and sometimes distasteful patriotism. Although he always maintained that his shows were firmly family- oriented, his humour occasionally verged on the amusingly tasteless. A memorable publicity shot, for example, shows him cradling a 'coonhound under his right arm whilst balancing a chainsaw on his left knee.

As with many comics, he loved the interaction a performer has with his audience and refused to use canned laughter on his albums, believing it to be dishonest. "I am convinced," he once declared, "that there is only one place where there is no laughter and that's Hell. I have made arrangements to miss Hell. Praise God, I won't ever have to be anywhere that there ain't no laughter."

Born in Liberty, Mississippi, close to the Louisiana border, Clower joined the US Navy on graduating from high school but found himself drawn increasingly to the world of farming. On leaving the navy, he enrolled at Junior College before heading to Mississippi State University on the back of a football scholarship. He graduated with a degree in agriculture and joined the Mississippi Chemical Company, based in Yazoo City, where he eventually rose to become Director of Field Sales.

He began to develop a series of routines based on his early life, using them to enliven his sales patter and when these proved popular was persuaded to record them for the local Lemon label. Entitled Jerry Clower from Yazoo City, Mississippi, Talkin' (1971), the disc sold so well that Clower found himself signed to MCA. His albums for the label included Clower Power (1973), Country Ham (1974), The Ledbetter Olympics (1980), Dogs I Have Known (1982) and Top Gum (1987), which featured a rather bizarre country rap number.

In 1973 he joined the cast of Nashville's Grand Ole Opry, going on to become, with his gaudy suits and outgoing personality, a popular fixture on the television chatshow circuit. He also wrote four books including Ain't God Good (1977) and, more recently, Stories From Home (1993) and for 10 years running was named "Country Comic of the Year".

A devout man, Jerry Clower was a deacon of the First Baptist Church of Yazoo City and enjoyed a long-time association with the Gideon Bible Society. In 1997 the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame presented him with its Distinguished American Award. Yazoo City honoured the man who made it famous by renaming a local thoroughfare Jerry Clower Boulevard.

Jerry Clower, comedian: born Liberty, Mississippi 28 September 1926: married 1947 Homerline Wells (one son, three daughters): died Jackson, Mississippi 24 August 1998.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing