Jack Clement: Nashville legend who worked with Johnny Cash, U2 and Jerry Lee Lewis

 

"Cowboy" Jack Clement was one of the renaissance men of American music. A maverick original, his 60-year career was spent mainly within the country genre – writing and publishing hit songs, producing seminal albums (many in his own studios), recording in his own right, working as a DJ in his later years and even producing a horror film which has gained a cult following.

Clement, who has died at the age of 82 after suffering from liver cancer, worked with artists as disparate as U2 and Louis Armstrong as well as countless country performers. Moreover, he was a key player in two important moments in American culture. As producer and engineer for Jerry Lee Lewis, he helped pioneer rock'n'roll in the mid-1950s, Lewis having previously been seen principally as a country singer and pianist with evangelical leanings. And by penning two best-selling singles for Johnny Cash, he accelerated the would-be rocker's life-changing reverse journey into country and western.

The "Cowboy" nickname owed nothing to any range-riding prowess (indeed, his favourite among his own songs was "Some Cowboys Hate Horses"). In fact, the moniker had stuck with him from a radio show he did when he was a teenager. This came before a four-year stint in the Marines, during which he wrote lyrics in his head while on guard duty. But if the Memphis-born Clement was no Gene Autry, his first involvement in professional music, playing guitar and banjo in the bluegrass band Buzz and Jack & the Bayou Boys, established the direction his life would take.

He began to diversify after joining Sun Records, the Sam Phillips-owned Memphis label that gave the world Elvis Presley. Producing for Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, Billy Lee Riley, Cash and Lewis, he was at the mixing desk in February 1957 when the latter cut "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" in one take. The whole million-selling whirlwind was propelled by a boogie piano and no little suggestiveness in the lyric. Clement soon displayed a different string to his bow, writing "Ballad of a Teenage Queen" and "Guess Things Happen That Way" which took Cash high in the US charts and confirmed him as a major country singer.

Fired in 1959 by Phillips, whose royalty rates he pointedly recalled in a 1977 interview as "kinda low", Clement joined RCA as a writer and producer. By 1961, however, he had teamed up with producer Bill Hall to form a publishing company in Beaumont, Texas. His songwriting credits ensured a good living: George Jones recorded his material; Cliff Richard had a UK No 2 with "It'll Be Me"; and Porter Wagoner linked with Dolly Parton to make "Just Someone I Used to Know" an American hit.

In 1963 he produced, arranged the horns and played guitar on "Ring of Fire", arguably Cash's signature song, and wrote several humorous numbers for him, including "Flushed from the Bathroom of Your Heart". Even after his friend's death in 2003, Clement worked on the soundtrack for the biopic I Walk the Line. Michael McCall, writer for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, said Cash "liked working with him because they had so much fun".

In 1966-67 Clement was also instrumental in the emergence of black country singer Charley Pride, one of 11 children born to poor sharecroppers in Mississippi. He composed Pride's first two hits, "Just Between You and Me" and "I Know One", and produced his first 13 albums. With country still an all-white medium, it was a major step towards desegregation.

Clement expanded his repertoire. In 1972, he produced what is thought to be the first country-music video, for Don Williams' track "Come Early Morning". He also produced the movie Dear Dead Delilah, a box-office flop with enduring underground appeal. In 1975 he was co-producer, with Waylon Jennings, on the Texan's critically acclaimed Dreaming My Dreams album, and three years later, aged 46, he released his own, highly regarded LP for Elektra, All I Want to Do in Life. The follow-up, Guess Things Happen That Way, came a mere 28 years later.

In 1988, Clement was at the controls when U2 recorded three songs for the Rattle and Hum album, including the hits "Angel of Harlem" and "When Love Comes to Town". In later years, he shared his passions on Outlaw Country, a nationwide radio station founded by Steve Van Zandt of Bruce Springsteen's E-Street Band. The Americana Music Association gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award, and a documentary about him, titled Shakespeare Was a Big George Jones Fan: Cowboy Jack Clement's Home Movies, won a prize at the Nashville Film Festival.

This year, a concert in his honour was held in his adopted city, with Taylor Swift, the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach and close friend Kris Kristofferson among those paying homage. In October he was to have been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. On its behalf, Michael McCall hailed Clement as "a musical mastermind" who spotted and developed "game-changing artists", but also one with "a sense of mischief" who would often dance around the studio, in a distinctly uncowboy-like manner, "in a bathrobe, playing the ukulele".

Phil Shaw

Jack Henderson Clement, singer, musician, songwriter, producer, publisher, disc-jockey and film-maker: born Memphis, Tennessee 5 April 1931; two children (one daughter, one son); died Nashville, Tennessee 8 August 2013.

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
weird news... and film it, obviously
Arts & Entertainment
tv
News
Matthew Mcnulty and Jessica Brown Findlay in 'Jamaica Inn'
mediaHundreds complain over dialogue levels in period drama
News
peopleJay Z and Beyoncé to buy £5.5m London townhouse
Voices
voicesMoyes' tragedy is one the Deputy PM understands all too well, says Matthew Norman
Arts & Entertainment
Rocker of ages: Chuck Berry
musicWhy do musicians play into old age?
Arts & Entertainment
With Jo Joyner in 'Trying Again'
tvHe talks to Alice Jones on swapping politics for pillow talk
News
Jilly's jewels: gardener Alan Titchmarsh
peopleCountry Life magazine's list of 'gallant' public figures throws light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
Sport
John Terry goes down injured in the 70th minute
sportAtletico Madrid 0 Chelsea 0: Blues can finish the job at Stamford Bridge, but injuries to Terry and Cech are a concern for Mourinho
Student
student
News
<b>Rebecca Adlington</b>
<br />This, the first British swimmer to win two
Olympic gold medals in 100 years, is the eversmiling
face of the athletes who will, we're
confident, make us all proud at London 2012
peopleRebecca Adlington on 'nose surgery'
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Clinical Negligence

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence - Oxford An opportunity f...

Projects Financial Analyst - Global Technology firm

£55000 - £62000 per annum + outstanding benefits and bonus: Pro-Recruitment Gr...

Reception Teacher

£120 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Reception teacher required for an Outs...

Commercial B2B Pricing Specialist - Global Bids and Tenders

£35000 - £45000 per annum + excellent company benefits : Pro-Recruitment Group...

Day In a Page

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home

It's not always fun in the sun: Moving abroad does not guarantee happiness

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home
Migrants in Britain a decade on: They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire

Migrants in Britain a decade on

They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire
Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

The 'Thick of It' favourite thinks the romcom is an 'awful genre'. So why is he happy with a starring role in Sky Living's new Lake District-set series 'Trying Again'?
Why musicians play into their old age

Why musicians play into their old age

Nick Hasted looks at how they are driven by a burning desire to keep on entertaining fans despite risking ridicule
How can you tell a gentleman?

How can you tell a gentleman?

A list of public figures with gallant attributes by Country Life magazine throws a fascinating light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

The duo behind Asos and Achica have launched a new venture offering haute couture to help make furry companions fashionable
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire
Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

Celebrate St George’s Day with a nice cup of tea. Now you just need to get the water boiled
Sam Wallace: Why Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term

Sam Wallace

Why Ryan Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term
Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

Having smashed Sergei Bubka's 21-year-old record, the French phenomenon tells Simon Turnbull he can go higher
Through the screen: British Pathé opens its archives

Through the screen

British Pathé opens its archives
The man behind the papier mâché mask

Frank Sidebottom

The man behind the papier mâché mask
Chris Marker: Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

Chris Marker retrospective is a revelation
Boston runs again: Thousands take to the streets for marathon as city honours dead and injured of last year's bombing

Boston runs again

Thousands of runners take to the streets as city honours dead of last year
40 years of fostering and still holding the babies (and with no plans to retire)

40 years of fostering and holding the babies

In their seventies and still working as specialist foster parents