PT 2: COWBOY JACK CLEMENT — THE TIMELESS TOUCH
On July 15, the new I.R.S. Records Nashville label debuted with For Once and For All, the third and final album from Cowboy Jack Clement, recorded just months before he died at age 82 on Aug. 8, 2013.
CMA members can read the full story behind For Once and For All in the Aug/Sept 2014 issue of CMA Close Up. Recently CMACloseUp.com published a biographical piece by the noted Country Music author and historian Robert K. Oermann, covering Clement’s early years up to his early successes as a producer and songwriter in Nashville. Here, Oermann concludes his review on a life well lived by an artist well loved.
— Bob Doerschuk
The Pinnacle Years
In 1966, Clement reunited with The Stonemans, with whom he had jammed as far back as the late 1940s; his record productions led to the family winning the first CMA Vocal Group of the Year Award in 1967. The 1970 winners of that award, The Glaser Brothers, were also produced by Jack Clement.
In 1967, Clement produced the Bobby Bare LP A Bird Named Yesterday. This was an innovative “concept” album. “I loved everything about it,” Bare recalled. “All those songs he wrote for it are really good: ‘I’ve Got a Thing About Trains,’ ‘They Covered Up the Old Swimmin’ Hole,’ ‘The Air Conditioner Song.’ Looking back, I have a hunch he probably wrote that album for Johnny Cash.”
In 1970, Clement opened his own recording studio, the first 16-track facility in Music City. The following year, he formed the label JMI Records, on which Don Williams launched his career. To promote Williams, Clement created one of Nashville’s first music videos. Continuing his film/video explorations, he produced the 1972 horror movie, “Dear Dead Delilah, with a cast that included Will Geer and Agnes Moorehead.
Jack Clement was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1973. Two years later, he produced the Waylon Jennings masterpiece album, Dreaming My Dreams. At his home on Belmont Boulevard in Nashville, he fashioned The Cowboy Arms Hotel and Recording Spa, a nerve center for what would become known as Americana music. One of his first projects there was his own album, All I Want to Do in Life, which was named Album of the Year by the magazine Country Music.
In the 1990s, he began performing around Nashville, often with rockabilly upstarts Billy Burnette and Shawn Camp. In 2002, he became the Artist in Residence at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Two years later, Clement received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Americana Music Association and issued his second album, the much applauded Guess Things Happen That Way.
“Cowboy Jack’s Home Movies” won Best Documentary honors at the 2005 Nashville Film Festival. That same year, he launched his own radio series on the Sirius/XM “Outlaw Country” channel.
When his home and studio burned in 2011, Clement insisted on rebuilding. “I tried to talk him out of it,” said his longtime studio engineer Dave “Fergie” Ferguson. “He was old and had a touch of dementia. He was sick. I said, ‘Jack, take the money and go to Hawaii or something.’ It was, ‘No, I want my house. I want my office back. I want to be back in my bedroom.’ And he did it. I think he knew he was gonna die there.”
As word of his failing health spread, a tribute show was held in January 2013 at Nashville’s Municipal Auditorium. Rodney Crowell, Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, John Hiatt, Kris Kristofferson, Charley Pride and many more sang to him. Then Clement sang as well.
As Clement’s days became numbered that summer, his loyal pals said their farewells. “One afternoon, maybe a month before Cowboy passed away, Connie (Smith) and I drove over there,” recalled Marty Stuart. “We went into the office, and Cowboy appeared wearing his Elvis Presley bathrobe. It became like it had been a thousand other times. I took a guitar. He took a guitar. And we sat and sang the same old songs, one more time.
Bobby Bare remembered, “Right before he died, me and Emmylou, Jeannie Bare, Shawn Camp and Fergie all went down to his office and had a guitar pull. Cowboy came out and sat in his chair, and we all sang Cowboy’s songs. Fergie said that was the last time that Cowboy was out of bed.”
Following Clement’s death on Aug. 8, 2013, his buddies continued to add their voices and instruments to his final album, For Once and For All. “I promised him I would finish it,” said Ferguson.
“Jack Clement innovated in every avenue of the industry,” Stuart eulogized. “Johnny Cash said, ‘He was already there when everybody else got there.’ But beyond that, he was just so full of wisdom. He had an irreverence and a sense of humor that are essential to survive. He always kept his eye on the big picture. Everything Jack has ever touched has been timeless.”