Country Music Loses Legendary Jack-of-all-Trades Cowboy Jack Clement

J. Clark Thomas' portrait of Cowboy Jack Clements. Courtesy: Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Cowboy Jack Clement’s own recordings never topped the charts, but he wrote, produced and engineered hits for a long list of iconic performers.
Credit: J. Clark Thomas via Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

The man who discovered Jerry Lee Lewis and Charley Pride, put the mariachi trumpets in “Ring of Fire” and convinced George Jones to record “She Thinks I Still Care” has died. Cowboy Jack Clement was 82 years old.

Clement was born just outside Memphis and served four years in the Marines before becoming a musical jack of all trades: songwriter, producer, talent scout, performer, and raconteur.

He worked with Sam Philips at Sun Records during its heyday, running the board during legendary rockabilly recordings, including the so-called Million Dollar Quartet session with Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. He produced “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On” for Lewis after discovering the pianist while Philips was out of town.

For about of year, Clement commuted to RCA in Nashville to assist Chet Atkins. He also spent time in Beaumont, Texas, writing and publishing songs and producing tracks in the country music scene that thrived there. In the mid 60s, Clement helped Charley Pride break country music’s color line, first by recording Pride’s demos on  his own dime, then as Pride’s manager and producer.

In 1970, Clements opened Music Row’s first 16-track recording studio. He founded JMI Records, which put out Don Williams’ early hits. His own home served double duty not just as a recording studio but as a hangout for Waylon Jennings, John Prine, Eddie Arnold and Johnny Cash. The home movies he made with Cash later made up the backbone of a documentary film called “Shakespeare Was A Big George Jones Fan.”

Clement was one of the first members of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, and was announced this Spring as one of the newest inductees to the Country Music Hall of Fame. In January, a star-studded tribute concert honored Clement after word got out of that he’d been diagnosed with a rare form of liver cancer but opted not to pursue treatment.

Cowboy Jack Clement died at home in Nashville this morning.

In 2003, WPLN’s Jacqueline Fellows profiled Clement, who was then Artist-In-Residence at the Country Music Hall of Fame:

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