I don’t know why but Cowboy Jack Clement has been on my mind lately.
I made music in Nashville for a quarter century and one thing that I learned in Twang town was, “Never Meet Your Heroes”. They do not live up to your fantasies…any of them. I met too many of those poor megalomaniacs but I never met Jack Clement and maybe that’s why I’ve been thinking about him.
I don’t know him…so I still want to.
Born in West Tennessee and raised in Arkansas, Clement found himself in Memphis in the 50’s making records for Sam Phillips at Sun Records. He recorded Jerry Lee Lewis‘ “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” in one take just as a last minute fluke then later wrote “Ballad Of A Teenage Queen” for Johnny Cash, produced the hit at Sun Studio then went on to be the best friend The Man In Black ever had. Discovered and produced Charley Pride…made millions from those records only to lose most of it producing a slasher movie from a script he is reported to have never read.
And, most importantly to me, he co-owned, arguably, the quintessential music publishing house in Nashville, Hall-Clement Music, which found, signed and nurtured such songwriting icons as Bob McDill and Dickey Lee plus scores of other Music City hit makers. In the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s Tree Publishing and Hall-Clement Music shared about 75% of the hit songs coming from Nashville. Of course, he sold his share of that for a fraction of what it was worth.
For decades, his home studio, The Cowboy Arms Hotel And Recording Spa, has churned out piles of classic and wonderful records from folks like John Prine, Nanci Griffith and Townes Van Zandt. A nefarious clubhouse of sorts for everyone from Shawn Camp to Johnny Cash himself, until his passing in 2003, Cowboy’s house is reportedly the zaniest crib on Belmont Boulevard and is loaded with great, vintage gear complete a deep, soulful vibe that comes at no extra charge. Tons of great music is still made and recorded there.
Recently, we moved eight hours away from Nashville, to the beach actually, because it was just time to go…Tofu Country had gotten me down. But, last week I remembered watching a video of home movies that Clement had put together; we had seen it at Ralph Murphy’s house, a long time friend of Cowboy’s. It featured rare gems like, oh, John Cash smoking…something…on A.P. Carter’s grave. Stuff like that. Wonderful things, unseen previously…things that actually made me miss Nashville and what it could be. Organic screwing up and off. Magic conjured by outlaw pranksters. HUMOR…..supreme humor, composted in stoned conversation later to sprout up in three minute recorded masterpieces….or not.
So, we rented it on Netflix, “Shakespeare Was A Big George Jones Fan: Cowboy Jack Clement’s Home Movies”. I’m biased so I don’t know if it’s great or not but the film caused me to start thinking of Nashville again in a fresh, clear new light. And I realized something. I don’t need to meet my heroes. In fact, I don’t even want a hero. I just need to remember that I’m here to whip up some magic and music and the rest of it be damned. Have fun! It’s my business to be me.
In the words of The Cowboy himself, “We’re in the fun business. If we’re not having fun then we’re not doing our jobs.”
Right on, Cowboy. Ride on.