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26 years later, Cowboy Jack Clement finally returns

By Ken Burke, October 2004

Page 2...

The album's unofficial theme seems to be the completion of unfinished business. Although most of the album's songs were recorded in January, Clement included his version of "No Expectations" by the Rolling Stones which, "has been laying around here for about 12 or 15 years. Also, laying around were two songs co-written by tunesmith Don Robertson.

"Well now, there's one of my favorite people in the world and one of the greatest songwriters of all time," Clement says of Robertson. "Especially melodies. We wrote our first song together in about 1966 or 7, called 'Does My Ring Hurt Your Finger?' Well, back at that time, ASCAP writers and BMI writers couldn't work together, so I put that song in my wife's name - Doris Clement. She wound up getting an ASCAP award, but in the divorce, I wound up with the song and the writer rights. Then we didn't write any more until years later when he moved to Nashville. During the time he was here, we wrote about six songs - and that's two of 'em 'Seriously' and 'Trapped in An Old Country Song.' I've never done a whole lot of co-writing. I've done more with him than anybody."

Asking about the three most famous Clement compositions on the album, Sun Records and Memphis are mentioned. Suddenly, the fun-loving producer vocalizes the guitar intro to Johnny River's version of "Memphis, Tennessee."

"You know, I wrote a poem about Memphis," he segues. "Waylon (Jennings) always liked it because he liked Memphis. He liked to go there and eat and hang out. John Prine always liked Memphis. There is something about Memphis. So, the poem goes:"There is something about Memphis that comes on strong,
Like some happy moment between right and wrong.
Like somebody playing your favorite song,
There's something about Memphis that turns me on."

Last year, Clement said that his song "It'll Be Me," was never recorded the way he wanted it. Is the version offered on his new LP how he always envisioned the song?

"It's close," he confesses. "I found out how to do it. We got the beat. We'll probably do that live better. But it's all right. That's basically the way I wanted to do it."

Could he have made Jerry Lee Lewis do it that way?

"You don't make Jerry Lee do anything , and I kept him on it. It wasn't bad, but the beat was kind of weird. We cut that song twice, and both versions have been released. Sam (Phillips) did one. I did one. Originally Sam thought it was going to be the A-side. Of course, (Lewis' 1957 breakthrough pop, country and R&B smash) 'Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On' was the A-side. That's where I got my first free ride."

Another Sun alumni, provided the album's emotional highlight by singing back-up on two songs Clement wrote for him, the rumba inflected "Guess Things Happen That Way" and "Ballad of a Teenage Queen.""Now, 'Ballad of a Teenage Queen,' we cut that in 1981 with Johnny Cash," Clement fondly explains. "He actually sort of produced that track. Those are live vocals. The only thing I added to it was another ukulele and Kenny (Malone) put a little percussion on it."

Why does it sound so spooky?

"Well, that's the way he was singing it in 1981," Clement laughs. "See, he was having fun with that song. I sang his lines, and he sang the vocal group's lines. I went out on tour with him in Australia as his special guest, and I'd come out in the middle of his show and make him come back out, sit down and play rhythm with me. We'd sing 'Old Flames Can't Hold a Candle to You' and different things. He'd play guitar and sing harmony, and then we'd do 'Ballad of a Teenage Queen' just like we do it on the record."

Asked if the Man in Black was cool to work with, Clement exudes awe. "Man, I'm telling you - he was the coolest."

Another late friend occupies Cowboy Jack's thoughts as he explains why independent labels like Dualtone are vital to the music industry.

"You know something Sam Phillips told me one time that I remember? We were just in the control room talking about the future and major labels. He was saying that the music industry was going to get so big internationally that artists that don't sell at least a million will be dropped by their labels. I thought that sound kind of preposterous at the time, but hey...."

"The whole record business has got to go through a change, and they're really slow to catch on. So, while they're trying to catch on, some enterprising independent labels can slide in there, get a foothold, and build up their own congregation. You've got to have some experimentation. Somebody's got to put out something that nobody else has put out - like my record."

Clement would like to parlay a mid-September release party in Nashville into his first nationwide tour, preferably at colleges. Meanwhile, he's back in the studio helping 86-year-old Eddy Arnold cut his first new album in nearly a decade.

In addition, Sirius Satellite radio has offered him a regular show on their Outlaw Country channel, and a documentary titled "Jack Clement's Home Movies" is in the works. For kicks, he enjoys side-projects like the Jack Clement Stage-In-A-Box, and advising a repertory group called Actor's Bridge.

Is the versatile Clement also an actor?

"Everybody's an actor, and the whole world is a stage, and men and women are merely players," he responds in appropriate Shakespearean cadence "They have their exits and their entrances, etc. etc. Then there's 'To be or not to be, that is the question. Whether it is nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing, end them. At the end I say with this regard, their currents turned awry and lose the name of action. Action? 1-2-3 ACTION!" (Bursts into song.) "Brazil, where hearts were entering June...!"

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