Cowboy Jack Clement's impact on the roots of rock 'n' roll and country music ought not be underestimated. After all, he was there at the beginning, serving as a producer and engineer for Sam Phillips at Sun Records, guiding the careers of its stable of stars in the persons of Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash, and discovering the as-yet unknown Jerry Lee Lewis. He subsequently penned much of Cash's early hit repertoire, songs that included "Ballad of a Teenage Queen," "Guess Things Happen That Way" and "The One on the Right is on the Left." In 1963, his production of Cash's immortal classic "Ring of Fire" propelled both men into the mainstream and made Clement one of the most sought out producers in Nashville. No wonder then he would go on to work with Charley Pride, Ray Stevens, Elvis Presley, Tom Jones, Cliff Richards, Townes Van Zandt, Waylon Jennings and U2.
When Clement passed away last year, he left a legacy as rich as any in the entire sphere of contemporary music. He also gave fans a final album, the posthumous "For Once And For All," an aptly named and appropriate epitaph. It finds Clement in his traditional musical motif, thanks to a series of easy, ambling narratives ("I've Got a Thing About Trains," "Miller's Cave," "Just a Girl I Used to Know") and the occasional rugged reflection ("The Air Conditioner Song," "Got Leaving On Her Mind").
Clement's association with Cash couldn't be clearer; his earnest vocals frequently recall the Man in Black's rough-hewn vocal inflection. With a support cast that includes many of Clement's most ardent admirers (producer T Bone Burnett, John Prine, Emmylou Harris, Bobby Bare, Vince Gill, Marty Stuart, Rodney Crowell, Dierks Bentley and the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach), it culls several of his classic songs and recasts them in a modern context.
The results, then, are both striking and sublime, a suitable homage to a man whose influence will always remain eternally indelible. As its title implies, "For Once And For All" offers the definitive word on Clement's credence. Long may this Cowboy ride.