It made sense that Cowboy Jack Clement made his Los Angeles debut at the Getty Museum. While not a museum piece — there’s nothing fussed over about the 73-year-old’s perf — he is one of the last survivors of his era in country music.
As songwriter and producer, Jack Clement worked with Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, George Jones, Louis Armstrong and U2 (with Cash and U2s Bono featured in the short selection of Clements home movies that preceded the show). That experience — the charisma, craft and sheer fun that was part of working in Memphis and Nashville over the past 50 years — could be heard in every note he played and sang.
Looking every inch the part of country-music royalty, Clement strolled through his career, playing hits he wrote for Lewis (“It’ll Be Me”) and Cash (“Guess Things Happen That Way,” which is also the title of his new Dualtone album). As you might expect, given his age, Clements’ voice isn’t the most powerful instrument, but he sings with a songwriter’s savvy, knowing that hitting the right emotional notes is more important than what’s on the page.
He was backed by a band of veterans, including Billy Burnette, David Kemper, Bobby Wood and Taras Prodaniuk, with young guitarist Shawn Camp adding stinging solos. They might not have been the tightest unit (there were sound problems, and they probably ran through the set only a few times), but they are fine players, and their occasional raggedness gave the music a jolly intimacy.
The evening ended with Burnette’s leading the band in a relaxed take on his father’s “Tear It Up.” The song (and some of the players) may be old enough to qualify for retirement, but the music was livelier and more agile than most of what’s heard on modern country radio.