×

‘Cowboy’ Jack Clement Dead at 82

Sun Records Vet Produced for Charley Pride, U2, Million Dollar Quartet, George Jones

“Cowboy” Jack Clement, the producer, engineer, songwriter and singer whose career with Sun Records and RCA saw him man the mixing boards for a plethora of canonical rock and roll and country recordings, died Aug. 8 in his home in Nashville as a result of liver cancer. He was 82.

Though best known for his production work in Memphis and later Nashville, the lovably eccentric Clement also wrote hits for Johnny Cash (“Ballad of a Teenage Queen,” “Guess Things Happen That Way”), produced several tracks on U2’s “Rattle and Hum,” played ukulele in Hawaiian music groups, and produced the 1970s horror film “Dear Dead Delilah” over the course of a long and varied career.

Born in Whitehaven, Tenn., Clement spent time in the Marines and played in bluegrass groups before landing a job at Sam PhillipsSun Records at age 25. At Sun, he recorded tracks for Roy Orbison, Cash and Carl Perkins, and famously took the initiative to record “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” by the then-unknown Jerry Lee Lewis while Phillips was away in Florida. Serendipitously, he also served as informal producer for the legendary “Million Dollar Quartet” sessions featuring Cash, Perkins, Lewis and Elvis Presley.

Fired by Phillips in 1959, Clement joined RCA Victor in Nashville, but soon decamped for Beaumont, Texas, where he and Bill Hall constructed the Gold Coast Recording Studio and founded the Hall-Clement music publishing concern. Clement produced the No. 1 country hit “She Thinks I Still Care” and wrote “Just Somebody I Used to Know” for George Jones in 1962, as well as producing Cash’s 1963 hit “Ring of Fire.”

After returning to Nashville permanently in 1965, Clement convinced Chet Atkins to sign former Negro League pitcher Charley Pride to a contract with RCA – over the course of 13 Clement-produced records, Pride became country music’s first black superstar. In 1975, Clement produced Waylon Jennings’ country No. 1 “Dreaming My Dreams,” an album that would become a vital touchstone for the burgeoning outlaw country movement. He also produced Townes Van Zandt’s “The Late Great Townes Van Zandt” in 1972, as well as projects for Louis Armstrong, Emmylou Harris and polka king Frank Yankovic.

In 1987, U2 approached Clement to record the tracks “When Love Comes to Town” and “Angel of Harlem” in Sun Studio, which Clement agreed to do despite not having heard of the group.

A member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, Clement was set to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame later this year. In January, he was feted at a Nashville gala that included tributes from the likes of Taylor Swift, Bono and Bill Clinton.

Clement is survived by two children.

Popular on Variety

More Music

  • Woodstock Festival of Arts and Music

    As Woodstock Turns 50, the Fest's 10 Most Sacred Music Moments (Watch)

    Cars were left abandoned along the New York Interstate. Electrical and speaker systems fuzzed and popped. Amps blew then went silent. The rain was endless as the mud sank deep and rank. Young children ran naked and dazed through crowds of strangers. Food was scarce. Water, unclean. Looking back, Woodstock seems a more apocalyptic, than [...]

  • 'ZZ Top: That Little Ol' Band

    Film Review: 'ZZ Top: That Little Ol' Band From Texas'

    Settling in to watch “ZZ Top: That Little Ol’ Band From Texas,” you may have a burning question that applies to almost no other rock documentary, and that is: Who, exactly, are these guys? The ones behind the beards? If you’re old enough, of course, you probably know that ZZ Top started out, in 1969, [...]

  • NEW YORK, NEW YORK - AUGUST

    Jay-Z to Acquire Ownership Stake in NFL Team (Report)

    Jay-Z will soon acquire a “significant ownership interest” in an NFL team, TMZ reported on Friday. The team was not disclosed, but a source told the site the deal will happen in the “near future,” adding that the billionaire rapper “wants to continue to be a change agent for the NFL.” Jay-Z’s company, Roc Nation, [...]

  • (L-R) NELL WILLIAMS as Eliza, VIVEIK

    How 'Blinded by the Light' Brought Bruce Springsteen's Music to the Screen for a Song

    Blinded by the Light co-writer/director Gurinder Chadha knows firsthand what it feels like to be an outsider. Born in Kenya when the country was a British colony, she grew up part of the Indian/Asian diaspora who made their way from East Africa to London. For that reason, the 59-year-old’s movies has always dealt with the [...]

  • Blake Shelton, Trace AdkinsCMA Music Festival

    Blake Shelton Takes a Shot at 'Old Town Road' in New Single

    Blake Shelton and Trace Adkins have just released a duet, “Hell Right,” that seems to have a beef with “Old Town Road.” But is it a light-hearted, maybe even affectionate slam — or should anyone read culture-war significance into the two country stars expressing a preference for Hank Williams Jr. over Lil Nas X, the breakout [...]

  • Led Zeppelin Stairway to Heaven

    Department of Justice Backs Led Zeppelin in ‘Stairway to Heaven’ Copyright Case

    The U.S. Department of Justice has weighed in on the next big music copyright case on the horizon following the Katy Perry “Dark Horse” decision, and taken Led Zeppelin’s side in the long-running copyright dispute that pits the writers of the group’s anthem “Stairway to Heaven” against the publishers of the earlier song “Taurus” by [...]

  • Teddy Riley Walk of Fame

    From Blackstreet to Hollywood Blvd. as Teddy Riley Receives a Star on the Walk of Fame

    Many musical artists are responsible for hits, whether recording and writing for themselves or producing smashes for others. Teddy Riley’s got the success, having fashioned platinum-plated R&B works for, and with, Bobby Brown, Michael Jackson, Keith Sweat, Doug E. Fresh and more since the mid-’80s, not to mention the music of his own slick soul [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content