“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 Phillips’ Sun 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.