'Cowboy' Jack Clement dies at 82; country music legend

"Cowboy" Jack Clement, an influential producer, songwriter and engineer who had been revered in country music since the 1950s and was later sought out by rock acts for his creative input, has died. He was 82.

Clement died Thursday of liver cancer at his Nashville home, his friend and fellow producer Dub Cornett told the Associated Press.

Clement was the first to record Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison. He arranged the signature mariachi horn part for Johnny Cash's original recording of "Ring of Fire," persuaded George Jones to record "She Thinks I Still Care," and produced Waylon Jennings' "Dreaming My Dreams," considered one of the finest albums of the 1970s "outlaw" movement.

Kris Kristofferson often cited Clement's influence on his music career.

"'Cowboy' Jack Clement was the first person I met in Nashville, while I was still in uniform in the Army," Kristofferson told The Times in an email. "He introduced me to Johnny Cash.... To me Jack will always be the embodiment of the Nashville songwriter's love of the song, regardless of who the writer was."

He picked up the "Cowboy" nickname while playing steel guitar as a student at Memphis State University, according to the 2007 book "Nashville Portraits."

Clement's idiosyncratic career was examined and celebrated in the acclaimed 2005 documentary "Shakespeare Was a Big George Jones Fan: Cowboy Jack Clement's Home Movies," which featured interviews with Jones as well as U2's Bono, Cash, Jennings, Dolly Parton and others along with home movie footage.

Jack Henderson Clement was born April 8, 1931, in Whitehaven, Tenn., just south of Memphis.

As a teenager he enlisted in the Marines and after serving for four years toured in a bluegrass band. Upon returning to Memphis in 1954, he started working as a producer and engineer at Sun Records. He moved to Nashville in 1959 and joined RCA, where he continued to make records with some of country's biggest names.

As a songwriter he may be best known as the composer of two songs that Johnny Cash took to No. 1 on the country charts in 1958: "Ballad of a Teenage Queen" and "Guess Things Happen That Way." Clement also wrote "Just Someone I Used to Know," which Parton and Porter Wagoner turned into a Top 5 country hit in 1969.

For U2, Clement produced "When Love Comes to Town" and "Angel of Harlem" for the "Rattle and Hum" album. Clement also did the first recordings for Charley Pride, an African American baseball player who left the sport to pursue a singing career. Clement's song "Just Between You and Me" gave Pride his first Top 10 country hit in 1966, and led to Pride's role in helping break down racial barriers in country music.

In January Clement was honored at an all-star concert at Nashville's War Memorial Auditorium by Kristofferson, Pride, Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, John Prine, Jakob Dylan, the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach and others. The night also featured video messages from former President Clinton, First Lady Michelle Obama, Bono and Taylor Swift, one of the new generation country stars Clement admired.

Elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame along with Bobby Bare and Kenny Rogers, Clement was to be inducted later this year.

Information on survivors was not immediately available.


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