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A Fond Farewell From An Old Memphis Maverick

Originally published on July 29, 2014 7:31 pm

The late musician Jack Clement's nickname, "Cowboy," came from a radio show he was part of in the early 1960s. It had nothing to do with horses or boots, but it happened to fit his maverick approach to work.

Clement did what he wanted: songwriting, producing, running his own recording studios, even making movies. He was a visionary and a catalyst who always knew how to match artists with the right material. He famously arranged the distinctive mariachi horn section in Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire," and when he gave "Just a Girl I Used to Know" to George Jones in 1962, it was a hit.

In a career that spanned six decades, the Tennessee native and onetime Marine worked with everyone from Charley Pride to U2. Yet in all that time, Clement only recorded three albums of his own. He'd just completed his final project, For Once and for All, when he died last year at age 82.

Clement was humbly philosophical and deeply funny. He embraced traditional country themes like trains and love gone wrong, but he also wrote songs like "Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart," "Dirty Old Egg Sucking Dog" and one ostensibly about a home appliance, but really about the magic you might find in the world if you let go of a modern convenience for a while: "The Air Conditioner Song."

He wrote hundreds of songs, and they've been recorded by hundreds of artists who worked with Clement or were inspired by him. So it's fitting that on For Once and for All, he revisits material he wrote decades ago and calls in a host of friends to play along. In "Got Leaving on Her Mind," country singer Dierks Bentley and The Secret Sisters harmonize, Duane Eddy plays guitar and Leon Russell adds piano. It's a beautiful convergence of the generations touched by Clement's work.

The space left behind by an intrepid spirit like "Cowboy" Jack Clement can never be filled. For Once and for All evokes a wistful feeling about his loss, but like the trains he loved and chronicled, Clement's place in history is secured in song.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

This is the famous Mariachi horn section form Johnny Cash's hit song "Ring of Fire." It was arranged by a producer and songwriter who went by the name Cowboy Jack Clement. He's best known for his work at Sun Studios in Memphis. But in a career that spanned six decades Clement only recorded three albums of his own. He had just completed his final project before his death last year at age 82. The album is titled "For Once And For All." Meredith Ochs has this review.

MEREDITH OCHS, BYLINE: Jack Clement's nickname, Cowboy, came from a radio show he was part of in the early 1960s. It had nothing to do with horses or boots but it happened to fit his maverick approach to work. Clement did what he wanted, writing, producing, running his own recording studio, even making movies. He was a visionary and a catalyst who always knew how to match artists with the right material.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHE'S JUST A GIRL I USED TO KNOW")

COWBOY JACK CLEMENT: (Singing) There's a picture that I carry.

OCHS: When he gave this song to George Jones in 1962 it was a hit. On his new album Clement reclaims the song and makes it his own.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHE'S JUST A GIRL I USED TO KNOW")

CLEMENT: (Singing) If they ask, who's in the picture with me. I'll say just a girl I use to know.

OCHS: Cowboy Jack Clement was humbly philosophical and deeply funny. He embraced traditional country themes like trains and love gone wrong but he also wrote songs like, "Flushed From The Bathroom Of Your Heart," "Dirty Old Egg suckin' Dog" and this one.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE AIR CONDITIONER SONG")

CLEMENT: (Singing) Now I have no desire, to perspire

OCHS: Extensible about an air-conditioner but really about the magic you might find in the world if you let go of a modern convenience for a while.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE AIR CONDITIONER SONG")

CLEMENT: (Singing) But the gentle breeze brought sweet dream of sweethearts that I never saw. Who sang, you are my sunshine, on Newport, Arkansas.

OCHS: Cowboy Jack Clement wrote hundreds of songs and they've been recorded by hundreds of artists who worked with him or were inspired by him. So, it's fitting that on his latest album he revisits material he wrote decades ago and calls in a host of friends to play along.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOT LEAVING ON HER MIND")

CLEMENT: (Singing) She don't hold and kiss me like she did one time, I think my sweet baby got leavin' on her mind.

OCHS: On this track country singer, Dierks Bentley and The Secret Sisters harmonize, Duane Eddy plays guitar and Leon Russell adds piano. It's a beautiful convergence of the generations touched by Clements work.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOT LEAVING ON HER MIND")

CLEMENT: (Singing) The stronger I hold her the farther apart. My darling is growing from me. Danger of my darling breaking my heart is fast moving in on me.

OCHS: The space left behind by an intrepid spirit like cowboy Jack Clement can never be filled. This album invokes a wistful feeling about his loss. But like the trains he loved and wrote about Clements place in history is secured in song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'VE GOT A THING ABOUT TRAINS")

CLEMENT: (Singing) I get a sad kind of feeling.

SHAPIRO: Meredith Ochs is a talk show host and DJ at SiriusXM Radio. She reviewed "For Once And For All" by the late cowboy Jack Clement. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.