Should be a fun one tomorrow night at Joe’s Pub when 80 years young “Cowboy” Jack Clement takes the stage. Country music’s legendary singer-songwriter-producer, who will also sit in tonight at Broadway’s Million Dollar Quartet musical, will be backed by New York’s own Laura Cantrell and her band, and is bound to do plenty of the classic songs he’s written, arranged, played on, published and/or produced, including his Johnny Cash hits “Ballad Of A Teenage Queen” and “Guess Things Happen That Way.”
And speaking of Million Dollar Quartet, that historic 1956 recording session at Sun Records in Memphis with Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash exists on tape because he flicked the switch.
“I’m the one who turned on the tape machine!” says Clement, who continues to record out of his studios in Nashville, and hosts a show on Sirius XM satellite radio’s Outlaw Country channel.
“I was doing a Carl Perkins session,” continues Clement. “Jerry Lee Lewis had been around only a month or so and I liked his piano playing and talked Carl and Sam [Sun owner Sam Phillips] into letting him play on Carl’s hit ‘Matchbox.’ Cash was there because Carl invited him. I was just about to quit when Elvis walked in with a couple girls.”
Phillips had gone to the store, says Clement.
“He came back and saw us jamming,” he recalls, “and I turned up a couple knobs and stood up and said I’d be remiss if I didn’t record, and stuck a tape in and moved a couple mics and let it go for about an hour and a-half.”
The result, he says, was “a lot of fun. They did some gospel songs and told stories, and no one paid attention to the tapes. I don’t know if Sam listened to them. Then a couple years later someone bootlegged them, and then they were actually released–and now there’s a Broadway show!”
Besides his New York trip, Clement is working on a second album with North Carolina’s progressive folk/bluegrass group Marley’s Ghost, and working on a new album of his own to be released, he says, “sometime in this century.”
Asked how it feels to be so busy at 80, the ageless Clement says, “I can’t tell much difference.” Then again, the man who’s worked with artists also including the likes of Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, U2, Louis Armstrong, Paul McCartney, Ivory Joe Hunter, George Jones, Roy Orbison, Guy Clark and Nanci Griffith, likes to say things like, “remember, we’re in the fun business, and if we’re not having fun, we’re not doing our job.”
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