- ''STEEL GUITAR RAG'' -
Johnny Cash & Jack Clement
From the documentary
"Shakespeare Was A Big George Jones Fan''
Cowboy Jack Clement's Home Movie
JOHNNY CASH - Country singer, guitarist, and songwriter, was born in the remote
rural settlement of Kingsland, Arkansas, on February 26, 1932. His birthplace was almost directly across the Mississippi from Lake County, Tennessee, where
Carl Perkins was born six weeks later. Cash is the father of singer Rosanne Cash (1955), as well as the father-in-law of singer Rodney Crowell. Cash was born John Ray Cash, and it was only
when he joined the U.S. Air Force that he was given the name Johnny.
In the mid-1940s Cash started work in the fields, habitually listening to Smilin' Eddie Hill on WMPS, Memphis, during the midday break. Hill's "High Noon Roundup" show featured the cream of the local hillbilly talent. Unlike almost all of his later Sun colleagues, Johnny Cash grew up without the influence of black music: his parents had settled on a government
colony in Dyess when he was three years old, from which blacks were specifically excluded. His parents kept the radio tuned to the hillbilly stations, and when Cash went into Dyess with a few nickels to put in the jukebox, it was Roy Acuff and Ernest Tubb that he wanted to hear.
When Cash's voice broke, he realized that he owned something that might get him out of Dyess. He practised at every opportunity, singing in school and at home. Yet when he left tow, it was not to become a hillbilly
singer but to work in the auto plants in Pontiac, Michigan. Like many others who took that route, Cash returned home, although he made his return somewhat sooner than most - after three weeks. Still determined to get out of Dyess, he joined the Air Force on July
By his own account, Cash's 'four long, miserable years' in the Air Force were
relieved only by playing music with fellow southerners. While stationed in Germany, they formed a group called the Landsberg Barbarians, and Johnny Cash started writing material for them - including the quintessential lament of the homesick southerner,
"Hey! Porter", which was published as a poem in the servicemen's magazine Stars & Stripes.
Before leaving for overseas duty, Johnny Cash had gone roller-skating in San Antonio, Texas. On the rink, he crashed into Vivian Liberto, then seventeen years old
and in her last year of high school. They dated during his last weeks in the States and wrote to each other constantly while he was overseas. John and Vivian decided to get married after he returned.
Cash probably harboured the dream of being able to make money playing music, but up to that point his largest audience had been a gathering of a few dozen Italians who had listened to the
Landsberg Barbarians on a drunken furlough in Venice.
July 3, 1954, Johnny Cash left the U.S. Air Force. On August 7 he married Vivian Dorraine Liberto, and they set up home on Tutwiler Avenue in Memphis. Cash's older brother Roy had found him a job selling appliances for the Home Equipment Company, but Cash was, by his own admission. Cash's trips into the black neighborhoods of Memphis gave him his first exposure to black music. Trying to break into music any way he could, Cash auditioned for a job as a radio announcer at a station in Corinth, Mississippi,
but was turned down because of lack of experience.
Taking advantage of the G.I. Bill, Cash enroled at the Keegan School of Broadcast in Memphis. Attending on a part-time basis, he had completed half of the course by the time his first Sun record was released in 1954 with
the Tennessee Two (Luther Perkins and Marshall Grant).
A few days after getting out of the service, Johnny Cash visited his brother in Memphis. Roy Cash had forsaken a musical career and was working at the Hoehn Chevrolet dealership
on Union Avenue. He introduced his younger brother to three mechanics who played together at home, at small benefit concerts, and on Sunday morning radio. Marshall Grant was twenty-six years
old, sang tenor, and played guitar. Luther Monroe Perkins, also twenty-six, played guitar as well. A.W. "Red" Kernodle, ten years older than Perkins and Grant, played steel guitar.
For all his musical shortcomings, it was Luther Perkins who developed the guitar sound that complemented Cash's stark baritone. Perkins was born in Memphis on January 8, 1928. His father drove a taxi at the time,
but soon returned to farming in Mississippi. The Perkins family, including Thomas Wayne (Perkins), who later scored a hit with "Tragedy", grew up in Sardis and Como. "Finally, one day, we decided that we were ready for a shot at the record business", recalled Cash.
"I had met Elvis Presley's
guitarist, Scotty Moore, and I called him and asked him about the possibility of getting an audition with Sun". Moore probably told Cash that the best approach was simply go to the studio. It was an approach that had worked for Presley.
In an interview with Peter Guralnick, Cash described how he came to audition. "Sun Records was between my house and the radio announcing school. I just started going by there and every day "'d ask: Could I see
Mr. Phillips. And they'd say, 'He's not in yet', or 'He's at a meeting'. So really it became a challenge to me just to get inside that studio. Finally, one day I was sitting on the stoop just as he came to work and I stood up and said, 'I'm John Cash and I want you to
hear me play'. He said, 'Well, come on in'. I sang two or three hours for him. Everything I knew - Hank Snow, Ernest Tubb, Flatt and Scruggs... I even sang "I'll Take You Home Again Kathleen".
had to fight and call and keep at it and push, push, push to even get into Sun Records. I don't feel like anyone discovered me because I had to fight so hard to get heard".
Phillips liked what he heard and invited Cash to return with his group. "When they came in", recalled Sam Phillips, "Cash apologized to me for not having a professional band but I said that he should let me hear what they
could do and I would be able to tell whether they had a style I would be able to work with. At that first audition I was immediately impressed with John's unusual voice. I was also interested in Luther's guitar playing. He wasn't a wizard on the guitar. He played one string at a
time and he wasn't super good - but he was different,
and that was important".
"Their material was all religious at that time. Songs which Cash had composed. I liked them, but I told him
that I would not at that time be able to merchandize him as a religious artist and that it would be well if he could secure some other material or write some other songs. I told him that I was real pleased with the sound we were getting from just the three instruments. If I'm mot
mistaken, I think it was the third occasion in the studio that I actually commenced seriously to get Johnny Cash down on tape. He continued to be very apologetic about his band. However, I told him that I did not want to use any other instrumentation because
of the unique style they had. They would practice a lot, but I told them not to be overly prepared because I was interested in spontaneity too".
"Sam Phillips had a vision", confirmed
Cash in an interview with Bill Flanagan. "Nashville in 1955 was grinding out all these country records. If you took the voice off, all the tracks sounded the same to me... All the arrangements were calculated and predictable. It's kinda that way with my music - but (at least)
it's my music. It's not done to try and sound like someone else in Nashville".
According to Marshall Grant, Red Kernodle came to the first session, froze and went back to his day job. According
to Kernodle, he played the first session and then quit. "There was no money in it", he recalled with little apparent regret, "and there was getting to be too much staying up late at night and running around". It is probably that his halting attempts at playing the steel guitar can be
heard on an early version of "Wide Open Road". If so, his disappearance was no great loss. Luther Perkins' oldest daughter, Linda, recalled that Kernodle's wife had threatened to leave if he concentrated upon music. He also held a better paying job than the other members
of the group which he was unwilling to jeopardize. His disappearance was viewed with some relief by the others.
Needing some secular material in a hurry, Cash resuscitated "Hey! Porter" and previewed "Folsom Prison Blues" - a song based closely on a Gordon Jenkins tune, "Cresent City Blues", which formed a segment of a 1953 concept album
called "Seven Dreams". Both the melody and finally dawned upon Jenkins after Cash re-recorded the song for his hugely successful prison album in 1968. Cash's earliest version of "Folsom Prison Blues" were delivered in a curiously high pitched voice, although
those early takes show that Luther Perkins had already worked out his guitar solo that would later become a model of minimalist country picking. However, Sam Phillips did not want to couple "Folsom Prison Blues" with "Hey! Porter" for the first record.
The essential elements of Cash's music were in place from the start. The stark, lonesome vocals were front and centre, with Luther doing little more than keeping time - even during his solo. Where most guitarists relish
the opportunity to solo, Luther seemed to dread it. The fear of failure - messing up an otherwise good take - seemed to haunt him every time he entered the studio during the early days.
his part, Sam Phillips challenged the established precepts of recording balance, placing Cash's vocals more assertively in the mix than had ever been the case in country
music. Phillips fattened the sounds of the vocals and the rhythm track with carefully timed slapback
echo that gave a compelling syncopation to some of the faster numbers.
a number of hit records for Sun, including "I Walk The Line" (SUN 241), "Folsom Prison Blues" (SUN 232), and "Ballad Of A Teenage Queen" (SUN 283). His first major public appearance after singing with Sun Records was at the Overton Park Shell in Memphis on August 5, 1955. Elvis Presley
was also on the bill. Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Elvis Presley toured together on the Jamboree tour from Abilene, Texas, to St. Louis, for two weeks in October 1955.
became one of the participants in the famed Million-Dollar Quartet session. Years later he filed a lawsuit to try to prohibit the session's release on record. Cash left Sun Records in 1958 to record for Columbia Records. Berely two weeks after his last Sun session, Johnny Cash was in Nashville
cutting his first Columbia session. Without Sam Phillips second-guessing the repertoire, cash was able to record a selection of religious or quasi-religious material. The first Columbia album, The Fabulous Johnny Cash, was released in time for the Disc Jockey Convention
in the middle of November 1958.
On December 12, 1958 Johnny and Vivian Cash hosted
a housewarming party in Encino, California. Cash's life - both inside and outside music - would acquire some new dimension as the '50s gave way to the '60s. At times he seemed to be the most focussed artist in country music, recording concept albums,
and bringing a variety to his bare-bones sound that Sam Phillips never envisaged. At other times Cash seemed - like Hank Williams - to be heading ninety miles down a dead-end street.
a live concert at the International Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada, in August 1969, Elvis Presley jokingly introduced himself by saying, "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash", before singing "Folsom Prison Blues" and "I Walk The Line".
Sun recordings maximized the effective contrast between the hustling rhythm of the bass/acoustic guitar and the enigmatically ponderous vocals and sparse lead guitar.
Phillips' achievement was to keep Cash's sound at its bare essentials and then fatten it up with the use of tape delay echo. Subsequent producers and engineers could never quite recapture Phillips' formula. At Columbia, Cash's little trio was placed
in the cavernous Bradley's studio where the sound leaped around, giving a cavernous echo where Phillips had imparted a tightly focussed slapback. The difference was especially evident on Cash's vocals. The repertoire was as strong, the backings were still commendably
simple - but the booming assertive presence was partially lost in the swampy echo.
The ultimate judgement on Cash - at Sun and Columbia - though, is that the whole represented much more than
the sum of the parts. Cash's limited vocals, Luther Perkins' bare-bones picking and Marshall Grant's bass playing jelled magically to produce a unique and compelling blend, one of the most original, innovative and immediately recognisable sounds in country music.
The late career regeneration was ongoing. The last album released during Cash's lifetime, ''American IV:
The Man Comes Around'', was a fitting epitaph, and the video accompanying his version of Trent Rezner's ''Hurt'' might well be the most moving music video ever made. It was life laid bare.
Johnny Cash Lived to be seventy-one, although he looked and sounded considerably older toward the end. Parkinson's disease, diabetes, glaucoma, and respiratory problems took a terrible toll. After
his second wife, June Carter Cash, died on Mat 15, 2003, many believed that John would not last long, and he did not. The end came on September 12, 2003 and Johnny Cash
dies at the Shy- Drager Syndrome of the age of 71 in the Baptist Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee. He'd
been to the brink so often, but lacked the strength for more fight. It had been nearly fifty years since Sam Phillips captured the surprisingly confident opening notes of ''Wide Open Road''. (CE)(MH)
JACK CLEMENT –
Is one of the few people associated with Sun Records who are more famous for what they did after the Sun years than during the heyday of rockabilly. Clement is a highly talented record producer, musician, occasional recording artist and genuine 'character', known as ''the minstrel'' or ''cowboy''. Clement had made his name largely in
country music, discovering Charley Pride and Don Williams and delivering their music to a world audience. Clement played on important but subordinate role at Sun between 1956 and 1958 as songwriter, studio engineer and musical catalyst.
Through this time, he was constantly
at odds with Sam Phillips about wanting to develop the Sun sound, to make it more musical. It is entirely possible that Johnny cash would not have broken into the pop
market in such a big way without Jack Clement.
Born as Jack Henderson Clement on April 5, 1931 in Memphis, Tennessee, raised and educated in Memphis, Jack Clement was performing at an early age. Clement lived there until 1948 when he signed up for a year stint in the U.S, Marines. At home he'd loved
music of all kinds but especially the radio broadcasts of Roy Acuff and Merle Travis. The guitar wizardry of Travis taught him that music cold be either simple or complicated
but that it had to be good. He would never tolerate second-raters even when recording the simplest of three-chord rockers. He couldn't get to see Merle Travis perform, but he did go down to Smilin' Eddie Hill's ''High Noon Roundup'' show which took place
every day in a Memphis department store window and went out over radio WMC. He would join the crowd around the store and listen to Hill, Harmonica Frank, Slim Rhodes,
Wayne Raney and the Delmore Brothers, and especially to the Louvin Brothers' light harmonies and plaintive hillcountry songs. The Marine base where Clement was stationed was just outside Washington, D.C., and here in 1948 he was first exposed to bluegrass music.
''That was when I fell in love with the five-string banjo'', he recalled, ''and I just had to get one and practice on it straight away''. Soon, he was proficient enough
to play duets with Roy Clark, later a country superstar but then a resident artist at a Washington club called ''The Famous''. On Saturday nights, he would travel down to Maryland with Scotty Stoneman's band. Scotty was the mainstay of the popular Stonemans. He
played fiddle, with mandolin, banjo and bass support from Jack Clement, Buzz Busby and Jimmy Stoneman. The group was completed by Ralph Jones on dobro and Clement recalls Jones being one of the finest oldtime country musicians he ever knew. In 1952, Jack returned briefly to Memphis.
Soon, he was off to Wheeling, West Virginia with Buzz Busby doing, ''a bluegrass comedy duet thing, kinda like Homer & Jethro''. Also at that time Jack played in Baltimore
and Boston and he made his first record in 1953, for the Sheraton label in Boston, Massachusetts. ''This was in 1953. We had been playing a radio show in Baltimore when Aubrey Mayhew, who managed Hawkshaw Hawkins, asked us to do a show in his WCOP Hayloft
Jamboree in Boston. While we were doing that James Daliano, a famous french horn player, came in and said he wanted to record us for his Sheraton label. Daliano was the
owner but he let Aubrey run the label. We recorded my first two published songs, ''I can't Say Nothing At All'' and ''I Think I'll Write A Song''. They were by Buzz and Jack, and we did them in the style of Webb Pierce''.
Sheraton Records only distributed locally in the north-east, so nothing came of this development and Jack got tried of the duo. Being a developing ''crazy'', he went off to join an Hawaiian band in Washington. He then wound up back to Memphis in
1954. That year he answered an advert for training dance instructors and he became an employee of the Arthur Murray School of Dancing on Main Street and to study English
at the Memphis State University from 1953 to 1955.
On evenings and weekends, Jack Clement shows with a western-swing influenced country band run by a pal of his, truck driver Slim Wallace. Wallace's Dixie Ramblers played a regular spot at a club in Paragould, Arkansas, and while returning one night Jack and
Slim plotted their entry into the record business. Slim put up most of the 450 dollars they needed to buy an old Magnecord tape deck from disc jockey Sleepy Eyed John, and Jack built himself a studio in Slim's garage. The garage was on Fernwood Drive, so the label was to be called Fernwood
The first Fernwood
disc does not exist. It was to be ''Trouble Bound'' and ''Rock With Me Baby'' by Arkansas wild man Billy Riley. After working on the songs, Jack Clement needed somewhere
to have his tapes mastered for transfer to disc. On the advice of Bill Fitzgerald at Music Sales Distributors, Jack went to Sun Records. Sam Phillips reward Clement's tape of Riley singing ''Trouble Bound'' and offered both Jack and Billy Riley a job. Clement
joined Sun on June 15, 1956. His only remaining interest in Fernwood was to use Sun's facilities to make masters, and to add the echo to the number one hit ''Tragedy''
by Thomas Wayne. This had been recorded at Hi Records since the garage studio was still incomplete. ''Sam Phillips always wondered how they got that echo'', says Jack with a grin, ''but I figured it didn't take but a few minutes so why should I tell
On the question of
whether Sam Phillips really controlled the development of the Sun sound, whether he was ''the man'' or just lucky, Jack Clement is in no doubt. ''All of Sam's early success
was entirely Sam's. Elvis, Carl, Cash. My work was with developing Cash's sound, and with Bill Justis and Charlie Rich. I was into making things musical. Sam was not, but he understood one thing that I didn't at that time. He understood ''feel in music''.
I was interest in machines and the way recordings would be better. Sam liked empty, hollow, tubby sounds, but he knew a thing or two I didn't. He let me do that I liked, but
he retained ultimate control of what was issued. The first time Same gave me an artist to work with, it was Roy Orbison. I recorded ''Rockhouse'' with Roy and it was good. But Roy was not into what the Sun studio was capable of back then''. Jack spent many
hours working with several artists that he particularly liked. He began to recall them with obvious pleasure. ''Cash. Sam gave me Johnny Cash from ''Home Of The Blues''
onwards. Sonny Burgess. He was a fine artist but he didn't really fit into a groove, same with Conway Twitty who never made anything that sounded much like a record. Then Ernie Chaffin and Mack Self, these were excellent country singers''. In Jack Clement's
view, Sun was not making records quite ''musically'' enough. He was responsible for getting Cash into the pop market and for trying a range of experiments with vocal backings and
steel guitar sound. What he did like at Sun was firstly the depth of talented artists, and secondly the relaxed atmosphere. He could do what he liked; work all night on a session, write songs in Taylor's cafe next door, like Cash's ''Guess Things Happen
That Way'', or even build a bathroom in the control room. He once told Sam he could built an office for promotion girl Barbara Barnes for a hundred dollars. So he canceled
sessions and set to with the woodwork. He also spent time helping to master recordings for his buddies on rival labels, and on developing his own musical sound as a performer.
The Jack Clement sound was country, but it was not Sun sound. It was acoustic, with ringing tones instead of the
muddy Cash bass sounds. It was worked out with the help of Clement's buddy, Jimmy C. Wilson, Jack says, ''Wilson was nearly as crazy as me. He was a bit of a nut. He lived
in rooms above Taylor's and he was a great player if he was in the mood. He had a pet coon which he used to bring in and cain to the piano. He used to dismantle and rebuild old guns up in his room and he set fire to the place one time. After that he loosed off a rocket, a home-made
thing, up there and they threw him out. He went to California and married Nudie the tailor's daughter''. In February 1957, Clement and Wilson, plus coon, took off for
the RCA Studios in Nashville. They hired bass player Bob Moore and recorded for songs. ''Ten Years'' was the major contender, a light, pleasant country balled with an epic story song feel to it. It's the Jack Clement style, and it was repeated in October when Jack
recreated the sound at Sun on ''Black Haired Man''. This was a fast, rhythmic development of the cash beat, a gunfighter balled of real class and a fairly successful record.
The flip ''Wrong'', is light singalong country pop with a prominent acoustic guitar from Jack.
There, Clement worked with future stars such as Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. But most importantly, he discovered and recorded Jerry Lee Lewis while Sam Phillips was away on a trip to Florida, one of those recordings,
"Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On'', was selected in 2005 for permanent preservation in the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress. In 1957, Clement wrote
the song "Ballad Of A Teenage Queen" that became a crossover hit for Johnny Cash. Other Cash hits written by Clement included "Guess Things Happen That Way", which was number 1 country and number 11 pop in 1958, and the humorous "The One On The Right Is On The Left",
which was a number 2 country and number 46 pop hit in 1966. Clement performed "Guess Things Happen That Way" on the Johnny Cash Memorial Tribute show on CMT in November 2003.
Leaving Sun Records early in 1959 with his part in a string of million-selling productions behind him, Jack Clement used the proceeds of his
song copyrights to buy equipment and to set up Summer Records on Main Street in Memphis. Apart from an atrocious novelty called ''Motorcycle Michael'', Summer bombed.
Clement kept busy, though, fooling around with productions for Pepper Records (including his own song, ''Return Of A Teenage Queen''), Hi Records (Tommy Tucker's ''Miller's Cave'') and for Echo Records, which he formed with Stan Kesler and Clyde Leoppard
and for which he built a studio on Manassas Avenue. In the fall of 1959 Jack Clement had blown all his money and, in his words, ''decided I had to do some work''. He called Chet Atkins in Nashville and was hired as junior producer for RCA, then the most important label in the industry.
After Clement's first stint in Nashville, he went
to Beaumont, Texas, to work with music publisher Bill Hall. While there, he pitched ''She Thinks I Still Care'' to George Jones and arranged ''Ring Of Fire'' for Johnny Cash. In 1965, he returned to Nashville, and went on to become a significant figure in the Nashville music business, establishing
a publishing business, and his own recording studio, making records for stars such as Ray Stevens and his biggest coup Charley Pride, but he also signed Townes Van Zandt,
the Stonemans, and several others left-of-center country artists. With Charley Pride money, he built a studio on Belmont Boulevard next to Shelby Singleton's reconstituted Sun Records before moving a few blocks south
In 1971, he co-founded the J-M-I Record Company, he signed Don Williams to his label, but felt betrayed when Williams wriggled out of the deal to sign with ABC. From the 1970s onward, Jack Clement newly named Cowboy Arms Hotel and Recording Spa became Nashville's
ground zero for off-kilter country.
Clement wrote a number of highly successful songs that have been recorded by singing stars such as Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Ray Charles, Carl Perkins, Bobby Bare, Elvis
Presley, Jim Reeves, Jerry Lee Lewis, Cliff Richard, Charley Pride, Tom Jones, Dickey Lee and Hank Snow. He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1973. He also produced albums by Townes Van Zandt and Waylon Jennings.
Clement was involved in a few film projects as
a singer or songwriter on soundtracks, and produced the 1975 horror film Dear Dead Delilah that marked the last film performance by actress Agnes Moorehead. In 1987 Clement was approached by U2 to record at legendary Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee. He had never heard of U2 but took the session
based on the urging of someone else in his office. The result was a portion of the U2 album Rattle and Hum ("When Love Came To Town" with BB King, "Angel of Harlem" about Billie Holiday, and "Love Rescue Me" with backing vocals by Bob Dylan), as well as the Woody Guthrie song "Jesus Christ," which
appeared on 1988's "Folkways: A Vision Shared, A Tribute to Woody Guthrie & Leadbelly. Portions of the 2 sessions also appear in the film ''Rattle and Hum''.
In 2005, a documentary on Clement entitled Shakespeare
Was a Big George Jones Fan was created by Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville, pieced together from Clement's home videos and interviews with peers, including Jerry Lee Lewis and Bono. Clement currently hosts a weekly program on Sirius XM Satellite Radio's Outlaw country (channel
60) from 2pm to 6pm (Eastern) on Saturdays. Jack Clement has been inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and the Music City Walk of Fame.
On June 25, 2011, a fire destroyed Jack's home and studio
on Belmont Boulevard in Nashville. Jack was unhurt, but many priceless recordings and memorabilia were lost. Jack has two children. A daughter, Alison, also a singer and writer, and a son, Niles, an engineer and photographer. Alison Clement has a website also where you can read
about her experiences in the music business as the daughter of a renowned Legendary Sun Producer.
On the occasion of Sam Phillips' death, Jake Clement spoke movingly at the memorial service, barely
able to staunch tears as he recalled some of their late night telephone conversations.
On April 10, 2013 it was announced Jack Clement would be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. A virtual
jack of all trades in the entertainment businesss, Cowboy Jack Clement, 82, died Thursday August 8, 2013 at his Nashville home following a lengthy illness from liver cancer.
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