My second visit with Cowboy Jack
In my last post, I mentioned that I’d forgotten to take my camera when I visited Cowboy Jack Clement for the first time. If you missed that post, you can read it here: Meeting Cowboy Jack Clement
However, two days later, I’d arranged to meet my friend, Arlene Faith. Arlene had worked with Cowboy Jack a few years earlier when she was recording a country album of her own. She was only too happy to take me back to his home, as she said she’d love to see him again. So my return visit was arranged.
Arriving back at Cowboy Jack’s house, I was able to get all the photos that I wanted. Cowboy Jack kindly posed for me in his office, and members of his staff and other people there were quite happy to pose for me too. I took lots pictures that morning, though most that I took in his recording studio upstairs didn’t come out very well as the light was too low. I also got a few pictures of Jack’s yard, and of his swimming pool where he liked to swim regularly.
After getting my pictures, we went into the room next to Jack’s office. Sitting round the table, I spent time talking to other people there. I always jotted down the names of people I met and took photos of, as I knew that I’d forget many of their names otherwise. My memory for names has never been good. Jack’s son, Niles, was working in an adjoining room and I had a brief chat with him too.
Some of the other people I met there
Another person I met was Luke Chalk, one of Cowboy’s sound engineers. Luke had moved to Nashville from London, UK, a couple of years earlier. He worked alongside Brooks Watson, Jack’s senior engineer. Brooks was working in the studio that day, on the mixing desk. Chance Martin (a.k.a. Alamo Jones) was there again. Chance, who was my first contact there, was a long-time friend of both Cowboy Jack and of Johnny Cash. It was Johnny Cash who named Chance ‘The Voice in Black’. Chance took care of much of the photography and video work for Jack, as well as usually being the one to answer the phone.
Chance also co-hosted a weekly radio show with Cowboy Jack on XM/Sirius Outlaw Country up until Jack’s death. He continues the legacy with The Alamo Jones Show in that same time slot. Mary Todd was another stalwart who I met several times over the years. Her role was to keep all the Clement-Vision business accounts in order. I also met Cowboy’s partner, Aleene.
While we were chatting over drinks of Cowboy Jack’s lemonade, a girl known as C.J. (a.k.a. C.J.Flannigan) came by again. She, too, is a photographer and was also webmaster of the Clement Vision website. I’d first met her first on my visit two days earlier. That day, when she’d realised I didn’t have a car with me, she offered me a ride back to my hotel. That ride became a mini-tour, showing me the location of many of the recording studios and music landmarks in the Music Row area. However, with it being a pretty speedy tour, and everything being so new to me, I was only able to remember a few of the places she’d pointed out.
It’s a small world
During my visit in 2009, I met some more people at the Cowboy Arms Hotel and Recording Spa. This was the name Cowboy gave to his studios. Two people I particularly remember were Sunday Sharpe and Cley Reynolds, both singer/songwriters.
A couple of weeks later, back in Florida, I visited Jack and Misty’s home again, just before flying home. I showed them the photos that I’d taken and Misty was startled to see the picture of Sunday Sharpe. It turned out that they were old friends. She told me that she and Sunday used to go to the laundromat together when she and Jack lived in Nashville in the 70s. It turns out to be such a small world.
Introducing Jack & Misty to Cowboy Jack
Because of the number of times I visited Cowboy Jack, there are too many stories to fit them all in here. However, there was one special highlight during my 2011 visit.
I was travelling with Jack Blanchard & Misty Morgan this time. We’d been to visit their family in Celina, two hours drive north of Nashville. On our return journey, we spent a few days in Nashville.
In all the years Jack & Misty lived in Nashville, even though they were working in the same building as him, they had never actually met Cowboy Jack. Jack & Misty’s manager at the time was Cowboy’s partner, Bill Hall, but they had only ever seen Cowboy from a distance.
For some time I’d wanted them to be able to meet Cowboy. Now, at last, was my chance to get them together. I phoned Chance to arrange a suitable time to visit. Then I drove Jack & Misty down to Cowboy’s home. They had a long chat with him and, while we were there, Cowboy’s son, Niles, took this lovely photo of the three of them together.
A few days later I was also able to introduce Jack & Misty to the Americana duo, Eric Brace and Peter Cooper. I’d met Eric & Peter in Liverpool, UK, a couple of months earlier and I’d seen that they had a gig booked at The Basement on 8th Avenue South. So I took Jack & Misty along with me to meet them and we had a very enjoyable evening.
Cowboy Jack, the singer
Although Cowboy Jack was a good singer and musician, his main focus in life was his recording and publishing business. He never attempted to make a name for himself as a singer and he only recorded a handful of recordings of himself. The only time I heard him singing live was during this 2011 visit. He was performing at a charity event at the Belmont Theater, in Belcourt Avenue. Also with him were Riders in the Sky, Chuck Mead and the Belmont Bluegrass Choir from the University. Jack & Misty came to the theater with me to see him. I was so glad that I got the chance to hear him performing live at least once. Watching videos of him performing was never quite the same.
Although he did not record himself much, Cowboy Jack wrote numerous well known songs. These songs were recorded by many other people, including Johnny Cash. A huge number of well-known singers passed through his studios at one time or another. There are simply too many to list here. Think of any well-known artist and chances are that Cowboy had had a hand in recording at least some of their songs. So, apart from the songs he wrote, his main influence on the music industry was through his recording and production businesses. For more about his achievements see this obituary in the Guardian newspaper.
On 26th June 2011, Cowboy Jack’s house was badly damaged by fire. In one of the video clips shown on the news later that day, Cowboy Jack could be seen sitting on a lawn chair, in his bathrobe, watching the firemen tackling the blaze. The fire ripped through the upper floor, totally destroying the studios, along with most of the archived tapes of recordings made over the years. Fortunately, they did manage to rescue most of Jack’s guitars and other instruments, including his favourite guitar. There was only two or three people in the house at the time and no one was hurt. Even the cat was rescued.
Most of the damage on the first floor (ground floor) was water damage and his daughter, Alison, and friends had the huge task of laundering curtains and soft furnishings. The house was later re-built, restoring it pretty much as it had been before the fire. The work was overseen by Cowboy’s cousin, Bob Clement, who ensured that an excellent restoration job was done.
By the spring of 2012 the work was almost complete. I was in Nashville again that spring and was privileged to be one of the first people to set foot inside the house after it was rebuilt. All the structural work had been completed, but the studio equipment was still awaiting installation. An excellent job had been done and it looked little different than it had done before the fire, save for the new furnishings.
My last visit to the Cowboy Arms Hotel
Whenever I visited the Cowboy Arms Hotel and Recording Spa, I never knew who else I might meet there. It was like an open house and I remember once being told that anyone who visited regularly for three months or more was given a key to the door.
My last visit there was in May 2013. I’d known for some time that Cowboy Jack had cancer. I wasn’t even sure if I would see him that day, as he was sleeping in his bedroom when I arrived. I spent quite a long time talking with Chance Martin and Mary Todd, and with other people there. It was getting near the time I would have to leave, as Chance had an appointment elsewhere.
However, much to my delight, just before I was due to leave, Cowboy came through from his bedroom. He came over and gave me a big hug, and I wished him well. Then, who should follow him down the corridor, but Johnny Cash’s son, John Carter Cash. It was such a fleeting meeting with John that he may well have forgotten meeting me by now, but it’s lodged in my memory. If I ever meet him again, I will ask him if he remembers me. Sadly, Cowboy Jack died just two months after that visit.
Since Cowboy Jack’s death
I miss my visits to that house, but times move on. Since Cowboy Jack’s death, the house has been sold. The new owners wanted to continue Jack’s legacy, but came up against an obstacle. The house was in an area zoned as residential. They had to fight to get the house re-designated as an official Nashville Neighborhood Landmark. Without that designation, they would not have have been able to run a business from the house. Jack had been able to run his business there because he’d started it many years before these designations had been set. Fortunately, the new owners were successful with getting this re-designation. They have now moved in and music is being recorded there again. Cowboy Jack would have been very happy about that.