Cowboy Jack Clement | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Cowboy Jack Clement

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In 1954 Cowboy Jack Clement became a staff producer at Sun Records, recording Jerry Lee Lewis's epochal "Whole Lot of Shakin' Going On," along with a host of sides by the likes of Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, and Charlie Rich. But by 1959 he'd ditched Memphis for Nashville, working as songwriter and producer at RCA and mentoring a young Charley Pride; by the mid-70s he'd gone independent and worked with outlaws like Waylon Jennings. In all that time, though Clement recorded a few of his own songs, he never established himself as a performer in his own right. He didn't put out a full-length under his name until 1978, and it took him until 2004 to release a follow-up, Guess Things Happen That Way (Dualtone). On the latest album he performs some of the songs he wrote for others--the title track and "Ballad of a Teenage Queen" were both hits for Johnny Cash, who cameos on the new versions--and newer material like Peck Chandler's honky-tonk waltz "There Ain't a Tune" and his own sentimental ode "Trapped in an Old Country Song." Not everything on the album works--Clement's leaden phrasing sinks his take on the Stones chestnut "No Expectations," and he doesn't have the pipes for "It'll Be Me," which he wrote for Lewis. But the album's better moments exemplify the unique merger of romanticism and grit that marks his songwriting. Jon Langford opens this show, part of Robbie Fulks's "Secret Country" series. Sun 4/23, 7 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln, 773-728-6000 or 866-468-3401, $20, $16 seniors and kids. All ages.

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