Sad news this weekend that legendary country and rock ‘n’ roll producer and songwriter Cowboy Jack Clement’s Nashville home and studio — The Cowboy Arms Hotel and Recording Spa — was badly damaged in a fire. We’re pleased to hear, according to the Tennessean, that Cowboy, his girlfriend Aleene and others escaped unharmed, along with Cowboy’s three cats and his vintage guitars, including a Gibson J200 that he bought in 1951. The guitar has special significance: it was scratched by Elvis’ belt buckle .
Cowboy’s role in the early history of rock ‘n’ roll and country music is mythical. He’s a Nashville and National treasure in our books — literally, check out James Dickerson’s Goin’ Back to Memphis for a good summation of his career highlights.
Cowboy is also a friend of the station, and we’ve had the great opportunity to partner with him on a couple of events surrounding Robert Gordon’s documentary Shakespeare Was a Big George Jones Fan: Cowboy Jack Clement’s Home Movies. In 2007, we screened the documentary at the Belcourt before its broadcast, and had Jack and Gordon join us for a Q&A. Also in attendance were John Prine and Hal Ketchum and many of Cowboy’s other friends.
NPT represented the documentary for national distribution, and Cowboy joined us in Studio B for a special membership drive screening and broadcast premiere of the documentary. I got the chance to ask him a few questions about his life and career. It was a highlight of my own career here at NPT.
There was an even bigger highlight, though, when it came to Cowboy and those events. At our Belcourt screening, Cowboy’s friend C.J. Flanagan took several photos that I hoped to get copies of to share on the blog. I received a call a few days later from Chance Martin that the pictures were on a disc, and they could either be mailed or picked up at Cowboy’s house. Of course, there was only one option. So I grabbed NPT Vice President Daniel Tidwell and said, “Let’s take a ride.” The hope was that maybe Cowboy would be home, and we’d get a short tour.
Chance met at us at the door with the disc, and then went and got Cowboy so we could say hello. And that’s when the magic happened. I’d heard about Cowboy’s hospitality, and immediately, he welcomed us into his home. He gave us a tour of the studio, where he not only produces music, but videos as well. He got his cat to do tricks for us. He danced for us (he’s an Arthur Murray dance instructor). He took us into his office and played us some amazing performance videos from his archives, including a few numbers that he sang at a tribute to Eddy Arnold at the Country Music Hall of Fame. And when we didn’t think it could get any better, Cowboy played us an unreleased recording of a duets record he did with Louis Armstrong. We spent hours that afternoon in Cowboy’s presence, being entertained and regaled by his stories. I wasn’t sure I could love Nashville anymore than I already did, but that afternoon sealed the deal for me.
It’s not often you get to spend a few hours with rock ‘n’ roll history, and I felt very lucky. But I also felt grateful just to be in the presence of someone as kind, and with a heart as big, as Cowboy. Rock ‘n’ roll history or not. I will never forget his hospitality that day.
Here’s to hoping you get through this OK, Cowboy. All of us at NPT are thinking about you.