In 2019, the Willard and Pat Walker Charitable Foundation acquired Cowboy Jack Clement’s 1950s Gibson SJ-200 for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s permanent collection. During this ceremony, the Museum celebrates the acquisition with the help of Clement’s friends Charley Pride, John Prine, Crystal Gayle, and Shawn Camp, who all perform his songs.
A producer and engineer at Sun Records in the years that gave rise to rock & roll, Country Music Hall of Fame member Clement was the first person to record Jerry Lee Lewis. He helped bring Charley Pride to prominence in the mid-1960s. He helped bring Don Williams to prominence in the 1970s. He wrote songs recorded by Lewis, Pride, Bobby Bare, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Waylon Jennings, Dolly Parton, Porter Wagoner, and many more. He produced Waylon Jennings’s “Dreaming My Dreams,” helped lay the groundwork for Americana music, and worked with talents as disparate and remarkable as Louis Armstrong, John Prine, and rock band U2.
Clement’s constant companion through all of that work was this Gibson guitar, a sunburst beauty that was among the most played in Nashville history, as it hung behind Clement’s desk at his Cowboy Arms Hotel and Recording Spa, appearing on hundreds of recording sessions. Clement and his famous pals would pass the guitar around, playing songs and making significant mischief—a scene seen in the video that opens this donation ceremony.
The ceremony continues with tributes from Museum CEO Kyle Young, from Clement’s daughter, Alison Clement, and from Walker Charitable Foundation executive director and vice-chairman Mandy Macke.
Pride—whose Country Music Hall of Fame career began when Clement took him to RCA Studio B to record songs that led to a major-label contract—rises to sing the Clement-penned “Just Between You and Me,” accompanied by Lloyd Green, who played steel guitar on Pride’s original recording. David Ferguson leads a band that includes Green, guitarist Billy Sanford, bass player Dave Roe, drummer Pete Abbott, keyboardist Michael Rojas, and acoustic guitarist Shawn Camp (whom Clement dubbed “Boy Wonder”).
With the band, Camp performs “Gone Girl,” and Crystal Gayle (whose classic recordings were produced by Cowboy acolyte Allen Reynolds) sings the poignant “When I Dream.”
The ceremony’s emotional highlight comes as Clement’s old Gibson is reunited with good buddy John Prine, and Prine performs a solo-acoustic version of Clement’s “Ballad of a Teenage Queen,” a 1950s hit for Johnny Cash. Prine explains that Clement told him that Sun Records was the real “candy store” in the song, and that Cowboy was the “boy next door.” This is Prine’s final appearance at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. He was slated to be the Museum’s artist-in-residence in 2020, but died from COVID-19 on April 7, 2020.
At song’s end, Prine lifts the Gibson and shouts into the sound hole, “Hey Cowboy, I love you!”
Learn more about the Museum’s collection: https://countrymusichalloffame.org/collections/
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