(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
In his new home movies DVD, Shakespeare Was a Big George Jones Fan, Cowboy Jack Clement lists his Top 10 songwriting tips: Remember that experts are often wrong. Experts tend to be narrow and overly opinionated. Experts don’t buy records. There’s nothing wrong with waltzes if they’re played right. A good song gets better with age. Reveal some of yourself with most of your songs. Don’t get stuck on one song too long. Work on other songs as you go. Learn to grow from setbacks, delays and getting your feelings hurt. Write the worst song you can think of. Write the best song you can think of.
Before I try to illustrate some of those with examples from Shakespeare Was …, let me tell the uninitiated a little about one of Nashville’s most unique talents.
You have to start by asking what he has not done. And I can’t think of much off the bat here. The guy has been around the block several times, I mean to say, and has pretty much done it all and seen it all. Been a U.S. Marine, an Arthur Murray dance instructor, the first staff producer-engineer at Sun Records in its golden era, producer of Johnny Cash and Charley Pride and Waylon Jennings and U2 among many others, Nashville’s video pioneer, writer of such hits as “Guess Things Happen That Way,” song publisher, studio builder and owner, and horror film producer. Basically, he’s been Nashville’s ringmaster for decades.
Shakespeare Was a Big George Jones Fan is a collection of many Clement video ventures over the years, and some highly entertaining ones they are. If you’ve never seen Johnny Cash getting comfortable with the gravesite of his father-in-law, the patriarch of the first family of country music, A.P. Carter, then you’re in for a treat. Likewise if you’ve never seen Bono’s portrayal of the Godfather, or Kris Kristofferson waxing poetic about what Clement means to country music and to Nashville.
Clement’s 10 Songwriting Tips:
Remember that experts are often wrong.
When Cowboy met Jerry Lee Lewis at Sun Records in the ’50s, the latter was trying to sing George Jones songs. Cowboy told him country wasn’t selling and that he needed to learn some rock and roll. It worked.
Experts tend to be narrow and opinionated.
“We’re in the fun business. If we’re not having fun, we’re not doing our jobs,” he tells Shakespeare in one of their discussions after telling him that “To Be or Not to Be” is “too morbid.”
Experts don’t buy records.
Listen to Clement’s eloquent discourse on the need for freedom in order to make music. As one of his musical collaborators observes, “If it’s totally out of control, then he’s in hog heaven.”
There’s nothing wrong with waltzes if they’re played right.
Or with polkas. Cowboy loves a good polka. Frankie Yankovic makes a memorable appearance in the home movies.
A good song gets better with age.
Listen today to “Guess Things Happen That Way.”
Reveal some of yourself with most of your songs.
“Let’s All Help the Cowboy Sing the Blues” reveals more about Clement than he perhaps intended. He tries to dismiss the song as “my commercial,” saying when he went on tour with Waylon the song got him lots of women. But it remains a lovely song.
Don’t get stuck on one song too long. Work on other songs as you go.
Cowboy has been singing and perfecting and recording the song “Brazil” for decades.
Learn to grow from setbacks, delays and getting your feelings hurt.
The list of Cowboy’s unfinished projects is a long and very expensive one. His horror movie, Dear Dead Delilah, set him back millions.
Write the worst song you can think of.
“Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart.” Although, depending on who sings it, and where and when you hear it, it can be a strangely endearing song. Cowboy sang it well and so did Cash. “Dirty Old Egg-Sucking Dog” is even better.
Write the best song you can think of.
Listen to “Just Some Girl I Used to Know” which Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner made famous as “Just Someone I Used to Know.” They sing it beautifully to Cowboy at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.