VOL. 8 | NO. 25 | Saturday, June 13, 2015
Old-Time Country, Stones Intertwined
TIM GHIANNI | The Ledger correspondent
Joey, the CowPolka King, well remembers the times he would play acoustic bass, piano or his specialty – the accordion – and try to catch up after Cowboy Jack Clement launched into one of his favorite songs….
“Take me to the station and put me on a train, I’ve got no expectations to pass through here again,” Cowboy Jack would sing, as all varieties of poets and pickers joined in, filling the Cowboy Arms Hotel and Recording Spa on Belmont Boulevard with his version of one of The Rolling Stones’ most under-appreciated songs.
Cowboy Jack Clement, a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame who worked with artists from Johnny Cash to U2, treasured the Rolling Stones’ song, “No Expectations.’
“No Expectations” is a country-styled lament fashioned by The Glimmer Twins – Mick Jagger and Keith Richards – on their masterful “Beggars Banquet’’ album.
Don’t expect to hear it, at least not Cowboy Jack-style, when Jagger, Richards, Charlie Watts and Ronnie Wood climb onto what will no doubt be a super-spectacular stage planted someplace in LP Field’s “Red Zone,” where football fans are hoping Marcus Mariota and the troops will capitalize come autumn.
“Jack loved the song and he did it as his own sort of song. He didn’t play it as The Stones did. He did it more as a bluegrass song, real fast,” says Joey Miskulin, the aforementioned CowPolka King with Riders in the Sky (the others, of course, are Too Slim, Woody Paul and Ranger Doug).
“Everyone would come into Jack’s office – no matter what time of day or night – and he’d rip into ‘No Expectations,’” says Miskulin, as he casually begins to sing the musical notes, the same tones as in The Stones’ song, but up-tempo.
Clement in later life.
“He loved to sing ‘No Expectations.’ He loved to play it. It was a song that tickled him. Everyone has his favorite song, and that was one of his,” says Miskulin, who still lives in the house right behind the Cowboy Arms that he bought for his family after Clement talked him into moving from Cleveland to Nashville to chase his musical muse.
Countless recording artists warmed up for important sessions by singing that song.
Miskulin laughs. “We cut that song a lot of times, a number of different ways,” he says, raising the possibility that some music archaeologist is liable to come up with quite a big surprise one day when exploring the Cowboy tapes.
“Somewhere there are many, many different takes of that song that were done on different days, different months, different years.
“We did it so many different times,” he says, noting that Marty Stuart, Roy Huskey and even Jack’s best friend participated in the recording sessions. “When John (Johnny Cash) was over and in the studio, he’d play along and sing along too.”
Cash’s boom-chikka-boom version of that song (Americanized and derailed: “Come and take me to the airport, come and board me on that plane…” ) appeared on albums before and since his death.
The Man in Black’s version was “the first one done in the style that Jack did it,” says former Cowboy Arms engineer David “Fergie” Ferguson, who now runs The Butcher Shoppe studio in Germantown.
“Jack recorded it on a bunch of different people,” says Ferguson. “He loved that song. He’d use it to warm up the band. He cut it on every artist throughout the years. I don’t know how many. I played it with him at least 1,000 times in his office. Every day, if you went into Jack’s office, that’s one of the things he played.
“Jack thought it was a good rocker and everybody could sing.”
Clement collected those recordings, notes Ferguson, who played upright bass on a very spare version recorded in the 1980s. Clement played guitar and sang. Jim Dant (studio gofer) played drums. Jamie Hartford (John’s son) played electric guitar.
While there doubtless is a treasure trove of warm-up recordings of “No Expectations” someplace at Cowboy Arms – unless they were lost in the fire that severely damaged Clement’s place in 2011, a couple of years before his death – some of the best were used to build up that first spare recording.
“Jack over the years kept adding (other artists’ versions) to it. And that was the version he put on Guess Things Happen That Way (Clement’s essential 2004 album),” says Ferguson.
Even though the song was a constant in the years of his life at Cowboy Arms, it pretty much was retired by Clement’s friends when he died.
“It was Jack’s song,” says Joey, the CowPolka King. “It would be great for The Stones to hear how Jack did it.”