Don Clements was born on 21 May 1939 in Joplin, Missouri, and lived around Joplin and nearby Springfield for his entire life. As a child, he dreamed of becoming a trapeze artist with the circus, but that never happened. Instead, this self-taught musician became a professional entertainer at the age of 15 when he got his first gig at Jim Bowen's bar in Joplin in 1955. He got the idea to play there when he and his brother were walking past the place and heard someone singing inside. He turned to his brother and said, "Well, hell, we sing better than that!" Ten years later, he cut this record on Si Siman's Skipper label out of Springfield, Missouri, with the Anita Kerr singers providing backing vocals.
Here's Made In The USA by Don Clements on Skipper 7917-7918 from 1965:
The song was written by Ronnie Self, another underrated performer who wrote great songs like I'm Sorry and Sweet Nothin's that were made into classic oldies by Brenda Lee. Ronnie was born in Springfield, Missouri on 5 July 1938. He may have been the first rock and roll act signed to Columbia Records even though Mitch Miller, head of that label at the time, would have argued otherwise. Mitch Miller, the guy who hosted a music variety show on television called Sing Along With Mitch (follow the bouncing ball), had a well-known hatred of rock and roll music! Despite being a very talented singer-songwriter who was recorded by two major labels, Columbia and Decca, Ronnie's career never really took off. He managed only one minor chart hit with Bop-A-Lena, which reached #68 on Billboard's Hot 100 in 1958. Ronnie won a Grammy in 1969 for writing the Best Sacred Performance, a country gospel song called Ain't That Beautiful Singing that was recorded by Jake Hess. He battled alcoholism for much of his life, which at times would lead him to violent behavior. Ronnie Self died in Springfield on 28 August 1981.
This is one of the few Country-flavored records listed as a collectible Teener, worth about $15 according to Jeff Kreiter's Teen Collectors Record Guide, because of this nice ballad on the flip side. Here's Don Clements singing My Conscience Knows, a song written by Doc Dougherty:
In 1967, Don turned down an offer to become ring announcer for Larry and Betty Carden's Shrine Circus in Springfield. Instead, he recorded the song Talk To The Animals so the ringmaster could lip-sync to it during the animal acts. Throughout the 1970's you might catch Don Clements performing with Buddy Welch, together billed as The Entertainers, playing every night at places like the Catch One club in the Riviera Motel out on Range Line Road. Around 1994, Don began performing every night at The Shady Inn, a restaurant and piano bar in Springfield, taking requests for songs like The Lady Is A Tramp from the noisy bar patrons while they sipped their tonic and gin.
Don got married to his longtime friend Genene L. Habermehl on 30 June 1997 in Miami, Oklahoma. Genene was born in Bakersfield, California, on 19 February 1945 and had been living in Springfield for many years. Shortly after the wedding, Don left the Shady Inn to travel briefly with the National Child Safety Council, but didn't like the work, or the idea of leaving his wife alone for long periods of time. He went back to performing in local clubs.
In the middle of his act on New Year's Eve 1997, Don was handed a note on a cocktail napkin. It was a job offer from George Carden, the son of Larry and Betty Carden, who was now running the Shrine Circus. George heard that Don had left the Shady Inn and decided to offer him a job with the circus. Don was tired of singing requests for drunken bar patrons who weren't really listening anyway. He liked the idea of entertaining parents and children with uptempo happy tunes. When George offered to triple what he'd been making at the Shady Inn and bring his wife in as well, Don accepted George's offer. Don and Genene spent the next year traveling all over with the circus show. As music director, Don rocked the circus organ and sang tunes like Rock Around The Clock while Genene worked the concessions. He also ran the fog machines even played fast fiddle solos during the pig acts.
Don and Genene moved back to Joplin in 1999. Genene got a job with the Aegis Communications Group and became a senior supervisor. Don, who had been good friends with a boxer known as Irish Johnny Copeland, spoke at his funeral in 2004. Don passed away on 20 March 2005 after being diagnosed with cancer. He was 65 years old. He left two sons, Donald Nelson Clements and Brian Clifton Clements, and a daughter Shyla Jean Grantham, who was also diagnosed with cancer at the time. Genene's son from a previous marriage, Tony LaDue, also lived in Joplin. Genene passed away on 27 July 2009 and is buried with Don in the Osborne Memorial Cemetery in Joplin.
I'm just having fun digging up background information about all the rare and obscure records that you'll hear on MusicMaster Oldies. I hope you enjoy reading this stuff half as much as I enjoy researching it! Stay tuned, there's more where this came from.
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