Terry Clements in the Lead
By Ben Elder
"I've been playing guitar too long to get uppity about it," says Terry Clements, the tall, soft-spoken Detroit native who has supplied lead guitar textures in Gordon Lightfoot's music for 30 years. "I'm still of the mind that the guitar is in the rhythm section. I actually like rhythm a lot more hat I like lead, and I'm not much of an acrobat."
His favourite acoustic guitarists include Tony Rice, Doc Watson, Ricky Skaggs, and Jerry Douglas (on Dobro). "I think Tony is about one of the slickest guys I've ever seen play," Clements says. "He doesn't even look like he's moving" Where are all these notes coming from?" Clements has recently been listening to Buena Vista Social Club, flamenco guitarist Manitas de Plata, and a lot of salsa music." "Growing up I California, I played with Mexican guys a lot," he says. "That stuff - all the percussion and horns - has got so much life to it!"
Clements started playing guitar at about age five using an open-D tuning. Before that, the guitar was not so much a musical tool as comfort. "My mum and dad broke up when I was between two and three, and my mum had to go out and work" he remembers. "She sent me off to St. Vincent de Paul, which is an orphanage in Mt. Clement, Michigan, for about three years," he recalls. "The guy there had this old Washburn acoustic, missing a string, so that became my teddy bear." He was reunited with his mother when her job situation improved, and she later bought him his first real guitar - a Stella.
In 1959, the family moved to southern California, where Clements was more likely to be found hanging out, playing guitar, and surfing in Huntington Beach that attending high school in Pasadena. By that time he'd stepped up to a Kay electric and was playing surf guitar wizard Dick Dale. This influence was to prove useful in Clements' later professional career. "You know that tremolo par in 'Canadian Railroad Trilogy'? Yearned that from Dick Dale!"
After high school, Clements spent two years in the navy, where he "busted up" his right and. He now picks with just a flatpick and his ring finger. He was part of Golden Sunflower in he '60sm a group managed by Lou Adler (manager of he Mamas and the Papas). Clements wrote and arranged for the group, and he was the only band member who actually played on the group's album; all the other parts were recorded by the legendary Wrecking Crew - an ensemble of first-call L.A. session aces.
Clements' association with Adler included recording, producing, arranging. Performing, and gofer work. He eventually got into film-score work, where he met Lightfoot. "A friend of mine was writing the score for a film at Paramount," he recalls. "They wanted to try Gord singing the title theme. They calles him in and right then and there he said, 'You want to join my band?' That's when Red [Shea] was still in there. I said I wanted to try this movie music stuff for a while. Then Gord calls up out of he blue, like late 1970, and says, 'What're you doing? How would you like a hipper gig? Red wants to get off the road, so I'm looking for a guitar player.'" Lightfoot flew Clements up to Toronto for an audition, and the two have been collaborators ever since.
At first, the "hipper gig" was challenging, because fans were often asking for Red Shea, but Clements brought his own style to the band - including electric guitar and a country rock sound - and eventually won them over. After three decades of working with Lightfoot, Clements says his job is not that complicated. "If Gord has specific idea, he'll tell me. Otherwise, it's, 'Come up with something,'" he explains, The ideas can flow in either direction, and "In My Fashion" from Waiting For You was built on a Terry Clements idea. "That was one of my riffs," he recalls. "Gordon said, 'Hey, can I use that I said, 'Sure,' and we ended up building that song around that riff."
When he's not on the road, Clements busies himself at home. "I have a little eight-track analog studio - enough to make a fairly good DAT, so I get songwriters in here. I help them arrange their stuff. The first time the young songwriters hear their song, hat's a pretty good feeling."
Clements' long tenure with Lightfoot is a testimonial in itself to the boss. "Gord is personable and more down to earth than a lot of people I've been around people who believe their own hype and have heads the size of watermelons. Gord doesn't have many airs about him. I guess to be in he business this long, you have some sense of decorum."
(typed by Gerhard Menzel)