A Liberty native, Jerry Clower (1926-1998) brought his colorful, observant, comic stories of southern life—developed as a sales tool as he worked as a fertilizer salesman—to live shows, recordings, television, bestselling books, and, for over twenty-five years beginning in 1973, Grand Ole Opry broadcasts. He became one of the most successful and acclaimed country comedians of all time.
Born Howard Gerald Clower here in Liberty on September 28, 1926, and raised on a farm nearby, Jerry Clower aspired not to a show business career, but to be an agricultural extension agent working with 4-H clubs, like those who inspired him as a boy. After serving in the U.S. Navy in World War II, he worked his way through Mississippi State University on a football scholarship, receiving a degree in agriculture. He became the 4-H agent he’d wanted to be, then sold fertilizer for Mississippi Chemical Corporation for eighteen years, beginning in 1954. Clower found that his gift for telling colorful, down home stories from his own life and Amite County friends’ was a helpful sales tool and an attraction at industry conventions. In 1970, he was recounting some of these tales at a Texas Tech fertilizer industry panel–including the one about the treed raccoon and raccoon hunter that would make him famous–as Big Ed Wilkes, a local radio director, was taping the whole conference. The following year, Wilkes put Clower’s monologue out on the local “Lemon” label and eventually forwarded that regional recording to MCA Records, which signed him. The resulting album, “Jerry Clower from Yazoo City, Mississippi Talkin’,” was on the country charts for thirty weeks. Clower was 45 years old and had now become a professional country comedian.
There would be over two dozen hit Jerry Clower albums, his audience expanding as he became a cast member of Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry in 1973. He’d be a prime comedy attraction there for the rest of his life, with a level of fame that also made him a natural, ever-present Southern spokesman in television commercials for trucks, fishing lures, and barbecue equipment. Clower’s deep, lifelong commitment to Christianity was reflected not only in his storytelling, but in his 20-year involvement with the Southern Baptist Convention-produced radio and television program Country Crossroads, his work as a lay minister, and his testament and memoir “Ain’t God Good.”
He wrote four bestselling books in all, bringing to the printed page his resonant, rooted style both for fans and literary audiences. Mississippi author and editor Willie Morris noted that Clower’s broadly appealing comic art, “reveals… the richness of the spoken language of the American South in all of its inwardness and nuance and sweep. He knows what he is talking about. His humor is rooted in a region, but is not regional.” Jerry Clower was married to Homerline Wells Clower for fifty-one years; they had one son, Ray, and three daughters, Amy, Sue and Katy. He died following heart bypass surgery in 1998.
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