If you’ve ever been on a lake in a boat with somebody trying to be a comedian, sometimes you might want to jump in the water.
My standard is pretty high. I got to share a day on the water with the “Mouth of Mississippi,” country comedian Jerry Clower. He died 24 years ago at the age of 72. While we were fishing together, I almost died laughing. Google him, and you’ll understand why.
Clower was born in Liberty, Miss-uh-sipp-eee, and after a two-year stint in the Navy during World War II, he studied and played football at Mississippi State and after graduating, he worked for a county agent and later as a fertilizer salesman for Mississippi Chemical.
My wife’s grandfather was the county agent who hired Clower; this was my first connection of any kind with him. A more personal connection came later.
The story goes that when he was working for Mississippi Chemical, he developed a reputation for telling funny stories to boost his sales. Tapes of his stories eventually reached the hands of a group who saw the potential of Clower’s tales. As a result, his stories were spread around the country and one in particular, “The Coon Hunt,” was awarded a platinum record for sales of upward of $1 million.
His stand-up comedy act earned him a spot on the Grand Ole Opry and his appearances, there and all over, became extremely popular, creating belly laughs across the country.
Now, for my personal connection with Clower. The date was April 11, 1990. I had been invited on a media crappie fishing trip to Ross Barnett reservoir just outside Jackson, where I met my guide Bill Pettit for a day of crappie fishing. It was windy and cold and the fish didn’t bite.
At the end of the day, Pettit and I headed for a café for a bite. While there, I picked up a copy of a local paper, thumbed through it and found a photo of Pettit and Clower.
“You have fished with Jerry Clower?” I asked. “Oh yeah, he comes over here occasionally to fish with me. In fact,” Pettit said, “he’s coming tomorrow. How’d you like to fish with him?’
What kind of question is that? Of course I would love to get to meet and fish with him, so I called my wife and told her I’d be fishing an extra day.
I was at the café on the lake bright and early when Clower walked in. Pulling up a chair, he ordered a breakfast of a plate of bacon, eggs and biscuits. Pettit introduced us, told him I was a writer who wanted to fish with him. After polishing off his meal, he looked at me and asked if I was ready. Of course I was.
Clower had brought along his own fishing rig and led me out to his “Jerry Clower Perch Jerkin’ Special,” a boat the manufacturer had made just for him.
“You know how to drive a boat?” he asked me. I did but the thought of being the skipper of Jerry Clower’s boat with just me and him in it was somewhat nerve wracking.
We launched and I followed his direction to head for his favorite crappie fishing hole, me at the controls and Clower rared back in his seat.
We caught a few crappie; nothing to brag about but I remember catching a small one and was about to toss it back when he stopped me. “No . . . No . . . don’t throw that back; my maid will scale it and she’ll fry it whole; that’s the way I like ‘em,” he said.
My one regret was that the photo lab – this was in the days before digital photography – ruined the several rolls of film I shot that day so I’m left with only my memories of getting to spend a day on the lake in his boat, just me and him and listening to him tell one funny story after another.
You’d have thought he was on stage because his tales in a fishing boat were no different than they would have been with him entertaining a packed house.
Jerry Clower: thanks for giving this guy memories that can still create a chuckle from me 32 years later.
Contact Glynn at firstname.lastname@example.org