Multi-instrumentalist and Country music star Roy Clark died recently at the age of 85. At the risk of dating myself, I was a big Roy Clark fan – not because I was a big Country music fan because I was not but because of the show I used to watch as a kid that featured him; “Hee Haw” For those of you who don’t know what “Hee Haw” was, it was a Country variety show that ran on CBS featuring comedy sketches and music. Much of it was light hearted with very few serious moments except when a guest Country Music star would perform on the show. The two main stars of the show – Roy Clark and Buck Owens led the charge with their zany country-style comedy and first-class musicianship. Clark was obviously the more talented player of the two while Clark was the better singer but together they were the perfect combination. Together, the two kept the show going for nineteen years. It was the Country equivalent of “Laugh-In” with its zany, off-beat humor and its cast of characters. Being a kid who grew up in the Northeast but with roots in the South, I guess the Southern leanings of the show appealed to me as much as my love for New York sports teams and growing up near two major northern cities. Clark, on the other hand, was born in the South but grew up in Washington, D.C. and New York City – quite an irony considering he was famous for playing Country music. Clark was better known for playing the guitar and he was a master at it, but he also played banjo and violin and probably other instruments as well. He was playing professionally in his teens in the late ‘40s and early 50’s and by the early 60’s was making guest appearances on TV. His Prowess on guitar was well established by this time – as this clip from the Jimmy Dean show in 1964 shows:
To illustrate my point about him being a multi-instrumentalist, here is a clip from another episode of The Jimmy Dean’s Show:
Besides being a great musician he was quite funny as well. Watching the end of the violin bow as it goes back and forth while he’s playing, causing him to go cross-eyed is just hilarious.
On “Hee-Haw” there was a weekly segment featuring Clark and Owens called “Pickin’ and Grinnin’” in which Clark and Owens would banter back and forth telling one liners while Clark would play banjo and Owens the guitar. The segment would probably last five minutes but Clark would always end the segment with some banjo wizardry, always playing the same ending on banjo and making it look like he barely got through it without a mistake or looking like he purposely messed it up. Yes, it was cornball but if you didn’t get it, the joke was on you because it was supposed to be:
His biggest hit was the crossover tune “Yesterday, When I Was Young” which showcased his singing ability in addition to his guitar playing.
After “Hee-Haw” ended Clark continued to tour and even opened up a Club in Branson, Missouri (The Roy Clark Celebrity Theater) which ran and made appearances there into the 90s. After making appearances on so many other artists’ TV shows, Roy eventually began hosting the Tonight Show, filling in for Johnny Carson on numerous occasions. In a career that spanned seven decades, Clark had a full career and a full life. Like Glen Campbell who preceded him in death, the world was better off with Clark in it and isn’t that the true test of how we should all be remembered? R.I.P. Roy.
Photo from Smith Music Group