Sign up for newsletter
 

Country Hall, Opry member, Hee Haw host Roy Clark dies

Thursday, November 15, 2018 – Roy Clark, the legendary super picker and member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Grand Ole Opry member, died today at 85 due to complications from pneumonia at home in Tulsa, Okla.

Clark also was co-host of the country music themed Hee Haw show.

"A TV camera goes right through your soul," said Clark, who starred on Hee Haw for 24 years and was a frequent guest host for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. "If you're a bad person, people pick that up. I'm a firm believer in smiles. I used to believe that everything had to be a belly laugh. But I've come to realize that a real sincere smile is mighty powerful." For a man who didn't taste major success until he was 30, the key was not some grand plan but rather taking everything in its own time. "Sure," he said, "I had dreams of being a star when I was 18. I could've pushed it too, but it wouldn't have happened any sooner. I'm lucky. What's happened has happened in spite of me."

Born Roy Linwood Clark on April 15, 1933 in Meherrin, Va., his family moved to Washington, D.C. when he was a youngster. His father played in a square dance band and took him to free concerts by the National Symphony and by various military bands. "I was subjected to different kinds of music before I ever played. Dad said, 'Never turn your ear off to music until your heart hears it because then you might hear something you like.'"

Beginning on banjo and mandolin, his first guitar, a Sears Silvertone, came as a Christmas present when he was 14. That same year, 1947, he made his first TV appearance. He was 15 when he earned $2 for his first paid performance, with his dad's band. He began playing bars and dives on Friday and Saturday nights until he was playing every night and skipping school, eventually dropping out at 15. "Music was my salvation, the thing I loved most and did best. Whatever was fun, I'd go do that."

He soon toured with Hank Williams and Grandpa Jones. After winning a national banjo competition in 1950, he was invited to perform at the Grand Ole Opry, which led to shows with Red Foley and Ernest Tubb. Yet he'd always return to D.C. to play not only country but jazz, pop, and early rock with black groups and white groups. In 1954, he joined Jimmy Dean and the Texas Wildcats, appearing in clubs and on radio and TV and backing up Elvis Presley.

But in 1960, an invitation to open for Wanda Jackson at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas proved to be his big break. It led to his own tour, on the road for 345 straight nights at one stretch, and when he returned to Vegas in 1962, he came back as a headliner and recording star, with his debut album "The Lightning Fingers Of Roy Clark."

The next year, he had his first hit, "The Tips Of My Fingers," a country song that featured an orchestra and string section. "We didn't call it crossover then, but I guess that's what it was," he said. "We didn't aim for that because if you aim for both sides you miss them both. But we just wanted to be believable."

Throughout the '60s, Clark recorded several albums, toured constantly and appeared on TV variety shows from Carson to Mike Douglas to Flip Wilson. "I was the token bumpkin. It became, 'Let's get that Clark guy. He's easy to get along with.'"

Then came 'Hee Haw.' A countrified 'Laugh-In' with music, shot in Nashville, 'Hee Haw' premiered in 1969. Co-starring Clark and Buck Owens, it was an immediate hit. Though CBS canceled the show after 2 1/2 years, despite ranking in the Top 20, the series segued into syndication, where it remained until 1992. "I long ago realized it was not a figure of speech when people come up to me and say they grew up watching me since they were 'that big'."

In 1969, "Yesterday, When I Was Young" charted Top 20 Pop and 9 on Country (Billboard). Including "Yesterday," Clark has had 23 Top 40 country hits, among them eight Top 10s: "The Tips Of My Fingers" (#10, 1963), "I Never Picked Cotton" (#5) and "Thank God And Greyhound You're Gone" (#6, 1970), "The Lawrence Welk-Hee Haw Counter Revolution Polka" (#9, 1972), "Come Live With Me" (#1) and "Somewhere Between Love And Tomorrow" (#2, 1973), and "If I Had It To Do All Over Again" (#2, 1976I. n 1982, he won a Grammy (Best Country Instrumental Performance) for "Alabama Jubilee."

Clark co-starred with Petula Clark at Caesar's Palace, became the first country artist to headline at the Montreux International Jazz Festival and appeared in London on 'The Tom Jones Show. The highlight of his career, he said, was a pioneering, sold-out 1976 tour of the then-Soviet Union. "Even though they didn't know the words, there were tears in their eyes when I played 'Yesterday.' Folks there said we wouldn't realize in our lifetime the good we'd accomplished, just because of our pickin' around."

Clark became the 63rd member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1987 and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2009.

From his home in Tulsa, where he moved in 1974 with Barbara, his wife of 61 years, Clark continued to tour extensively. "Soon as you hit the edge of the stage and see people smiling and know they're there to hear you, it's time to have fun. I keep a band of great young people around me, and we're not musically restrained. It's not about 'let's do it correc,t' but 'let's do it right.'" At the end of each of Clark's concerts, he would tell the audience, "We had to come, but you had a choice. Thanks for being here."

Clark is survived by Barbara, his wife, his sons Roy Clark II and wife Karen, Dr. Michael Meyer and wife Robin, Terry Lee Meyer, Susan Mosier and Diane Stewart, and his grandchildren: Brittany Meyer, Michael Meyer, Caleb Clark, Josiah Clark and his sister, Susan Coryell.

A memorial celebration will be held in the coming days in Tulsa.

Editorial: Walking the talk – When names like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Waylon and the Hag are invoked, you're talking hard core country. These are the touchstones of country , the guys who made country music what it was and still is (or maybe can be). When these folks would sing about being down-and-out and the rough-and-tumble, they knew of what they were singing about. Fast forward a few years to the country singers of today. »»»
Concert Review: Combs, Gill, Harris, Crow comprise one final musical platter – Vince Gill played host to an entertaining guitar pull, a show which also featured his longtime friend, Emmylou Harris, slightly newer friend Sheryl Crow and brand-new friend Luke Combs. Gill joked from the outset that this All for the Hall fundraising show needed Combs to sell tickets, and by the audience's response, it was clear many came only to see Combs.... »»»
Concert Review: Stapleton shows his traditional roots – Chris Stapleton's All-American Road show feels like a singular mission to rid the genre of the bro country scourge that has plagued it for years. He came out with a blazing one-two punch of "Second One To Know" and "Without Your Love" and packed a stadium sized onslaught into a 9,000-seat arena. He never once veered from his... »»»
Follow Country Standard Time  Subscribe to Country News Digest  Follow Country Standard Time on twitter  Visit Country Standard Time on Facebook 

Elsewhere in the news

Currently at the CST blogs

Willis, Robison spin "Beautiful Lie" Eleven years ago, Kelly stepped away from music. She had just finished touring on 2007's exquisite "Translated From Love" and felt the angst of being a travelling musician with family at home. At that point, Willis and her husband, musician/producer Bruce Robison,... »»»
Chip Kinman celebrates brother, career on "Sounds Like Music" For a brief moment last summer, the news of Tony Kinman's death was, if not greatly exaggerated, then at least fortuitously premature. The roots rock icon, known for his work in The Dils, Rank and File, Blackbird and Cowboy Nation with his younger brother Chip, had been diagnosed with cancer in March 2018,... »»»
Shiflett learns "Hard Lessons" Until recently, Chris Shiflett took a somewhat obsessive/compulsive approach to his music career. For the past two decades, Shiflett has been the primary guitar foil for Dave Grohl in Foo Fighters; early in his tenure, Shiflett was so self-deprecatingly... »»»
White embraces "The Hurting Kind" John Paul White, to paraphrase a Steve Earle song, may just be one of the last of the hardcore troubadours. By 'troubadour,' we mean one of those guys that lives to write great songs - more specifically, great country songs - and then get these songs into the ears of folks that... »»»
Bingham gets personal with "American Love Song"...again A lot of the early reviews for "American Love Song," Ryan Bingham's latest set of raucous and reflective Americana brilliance, have characterized it as the singer/ songwriter's most personal album to date.... »»»
Wilson goes her own way After having huge success at the get go with "Redneck Woman," Wilson eventually went her own way and took a break. During her "hiatus," Wilson started her own label and was a "120 percent mom" to her teenage daughter.... »»»
Carll tells it like it is A visit with Hayes Carll finds him taking a rare day off at home to discuss new album "What It Is" co-produced by Brad Jones and Carll's girlfriend, Allison Moorer. "This album works around three themes; our relationship (he and Moorer), the world and myself.... »»»
Threads CD review - Threads
With "Threads," Sheryl Crow gets the all-star-guest treatment on what she says is her swang song, with each song featuring a favorite fellow artist. She seems a little too young for this kind of tribute. Nevertheless,  »»»
Let it Roll CD review - Let it Roll
Midland is more magicians than musicians. When the trio came out with their omnipresent 2017 single "Drinkin' Problem," they pulled off their first trick: a brand-new band to radio who sounded like old friends. Their sound and their look (matador »»»
While I'm Livin' CD review - While I'm Livin'
It's been 17 years since we've had a new album from Tanya Tucker, so it's a real pleasure to hear her clear throaty vocals deliver these songs with her characteristic raw emotion. Tucker knows how to get into a song and make it her own »»»
Gypsy CD review - Gypsy
Eilen Jewell's "Gypsy" opens with the ominous, mysterious "Beat the Drum," which is a swampy - and yes, gypsy - song of warning about some impending doom or other. It plays out like a softer type of vintage... »»»
Texas CD review - Texas
Rodney Crowell is a rare breed of a country songwriter. Yes, he knows how to write traditional country songs; it's just he's also a deep thinker, which requires extra effort on the part of the listener to appreciate them fully.  »»»
New Moon Over My Shoulder CD review - New Moon Over My Shoulder
Larry Sparks was still a teenager when Ralph Stanley chose him to replace his brother Carter Stanley as guitarist and lead singer in the Clinch Mountain Boys in the wake of Carter's passing in December 1966. »»»
Chronicle: Friends and Music CD review - Chronicle: Friends and Music
The third solo album from a member of Sister Sadie to be released in 2019, "Chronicle: Friends and Music" (following those of Deanie Richardson and Dale Ann Bradley) reflects the breadth of modern bluegrass: energetic and intense, »»»
Blue Roses CD review - Blue Roses

Runaway June - Naomi Cooke, Hannah Mulholland and Jennifer Wayne - weave gorgeous harmonies around the lyrics of these songs on their new album, all but four of which they wrote with other writers. »»»