Roy Clark - Biography
BY J Poet
Roy Clark is probably best known for his stint co-hosting the country variety show Hee Haw from 1969 to 1991, which attracted some 30 million viewers during its most popular years. While best known for his comic turns on the program, he also showed off his considerable chops on guitar, banjo and fiddle. It was his instrumental prowess that first got him noticed, playing lead guitar for acts like Jimmy Dean, Marvin Rainwater, Wanda Jackson and Hank Thompson. In 1976 he was one of the first country stars to play in the Soviet Union, and his Roy Clark Celebrity Theatre in Branson, Missouri, helped transform that sleepy little town into a country music Mecca. He became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1987.His record sales have never been spectacular, but he had his share of hits, pop and country most notably a cover of Charles Aznavour's “Yesterday, When I Was Young” and the nasty kiss off “Thank God and Greyhound (You’re Gone)”. He still keeps up an abbreviated schedule of high-energy live gigs.
Clark was born in Meherrin, VA, just outside of Washington DC. His father and other members of his extended family played semi-professional guitar, banjo, and fiddle at parties in the D.C. area. He’d taught himself guitar, fiddle, banjo, and mandolin by the time he was 14, but wanted a career in sports. He was scouted by the St. Louis Browns while he was in high school, but couldn’t afford the train fare to get to their farm team. He was also a boxer and had 15 professional fights before he quit.
In 1946 and 1948 he won the banjo competition at the National Country Music Championships in Warrenton, Virginia and was invited to play at the Grand Ole Opry. He started his own country band right out of high school, and amazed people with his lightning fast guitar skills, combining bluegrass, country and classical music techniques in his picking. In 1955 Jimmy Dead hired him for his band and he was a regular on Dean’s syndicated TV show Country Style. When Dean went national, Clark took over the program, but left in 1960 to play lead for Wanda Jackson. His guitar licks drive her breakthrough hit “Let’s Have a Party.” He played with her on her early albums Wanda Jackson (1958 Capital) and There’s a Party Goin’ On (1959 Capital) and backed her up in Las Vegas, which led to a gig with Hank Thompson’s Brazos Valley Boys.
When Jimmy Dean was guest host of Carson’s Tonight Show in 1962, he brought Clark along. Clark did so well Carson gave him a guest host shot which led to a recurring role on The Beverly Hillbillies. He also signed with Capital in 1962. His first album The Lightning Fingers Of Roy Clark (1962 Capitol, 1999 Razor and Tie) showcased his amazing guitar prowess. He followed it with a more traditional country effort, The Tip Of My Fingers (1963 Capitol) which included the top ten title track. His albums alternated between country and country/jazz and blues instrumentals like Happy To Be Unhappy (1964 Capitol), Roy Clark Guitar Spectacular (1965 Capitol), Roy Clark Sings Lonesome Love Ballads (1966 Capitol) and Stringin' Along With The Blues (1966 Capitol). A move to Dot and a chance to record in a more pop direction led to Urban Suburban (1968 Dot), Yesterday, When I Was Young (1969 Dot) with the lead single a #9 pop hit, The Other Side Of Roy Clark (1970 Dot) and I Never Picked Cotton (1970 Dot) with the classic “Thank God and Greyhound (You’re Gone)”.
In 1969 he began co-hosting Hee Haw with Buck Owens, and his album sales picked up. Every episode featured a Clark song and a segment called Pickin’ an Grinnin’ that allowed him to show of his considerable chops on guitar, banjo or fiddle. He stayed with Hee Haw for 20 years and the shows high profile allowed him to charge top dollar for his headlining gigs. His big hit singles from the Hee Haw years include “The Lawrence Welk/Hee Haw Counter-Revolution Polka", "Come Live With Me", "Somewhere Between Love and Tomorrow", "Honeymoon Feelin'", and "If I Had It to Do All Over Again". The albums moved from Dot, to ABC, to MCA as corporate mergers dictated and included The Magnificent Sanctuary Band (1971 Dot), Roy Clark Live (1972 Dot) which includes “The Lawrence Welk/Hee Haw Counter-Revolution Polka”, Superpicker (1973 Dot) a flashing instrumental album, The Entertainer (1974 Dot) featuring pop, country, and instrumental tunes, A Pair Of Fives (Banjos That Is) (1975 Dot), Labor Of Love (1978 ABC) pop and country French chansons, Makin' Music (MCA) a smoking set with Clarence Gatemouth Brown trading licks with Clarke, Makin' Love (1981 MCA) and Meanwhile Back At The Country (1981 MCA). He won a Best Country Instrumental Performance Grammy in 1982 for “Alabama Jubilee”. It’s included on Roy Clarke Greatest Hits Volume Two (1997 Varese Sarabande).
In 1983 he opened the Roy Clark Celebrity Theatre in Branson, Missouri, which let him headline without the rigors of the road. Roy Clark: Live at Billy Bob’s Texas (2000 Smith) shows Clark still has what it takes with fancy bluegrass pickin’ on “Foggy Mountain Breakdown”, a jazzy interpretation of Ellington’s “Caravan”, the Latin Flavored “El Cumbanchero” and the crowd pleasing “Thank God and Greyhound”.