Guitar and banjo player, singer
The affable Roy Clark, longtime co-host of “Hee Haw,” on syndicated television, is recognized as a virtuoso of country-style banjo and guitar. Clark has been performing since his teens, and his serious musicianship is sometimes overshadowed by his hayseed comedy routines, especially on television. Neil Hickey noted in TV Guide, however, that the corny “Hee Haw” was the vehicle that propelled Clark “from the penumbral half-light of minor celebrity to the blinding glare of full public favor” and therefore gave the star a national following for his music.
Named Country Music Association Entertainer of the Year in 1973, Clark has extended his popularity beyond America’s borders to include Europe and the Soviet Union, where he has toured to enthusiastic ovations. The extent of his appeal, obviously, is wider than the southern states where country music dominates. This is because Clark has been a ground-breaker in adapting country picking styles to classical and popular melodies—his repertory includes the Spanish dance “Malaguena,” “Lara’s Theme,” and “Yesterday When I Was Young.” Hickey quotes “HeeHaw” producer Frank Peppiatt, who has said of Clark: “It took a long time for him to be discovered, but he deserves his success because he is one of the best musicians alive.”
Clark was born into a musical family. His father and uncles were amateur performers who played guitar, banjo, and fiddle at small socials in the Washington, D.C., area. While a child, Clark toyed with a cigar-box ukelele his father made for him; by his teens he had graduated to the banjo and guitar, both of which he mastered without learning how to read music. Soon he was playing with his family and contemplating a show business career. Clark was also an excellent athlete as a youngster. He was invited to spring training by the St. Louis Browns but had no money for the train fare to Florida. He also boxed professionally as a light heavyweight, winning fifteen bouts before losing one and deciding to retire.
At the age of fourteen Clark won the prestigious banjo competition at the National Country Music Championships in Warrenton, Virginia. He won again in 1948 and earned television contracts in Washington, D.C., and occasional appearances at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry. By 1950 he had his own band and had added fiddle, piano, trumpet, trombone, and drums to his list of instruments played. He also worked up a comedy act that he performed during the band’s breaks, and he discovered that he enjoyed making people laugh.
Slowly Clark began to make his way in the competitive country music industry. In the mid-1950s he played lead guitar first for Jimmy Dean’s Texas Wildcats, then for the Marvin Rainwater Ensemble. A 1956 guest
Full name, Roy Linwood Clark; born April 5, 1933, in Meherrin, Va.; son of Hester (a federal government employee) Clark; divorced first wife; married second wife, Barbara Joyce, 1957; children: (first marriage) two. Education: Vocational high school graduate.
Professional country musician, 1948—, comedian, 1950—. Professional boxer, 1951. Lead guitarist with Jimmy Dean’s Texas Wildcats, the Marvin Rainwater Ensemble, and Wanda Jackson’s band, 1953-61; toured with Hank Thompson, 1961; guest host of “The Tonight Show,” 1962; regular performer on “Swingin’ Country” (NBC-TV), 1966; host, with Buck Owens, of “Hee Haw,” syndicated television comedy/variety show, 1969—.
Has also made guest appearances on television shows, including “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Grand Ole Opry,” “The Flip Wilson Show,” “The Jonathan Winters Show,” “Country Music Hit Parade,” and numerous talk shows.
Awards: National Country Music Banjo Championship winner, 1947 and 1948; recipient of entertainer of the year awards from Country Music Association, 1973, and Academy of Country Music, 1973-74; Country Music Star of the Year citation from American Guild of Variety Artists, 1974; Instrumentalist of the Year awards from Country Music Association, 1977, 1978, and 1980; named Guitarist of the Year by Guitar Player and Playboy magazines, 1977 and 1978.
Addresses: Home —Tulsa, OK. Office –c/o 1800 Forrest Blvd., Tulsa, OK 74114. Agent —Jim Halsey Company, Inc., 3225 S. Norwood Ave., Tulsa, OK 74135.
appearance on the “Arthur Godfrey Show” led to even wider exposure; by 1960 he was touring the nation and playing Las Vegas as backup to Wanda Jackson and Hank Thompson. In 1962 Clark got the chance to be a guest host of “The Tonight Show,” and he played the rural wisecracker so successfully that other television offers poured in. He appeared several times as Cousin Roy and Big Mama Halsey on “The Beverly Hillbillies” and was a guest star on numerous variety shows.
His early albums, Lightning Fingers of Roy Clark, Superpicker, and Yesterday When I Was Young did well on the country charts; the latter also made the pop charts. In 1969 Clark was working with “The Jonathan Winters Show” when he was asked to co-host a country comedy/variety series on CBS. He agreed, and “Hee Haw,” starring Clark and Buck Owens, premiered in May of 1969.
Fast-paced but uncompromisingly hokey, “HeeHaw” was an instant hit, not only among rural viewers, but with mainstream audiences as well. Country Music U.S.A.author Bill C. Malone observed that the show’s appeal “suggested that the humor of country music was more traditional than its music” but added that the performers in the ensemble cast “won a national exposure through the show that most earlier country comedians had only dreamed of.”
“HeeHaw” was more than just a silly comedy program, however. Each episode featured an old-fashioned gospel quartet number, with Clark providing vocals and guitar accompaniment, and both hosts were given a solo song in almost every show. Clark used his solo time primarily to perform his guitar and banjo instrumentals, some of which bore little resemblance to the stereotypical hillbilly tenor of “HeeHaw.”. While one week he might pick the ever-popular “Orange Blossom Special” or “Jesse James,” the next week he would offer a jazz tune like “St. Louis Blues” or “Georgia on My Mind.”
Clark’s performance styles likewise were quite varied, from traditional stringband methods to complex classical fingering to innovative uses of a guitar pick. CBS cancelled “HeeHaw” in 1971 because the network wanted to urbanize its image, but the show continued in syndication. It is still on the air throughout rural America, the longest continuously-running television program in history.
Surprisingly, “HeeHaw” consumes only three to five weeks of Clark’s time each year. The rest of the time he travels, giving live performances and appearing on television talk shows, variety specials, and charity telethons. In The Encyclopedia of Country & Western Music, Rick Marschall suggested that because of his engaging personality, Clark “is more popular in performance than on record…. His voice can be described as a permanently hoarse tenor, and the emotion he brings to heart-songs sounds like every drop of feeling has been wrung out for the task.” It is as a comedian and an instrumentalist that Clark has made his mark, however. Long-time friend Jimmy Dean is quoted in The Encyclopedia of Folk, Country, and Western Music as saying of Clark: “Everybody loves him. When he walks out on stage with his bungling attitude as though he didn’t know what was going to happen next, the audience is immediately on his side. It’s like cheering for the underdog or the hometown boy.”
Lightning Fingers of Roy Clark, Capitol, 1962.
Best of Roy Clark, Dot.
Do You Believe This?, Dot.
The Entertainer, Dot.
Entertainer of the Year, Capitol.
Everlovin’ Soul, Dot.
The Greatest!, Capitol.
Guitar Spectacular, Capitol.
He’ll Have to Go, Pickwick.
I Never Picked Cotton, Dot.
Honky Tonk, Pickwick.
Live Fast, Love Hard, Pickwick.
The Magnificent Sanctuary Band, Dot.
The Other Side of Roy Clark, Dot.
Roy Clark, Pickwick.
Silver Threads and Golden Needles, Hilltop.
Su per picker, Dot.
Take Me As I Am, Hilltop.
Urban, Suburban, Dot.
Yesterday When I Was Young, Dot.
Roy Clark Sings Gospel, Word.
Classic Clark, Dot.
Family and Friends, Dot.
Roy Clark’s Greatest Hits, Volume I, Dot.
Heart to Heart, Dot.
Hookin’ It, ABC.
Live with Me, Dot.
(With Buck Trent)A Pair of Fives, Dot.
Sincerely Yours, Paramount.
So Much to Remember, Capitol.
Introducing Roy Clark, Ember.
The Very Best of Roy Clark, Capitol.
Country Standard Time, MCA, 1986.
Also recorded Happy to Be Unhappy, Family Album, Back to theCountry, and with Trent, Banjo Bandits.
Malone, Bill C., Country Music U.S.A., revised and enlarged edition, University of Texas Press, 1985.
Marschall, Rick, The Encyclopedia of Country and Western Music, Exeter Books, 1985.
Stambler, Irwin and Grelun Landon, The Encyclopedia of Folk, Country, and Western Music, St. Martin’s, 1969.
People, September 26, 1977.
TV Guide, August 24, 1973.
—Anne Janette Johnson
"Clark, Roy." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 18, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/clark-roy
"Clark, Roy." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved March 18, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/clark-roy
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