My musical tastes run all the way from A to Z (I love zydeco) but some genres have had to work a little harder than others to get my attention and loyalty. Country music is a good example. I often heard the music of the heartland while I was growing up, so I sometimes count my affinity for it from those days — but in all honesty I really wasn’t too interested in it for a lot of years.
However, country music might have been planting its roots in my subconscious in those early days, because as an adult I eventually began to realize that a lot of what I had considered “hillbilly” music was actually pretty good stuff. In fact, there was a period in the 1960’s and beyond when some country music artists reached serious crossover success and became very well known.
In my opinion, one of the guys who came up in that era has been a little overlooked – or possibly just underestimated – and that’s a shame, because I think Roy Clark is at least partially responsible for my reawakening to country music.
It was in the early 1970’s when I bought my first album of his, Roy Clark Live, and I became a fan for life. I played that cassette over and over and just about wore it out. I’d never heard anything quite like him — an entertainer in every sense of the word, someone who could have the audience rolling in laughter with his self-deprecating humor, or dazzle them with his virtuosity on banjo or guitar.
I was actually a little late to the party as far as appreciating him goes, because he’d been working his way up through the ranks for at least a decade before that, and by the time I was discovering him he was already pretty big. Part of that, it must be admitted, was courtesy of the CBS TV show Hee-Haw. When that show debuted in 1969, he and Buck Owens – both relatively serious country artists – were installed as co-hosts. In spite of high ratings CBS pulled the plug after two years because they couldn’t stand being associated with the cornball image, but the show continued to thrive in syndication.
Roy Clark just kept getting bigger. He’d already had hits during the 1960’s with tunes such as “Tips of My Fingers” and “Yesterday, When I Was Young”, and he now churned out new best-sellers like “I Never Picked Cotton”, “Thank God and Greyhound”, and “Somewhere Between Love and Tomorrow”. He was a smash hit on numerous tours in the US and abroad, and showed up everywhere from the Boston Pops to filling in as Johnny Carson’s guest host.
For many years he piled up honors and awards, and continued to tour and record. He also filled in holes in his resumé by making stops at the Grand Ol’ Opry and spending time in Branson. After a lot of wise investments, he’d earned the right to do just about anything he wanted, and that’s what he continues to do today. Roy Clark, an astonishing talent and much, much more than just the host of Hee-Haw.