The Life and Music of Roy Clark


Introduction to Roy Clark

Roy Clark was an American country singer and musician. A very talented individual, he was proficient in playing the guitar, mandolin and banjo; he also tackled sports like boxing and baseball particularly when he was younger. He’s also a licensed pilot. He was also a familiar face on television, having performed on several television programs including a couple of shows hosted by Jimmy Dean (he was once the host of The Tonight Show), the sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies, as well as The Jackie Gleason Show. He scored hits such as “Yesterday When I Was Young” and “Tips of My Fingers” that also crossed over to the pop charts during the early 60s music era. His highest-charting country hit single was 1973’s “Come Live with Me.” But throughout his career, Clark is best known as one of the hosts of Hee Haw, a TV country variety show with comic elements thrown in, and for this Clark had also honed his skills as an actor and comedian.

Early life and career

American country music singer, guitarist and banjo player Roy Clark was born Roy Linwood Clark on April 15, 1933 in Meherrin, Virginia. He spent his formative years in Staten Island, New York before he and his folks moved to Washington where he spent his teenage years. Even when he was still young he already had won many achievements, including the two awards from the National Banjo Championships and world banjo and guitar flat pick championships. He also tried his hand at boxing and baseball. He also became a licensed pilot at only 23 years old, and once had his own plane.

Clark had already performed on the Grand Ole Opry at the early age of 17. Around 1955, he became a part of the television program Jimmy Dean’s Washington D.C. but he was later fired by Dean for habitual tardiness. However, Dean later stated that Clark was the most talented person he ever fired. After marrying Barbara Joyce Rupard in 1957, he flew to Las Vegas in 1960 and worked as a guitarist in a band led by comedian Hank Penny, who was also the former bandleader of the West Coast Western Spring. Around that same time, he became one of the Party Timers, Wanda Jackson’s backing band. 

Clark’s television stints and more of his musical career

In the 1960’s, Clark had his first national appearance on The Tonight Show where he was introduced by Dean, the host of the show at that point. Not long thereafter, Clark was offered a recurring character for the sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies. It was followed by another TV stint on an episode of The Odd Couple, playing the song “Malaguena.”

Signing to Capitol Records in 1963, Clark scored his first hit with “Tips of My Fingers,” peaking at #45 and #10 on the pop and country charts respectively. Later, Clark moved to Dot Records and had several hits there including “Thank God and Greyhound” (1969, #90 pop, #6 R&B) and  “Yesterday When I Was Young” which was his biggest hit, reaching #19 on the national chart while it was #9 on R&B.

In 1969, Clark made a return to television. Along with Buck Owens, he hosted the country variety show Hee Haw. The show was later dropped by CBS in 1971 however, and the show ran in syndication and was aired from 1969 to 1992. Also that time, he became a member of an all-star group of session musicians called The Million Dollar Band. The group was a frequent performer on the show between 1980 and 1988. In the 1970’s, Clark was often co-hosting for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show as well. On May 17, 2009, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Clark’s later years, death and legacy

In 1983 in Branson Missouri, Clark opened the Roy Clark Celebrity Theater. Being the first country music bar in Bronson, it became a center of live music performance of the town up to this day. On August 22, 1987, Clark became a member of the Grand Ole Opry.

In 2011, the Oklahoma House of Representatives gave honorific distinction to Clark for his contributions to the state. He was also made as the Oklahoma’s Music Ambassador for Children.

On November 15, 2018, Roy Clark passed away at his home in Tulsa, due to complications from pneumonia. He was 85 years old. He was survived by his wife 61 years, Barbara, his children and grandchildren.

He had been a member of the Grand Ole Opry since 1987. Apart from his place in the Country Music Hall of Fame, he was also inducted to the Cheyenne Frontiers Days Hall of Fame in 2007.

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