Heaven becomes home of legendary “picker”

Published 10:35 am Wednesday, November 21, 2018

On Wednesday night of last week, the stars of Country Music gathered in their cathedral city – Nashville, Tennessee – for the annual CMA Awards.

That happy occasion turned sad less than 24 hours later with the announcement that one of legends of Country Music and among its most beloved entertainers, Roy Clark, died in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He was 85.

Those of my generation first met Roy Clark on the hit TV show Hee Haw. I was 16-years-old at the time and head-over-heels in love with another smash hit TV – and cult favorite – Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In, a sketch comedy classic. That show feature a cute little actress by the name of Goldie Hawn.

When I first watched Hee Haw, my initial reaction wasn’t very pleasant. But it was the type of show, complete with its rural (cornpone) humor, that grew on you. It was slapstick comedy for country folks.

And little known to yours truly at that time, Hee Haw featured some of the best “country-picking guitar players” in history.

Hee Haw was the proverbial crossroads of the growing popularity of country music. The show’s producers hit upon an idea to bring together two competing styles of that music – the Bakersfield, California brand featuring co-host Buck Owens and the Nashville sound that was all Roy Clark.

It was a match made in heaven….kind’a like Donny and Marie, Starsky and Hutch, Bert and Ernie, Tom and Jerry, peanut butter and jelly…..you get my drift.

“I’m a picking,” said Clark; “And I’m a grinning,” chimed in Owens, their classic opening line as Hee Haw began another episode.

How popular was the show? Well, it ended its 25-season run in June of 1993. Reruns of the show can still be found on various channels.

What did I like the best about Roy Clark? Well, other than his “country-bumpkin” comedy on Hee Haw, the best part was his ability to play any musical instrument with strings. He came by it naturally as his father was a proficient musician, playing guitar, fiddle, and banjo.

Clark, born in Meherrin, VA (west of Petersburg), was becoming a force to be reckoned with by the young age of 20. At that time he was touring with Grandpa Jones (the two reunited on Hee Haw years later) and was among the “front acts” while touring with the legendary Hank Williams (Senior, not Junior).

He landed gigs on the radio and on TV, getting a big break by appearing on the popular CBS series “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts,” and shared the stage with artists such as Jimmy Dean and Patsy Cline.

He signed with Capitol Records and in 1963 recorded his first major hit song, “The Tips Of My Fingers.” Others would follow: “Yesterday, When I Was Young,” “I Never Picked Cotton” and “Thank God and Greyhound” were major hits at Country Radio. He notched a number one hit in 1973 with a romantic ballad, “Come Live With Me.”

One of my all-time favorites was a re-make of the legendary song, “Ghost Riders in the Sky.” He performed it, instrumentally, with another legendary guitar picker, the now late Glen Campbell.

In 1976, Clark made history by becoming one of the first American artists to perform in the Soviet Union, playing to packed houses each night.

Stateside, his peers in Country Music appreciated his talents as well. Over the course of his career, Clark earned seven CMA Awards, to include Entertainer of the Year in 1973. He was Comedian of the Year for 1970, won the Instrumental Group of the Year Award (with banjoist Buck Trent) in 1975 and 1976, and was named Instrumentalist of the Year in 1977, 1978, and 1980. His rendition of “Alabama Jubilee” earned him a 1982 Grammy for Best Country Instrumental Performance.

He was also a wise businessman. In 1983 he established the Roy Clark Celebrity Theatre in a tiny, sleepy little town by the name of Branson, Missouri. He was among the first to make such an investment in Branson, which is now a mecca for music fans.

Clark was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2009.

I can hear it now…..Roy Clark and Glen Campbell performing live in Heaven. Keep on picking, Roy!

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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