Aug 3, 2016–Seems like many of the artists I interview these days are people that my dad wouldn’t believe I talked to and my kids wouldn’t care.
Roy Clark falls into that category. Taking a risk, I told him that line when I had the opportunity to interview him about his upcoming show at the Rockbox Theater on August 5.
Thankfully, he chuckled.
“I just went through that at a show,” he admitted. “I was talking to two of the security guys. One was just about as nice as you were, and said, what a fan, and went on and on. He turned to his partner, and said, ‘Hey, Chuck, do you know who this is?’ And I saw the blankest stare I’ve ever seen. Finally, he said, ‘It’s Roy Clark.’ And the look just got blanker. I was just satisfied someone in the group knew who I was.”
If you are under 40, you might not know that Roy Clark was the hottest picker in Nashville in the 1960s, working in bands for top artists. He scored many Top Ten hits including 1969’s #1 Yesterday When I Was Young, won a Grammy Award for Best Instrumental, was CMA Entertainer of the Year, and was nominated for Best Comedy Album. He ended up as the popular host of the syndicated TV show Hee Haw.
Mostly, the man could pick. My first true appreciation of his music abilities happened when I joined a little show band back in the 1970s called The Smallwoods. Brothers Bill and Bob played for me a live recording of Roy Clark doing Under the Double Eagle with some Vegas house band. They especially loved the part where Clark was picking so fast, he kept outpacing the professional orchestra. I asked Clark about that, too.
Again, he laughed.
“I remember that happened more than once,” he said. “I was doing a single, so I played with different bands every night. They didn’t get a chance to see what I was going to do until it was over. I’d look back (at the drummer), they’d drop their sticks, and be reaching down to pick them up. I told them, don’t worry, that’s part of the show. If you can’t keep up, that makes me look great! They were half my age, too.”
Now based in the Branson area, Clark still travels at 83. During his appearance in Fredericksburg, he is going to pick a little and talk a little with the audience, telling stories and answering questions. Here are some highlights of what you might hear…
What is the difference between being a sideman and a frontman and which did you prefer?
“Being the big guy out front is not the best place to be. He’s got the flashy jacket, and is trying to make himself look good. The musician in the back; he can sit there on the comfortable stool and learn as he is getting paid. The guy up front in the sparkly jacket, let him take the credit while you sit in the back and have the fun.”
Do you still enjoy being on the road?
“I still enjoy it; I just don’t enjoy it all that much.”
Was being on Hee Haw as much fun as it appeared? (Again, for you youngers, Hee Haw was an unabashedly corny syndicated TV show that had low production values, groaner humor, and cheesy bits, yet featured country music’s top all-time singers, pickers, and comics–Buck Trent, Buck Owens, Grandpa Jones, Minnie Pearl, Archie Campbell, and Junior Samples, for example.)
“It was. We only went in twice a year, in June and October, and taped 13 shows each time. So when we went in to the studio, we hadn’t seen anyone for months so it was like a reunion. But we worked hard, sunup to sundown, and hoped we didn’t have any technical problems.”
Tell me about playing Myrtle on The Beverly Hillbillies (Kids, go online to learn about this one. Trust me.)
“It was funny when we started dressing Myrtle. She was supposed to wear panty hose, but wardrobe couldn’t find any big enough. So what we had to do was cut the feet out and pull ‘em up, then put boots on to cover up where they were cut.”
That led to another anecdote explaining why he quit smoking.
“When I was doing Mama Halsey (Note: He played both the mother and daughter on the show. I told you to google it.), that was a little different. At that time I was smoking. I was in the wardrobe looking in a mirror, and here I am as an old lady, with a cigarette. I said, ‘A little old lady does not smoke.’ And I put it out, and I haven’t smoked since.”
Do you have any current projects in the works?
“We are in the ‘thinking about it’ stage as far as doing an album. I’m getting anxious to go in and do things that have been in my mind, but haven’t got to my fingers yet.”
In looking over my notes for this column, one of my thoughts was that Roy Clark seemed like the kind of guy you could walk up and talk to. You’ll be able to do just that at his show.
“My part is to answer the questions that I was asked 20 years ago,” he said. “Because at the time, we’d meet after the show, talk a little bit, but we had to go on to the next show. This is a chance to answer questions and to ask questions. I’m as interested in what people do for a living and why they decided to come out and watch this ex-hillbilly.”
And he means it when he says that he’s a hillbilly.
“At one show someone said, ‘You’ve gone uptown.’ I said, ‘Where I’m from, it’s not that big of a town.’”
But music has allowed Clark to “see a lot of life.” He has been to the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, and Far East, far from that small town where he started. Even with that, he looks back and wonders “what if” he had done something else.
“Looking back, I may have worked a little harder,” he admitted. “I took a lot of things for granted. Management offered me things to do, and I would do them. But I would have taken a little more time and dedicated it to making more recordings.”
One thing he doesn’t take for granted is the dedication of his fans, no matter their age.
“I would like to invite them to come out,” he said. “There’s lot of things I hope we create together, that is a nice warm spot in our thoughts and hopefully our hearts. And that you feel better coming out than you did coming in.”