To a generation of television viewers, Roy Clark was a genial hayseed, co-host to the country variety and comedy series "Hee-Haw," from 1969 through most of the 1970s. But to much of the music world, Clark is respected musician, songwriter, singer and arranger, and he's still very active today.
He was born on April 15, 1933, in Meherrin, Virginia, into a musical family. His mother played piano and his father was quite a picker, playing guitar, banjo and fiddle. His father had worked his way from field hand and tobacco farmer to making telescope and periscope lenses, a job that brought the family to Washington D.C. during WWII when Clark was 11.
Curious about his father's banjo, Clark first played it like a drum, until his dad straightened him out and began showing him basic picking techniques. Clark's aptitude was immediately apparent and his father was soon bringing him to country dances he was performing at in Washington area halls and clubs. With music becoming his priority, the fifteen-year-old guitarist quit D.C.'s Chamberlain Vocational High School in early 1949, only a half-semester away from graduation. Clark's real education began when he entered the Washington, D.C. nightclub world at that point, hitting D.C. and Prince Georges County clubs like the Wagon Wheel, Club Hillbilly, Chubby's and the Campus.
Clark was then playing banjo as much as guitar, and his five-string work won him several contests, one of which got him on stage at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville at age 17. At 18, Clark became a professional boxer, but after winning his first 15 bouts, his 16th was a bad defeat that convinced him to head back to music for a career. He toured the east coast making a reputation in clubs as a ferocious banjo player and a dynamic frontman, and he was a regular guest on such radio programs as "Ozark Jubilee" and the D.C. area "Town and Country Time." He became friends with Jimmy Dean, the rising country star who had settled in Washington after his military stint and was performing in local clubs with his band the Texas Wildcats. The two often performed together, with Clark briefly joining Dean's band, but also fronting his own groups, including the Stardusters, tearing it up at such long-gone local joints as the Dixie Pig, Hunter's Lodge, Strick's, the Quonset Inn and the 4400 Club.
Clark hooked up with Dean's manager, the fabled local radio personality Connie B. Gay, and Gay invited Clark to become a regular on Dean's television show "Town and Country" a program Clark took over when Dean moved to New York to pursue bigger things.
Rockabilly singer Wanda Jackson heard about a hot picker up in Washington when she was searching for a guitarist, and one Sunday came to see Clark at Strick's. She hired him after one show and took him to Las Vegas as her band leader, a gig that brought him to the ears of Capitol Records executives. They quickly signed Clark who had a hit with his first release, "The Lightning Fast Fingers of Roy Clark." It landed him on the Tonight Show for the first of many appearances, and his telegenic qualities made him a natural for the medium.
He had hits throughout the ‘60s, and his rising profile led Buck Owens to tap Clark as his co-host on the newly created "Hee-Haw." His hits "Tips of My Fingers," "Come Live With Me," "Yesterday When I was Young," "I Never Picked Cotton," "Thank God and Greyhound" and many more proved him to be a durable hit maker for two decades, and he was named Entertainer of the Year by both the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music. In 1976 he was the first country star to perform in the Soviet Union, and in 1983 Clark became one of the first artists to open a theater in Branson, Missouri.