If the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the name "Roy Clark" is his stint as pickin' and grinnin' co-host of television's Hee Haw, that would be understandable. Not many performers can boast starring on a show that ran for more than 23 years. But there was always a lot more than comic timing and charm to the man who first played at the Grand Ole Opry in 1950 when he won a national banjo competition — at age 17.
"I stood backstage at the Ryman and looked at Uncle Dave Macon, Hank Williams, Sr., Cowboy Copas — all of the giants of country music — and I just tried to stay out of their way," Roy recalls.
Roy had come out of the Washington, D.C., music scene and toured with Opry legends Stringbean and Grandpa Jones. He soon played behind Red Foley and Ernest Tubb. A virtuoso on all stringed instruments, he also could handle trombone, trumpet and piano to boot.
Roy's guitar wizardry garnered him his first serious notice, at age 27. An invitation to open for Wanda Jackson led to his own tour, for 365 straight nights, and a trip to Las Vegas as a headliner. The next year he had his first hit, "Tips of My Fingers," a Bill Anderson-penned country song with orchestra and strings.
Through the '60s, Roy's smooth vocals and supple playing made him a crossover star. A fixture on such television variety shows as The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, The Flip Wilson Show and The Mike Douglas Show, he wowed audiences with instrumentals like "Malaguena" and "Caravan." In Roy's hands, those tunes were somehow at once hot and laid back.
As a singer, he had such memorable chart hits as "Yesterday, When I Was Young," "I Never Picked Cotton" and, in a more comic mode, "Thank God and Greyhound You're Gone."
Since 1969, Roy has won multiple major awards including the Country Music Association's Entertainer and Instrumentalist of the Year honors and Instrumental Group of the Year (with Buck Trent). His Academy of Country Music achievements include Comedy Act, Lead Guitar and Entertainer of the Year, as well as the Pioneer Award. He has a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame and a Grammy for "Alabama Jubilee" (1982).
His musical adventures since have included a notable collaboration with Texas guitar great Clarence Gatemouth Brown. Roy became another sort of pioneer when he opened the Roy Clark Celebrity Theater in Branson, Missouri, in 1983 — starting the process that would put Branson on the country music map.
Roy now lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma and pursues a busy concert schedule. His recording career resumed after a decade-long break in 2000 with Live at Billy Bob's Texas. Christmas Memories followed that same year, and, in 2005, he cut a pair of gospel albums. Those flying fingers and soothing voice remain quite an attraction. In May 2009, Roy was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
“I teased at life as if it were a foolish game…”