It seems like we’ve lost an old friend, one who was welcomed into homes across America for decades. Roy Clark, Country Music’s King of Strings, adept on guitar, banjo, and mandolin, and one of TV’s most Familiar Faces thanks to his 14 year gig as co-host of HEE HAW, passed away yesterday at age 85. Clark was born in Virginia on April 15, 1933, and picked up his first guitar at age 14. He was a two-time National Banjo Champion by age 15, and made his Grand Ole Opry debut at 17. Roy joined Jimmy Dean’s band in the early 50’s, but was fired for his chronic tardiness. He then began playing backup for rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson.
When Dean got a guest host spot on THE TONIGHT SHOW, he brought his old bandmate Roy on, and Clark’s expert playing, coupled with his unassuming, warm personality, tore the house down. Soon Roy was all over the small screen: variety shows like Jackie Gleason and Flip Wilson, sitcoms like THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES (as the Clampett’s bumpkin Cousin Roy), LOVE AMERICAN STYLE, THE ODD COUPLE ,THE MUPPET SHOW. But it was HEE HAW, which he cohosted with Buck Owens, that skyrocketed his popularity. Between the corny down home humor and classic country music, the show was a phenomenon, debuting in 1969 and running continuously until 1993. All the genre’s biggest stars performed, and Roy was a large part of it’s success.
Roy Clark sold out concerts around the world, and he was a huge draw in both Vegas and Branson, MO. When I heard the news he died, I immediately thought of his most-loved song, the poignant “Yesterday, When I Was Young”, which topped the charts in 1969. It’s one of the most bittersweet ballads ever, originally written in French by Charles Aznavour, and serves as a fitting tribute to Roy Clark:
God bless ya’ll, Roy.