Even though 2007 marks his 60th year as a performer, Roy Clark is as excited as ever about making music. “I do love it,” says the award-winning singer, songwriter and television personality.
The “pickin’ and grinnin’” Clark, 74, former host of the long-running TV series Hee Haw, continues to perform all over the nation, playing some 200 shows last year. His wife of 50 years, Barbara, is amazed that the life of a working musician captivates him to this day.
“I’ll come off the road after being out for two months and there’s a guitar right by my chair,” he says, “and I’ll get it and start strumming as soon as I get home. She’ll say, ‘Don’t you ever get tired?’” He never does.
Clark first became interested in music as a boy growing up in Meherrin, Va. His father, who later moved the family to Washington, D.C., encouraged young Roy as he taught himself to play guitar. He eventually became a virtuoso on several other stringed instruments.
Hee Haw, which aired from 1969 to 1993, made Clark a household name, but he has many other credits. As one of country music’s most recognized ambassadors, he pioneered a groundbreaking 1976 tour to the Soviet Union, appeared on numerous TV shows and commercials, and became the first musician to open a celebrity theater in Branson, Mo., in 1983.
“What you see with Roy Clark is what you get,” says Franklin Grant, who organizes an annual concert by Clark at Longwood University in Farmville, Va., where the entertainer funds scholarships to aspiring musicians. “I’ve never seen him be anything but nice to the audience, the students or the people who work for him.”
Clark’s image as a genuinely nice guy is enhanced by his track record of extensive charity work. During the last 15 years, he’s staged fund-raising concerts and other events for hospitals in Virginia, Tennessee and his hometown of Tulsa, Okla.; a language-disorder clinic in North Carolina; a Los Angeles youth center; an elementary school in Tulsa and dozens of college programs.
For several years, he headlined a golf tournament for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., where a floor was named in his honor. “I see a lot of celebrities come to St. Jude, and you know what’s in a person’s heart by how they entertain the children,” says hospital CEO David McKee. “He was truly touched by the kids, not the cameras.”
Clark sees his helping hand as a responsibility. “I’ve just been so blessed in my life,” he says. “It would be a sin for me to sit there and not share it, and not do something to help others.” Clark also is noted for his generosity on stage, eager to share the spotlight with the younger musicians in his band. During a recent performance, he played several of his signature songs, including “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky,” “Yesterday, When I Was Young” and “Thank God and Greyhound,” then stepped aside to allow each member of the band to shine. Later, in a move that prompted laughter from the crowd, Clark edged to the front of the stage, saying it was time to show the younger people that “the old boy can still get it done.” He grabbed his fiddle and dazzled the audience with a lightning-fast version of “Orange Blossom Special.”
While his enthusiasm and musical chops are as strong as ever, Clark says he’s finally ready to cut back on some of his traveling to spend more time with family, which includes four grown children and five grandkids. He plans to scale down to around 75 shows each year, but don’t expect him to put away the guitar anytime soon.
“We ain’t through yet,” he says. “There’s some notes out there that still wanna be played.”