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 Opry when he won a national banjo competition—at age 17, in 1950. Roy had come out of the Washington, D.C., area and had already been touring with legends Hank Williams and Grandpa Jones. He soon played behind Red Foley and Ernest Tubb, too – a virtuoso on all stringed instruments and able to handle trombone, trumpet, and piano to boot.
It was as a guitar wizard that Roy first got seriously noticed, at 27—after 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 country song with orchestra and strings.
Through the 1960s, Roy’s smooth vocals and supple playing made him a crossover star. He was a fixture on television variety shows from The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson to The Flip Wilson Show to The Mike Douglas Show, wowing audiences with instrumentals such as “Malaguena” or “Caravan,” which were in Roy’s hands somehow at once hot and laid back.
Singing, he had such memorable vocal chart hits as “Yesterday, When I Was Young,” “I Never Picked Cotton,” and in that more comic mode, “Thank God and Greyhound You’re Gone.”
Since 1969, Roy has won 25 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 wizard Clarence Gatemouth Brown, and Roy became another sort of pioneer when he opened the Roy Clark Celebrity Theater in Branson, Missouri, in 1983—starting the process which 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, a series of recordings of Gospel Greats. Those flying fingers and soothing voice remain quite an attraction. In May of 2009, Roy was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.