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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

Roy Clark--An appreciation

Roy Clark's "Yesterday When I Was Young"

As the Recording Academy’s president/CEO Neil Portnow noted in a statement, Roy Clark, who died yesterday at 85, was “a revered figure in country music.”

“As a top-notch instrumentalist, TV star, and concert entertainer, Clark was an ambassador for the genre who helped broaden country music’s reach,” Portnow noted. “He was just as at home hosting the zany country comedy show Hee Haw as he was playing guitar at a virtuoso level. He earned eight Grammy nominations throughout his legendary career, and was awarded the Best Country Instrumental Performance Grammy for ‘Alabama Jubilee’ at the 25th Annual Grammy Awards. The country music community has lost one of its most cherished musicians.”

According to music historian John Alexander, Clark “was without a doubt one of the most talented and versatile artists in country music. He was an incredible musician, a comedian, an actor--and he could really sing.”

Formerly senior music editor at Reader’s Digest and author of The Man in Song—A Discographic Biography of Johnny Cash, Alexander continues: “I was thrilled to have had the opportunity to put together a boxed set of all his hits for Reader’s Digest. He owned his own masters, which also proved what a smart business man he was, and he allowed us to compile a complete career retrospective of his work--the only one he ever approved. He could perform light-hearted songs like ‘Thank God and Greyhound,’ career-high ballads like Charles Aznavour’s ‘Yesterday, When I Was Young’ and his No. 1 hit ‘Come Live With Me, and my personal favorite, ‘I Never Picked Cotton,’ that Johnny Cash covered many years later.”

Clark’s longtime manager Jim Halsey likewise notes that Clark was “talented beyond measure.”

“But his biggest gift was his unselfish generosity,” says Halsey. Adds Alexander,”Roy Clark exuded humility and always had a smile on his face.”

Indeed, attendees at an annual music business gathering hosted by the then giant Ohio-based Camelot Music record store chain remember a jovial Clark suffering a bad cold but performing an entire show with a hoarse voice bordering on laryngitis—and with the same sense of warmth and fun that he brought to his many years of hosting Hee Haw opposite Buck Owens.

As noted, guitarist Clark was also a musician of the highest order.

“He had a smile and style that were only eclipsed by his incredible guitar pickin’ ability,” says encyclopedic guitarist and Conan bandleader Jimmy Vivino. “He brought country guitar playing into homes all across the globe with his appearances on Hee Haw and as Cousin Roy on The Beverly Hillbillies. As a major star with boundless talent and a delivery system unparalleled, he left an indelible impression on me.”

Clark also sought to pass on his guitar prowess via his popular Big Note Guitar Method instruction books. But he was characteristically humble when asked about his virtuosity.

“There are mailmen out there who play guitar better than me,” he once said in an interview. “I’m just glad they’re mailmen!”

Concludes Alexander, “Country music has lost a true renaissance man.”



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