From Friday’s Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman.
BAM column: Roy Clark keeps pickin’ and grinnin’
The Country Music Hall of Famer and longtime Tulsan will play hits and fan favorites, spin stories and maybe even imitate Johnny Cash when he plays Saturday at Rose State Performing Arts Theatre in Midwest City.
By the time he was 17 years old, Roy Clark had already won two national banjo championships, made his first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry and traded a promising potential career as a boxer to pursue his love for music.
Six decades later, the Country Music Hall of Famer is still feeling that love of music every day.
“I think that I’m not as fast as I used to be, but I’m more often. But I do, I love it probably more,” Clark said with an impish laugh during a phone interview from his longtime home base of Tulsa.
“When I first started — it tickles me now to look back on it — but I thought with my luck, by the time that I get old enough to learn how to play and play with the professionals, they will have used all the musical dots up and there’ll be none left for me,” he added with another chuckle.
“And then the more I got involved, I said now I realize there is no end for the different variations that you can do in music.”
Over the years, music has taken the Virginia native far and wide. He was in his early 20s when he became a regular on Jimmy Dean’s Washington, D.C.-based television show, “Country Style,” taking over the series when Dean left for New York. In 1960, Clark headed for the bright lights of Las Vegas, where he became a fixture at the Golden Nugget. He later joined Oklahoma native Wanda Jackson as leader of her band.
In the 1960s and ’70s, Clark charted several top 10 country singles, including “Tips of My Fingers,” “Yesterday When I Was Young” and “Thank God and Greyhound.” He also ventured again into television, guest hosting and appearing on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” and playing Cousin Roy on “The Beverly Hillbillies.
In 1969, he and Buck Owens were cast in their best-known roles, as co-hosts of “Hee Haw,” the long-running country variety show that made them household names. For 25 years, the seminal series showcased Clark’s quick-witted, down-home comedy along with his fleet-fingered musical prowess.
“Every time I count back, it gets further,” Clark quipped as he considered his long career, “but I tell you what, it beats the alternative.”
Perhaps taking a cue from “Hee Haw,” Clark, 78, promises he will bring a variety show when he plays Saturday night at Rose State Performing Arts Theatre.
“I can’t believe … how long it has been since I have played the city. I said, that’s like something is wrong. I should’ve been playing Oklahoma City twice a week for the last 30 years. So I’ve got so many friends there that I haven’t seen this is really like a homecoming,” said Clark, who moved to Tulsa in 1971 at the urging of his legendary manager Jim Halsey.
“Now, I’ve been there for different reasons other than doing a concert, but this is a bona fide showing what I can or can’t do and trusting that the folks will be as nice this time as they were the first time I did it that many years ago.”
The concert will likely include his hits and fan favorites, popular songs, — “not necessarily that’s a big hit for someone right now, but just songs that people know” — “Hee Haw” tidbits like “PFFT! You Was Gone!” and “I’m a pickin’ and I’m a grinnin’,” and of course, his funny story-spinning. He may even work in his Johnny Cash imitation, noting “I’m not set on anything.”
“’Course, everything that I do, I just started doing it. It was just a natural thing for me to do. I never started telling stories or trying to be funny or trying to do anything other than what I felt at that time,” he said.
“I’m playing a little banjo, a little fiddle, mostly guitar because that’s really where I feel at home. A guitar’s what got me started in wanting to play. And then I got to where I was intrigued by different sounds. So I never thought that I would learn how to play the banjo and the fiddle and the trumpet. I didn’t try to learn to do that thinking that it would enhance my show or just would be better for the outcome of the concert. I did it because I loved the sound of the instruments.”
His love of music already has earned him numerous honors, including a Grammy Award, an Academy of Country Music entertainer of the year trophy, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, membership in the Grand Ole Opry and induction into the country music and Oklahoma music halls of fame.
This year, Clark will be ushered into the Tulsa Hall of Fame and garner the Gene Autry Spirit of the West Award from the Autry National Center in Los Angeles. The late legendary singing cowboy and businessman was one of Clark’s idols, one he still feels lucky that he was able to call a friend.
While in Oklahoma City for his show, Clark plans to take a proper tour of another honor he recently received: the Oklahoma History Center’s exhibit “Pickin’ and Grinnin’: Roy Clark, ‘Hee Haw’ & Country Humor.”
“Every time there is an award that comes up, I’m very honored. And I don’t downplay anything that they have given me. The only thing that bothers me is every time I get another award, I call my doctor and ask him … if he’s told somebody something that has not got back to me,” Clark said, still laughing. “‘Are you telling me that I don’t have long enough so you’re gonna give me all these awards now?’ I don’t take that serious, but it is something to think about.”
Clark may be getting older, but he’s also getting wilier.
“I’ve got a very, very good, young band, and I utilize them ‘cause they’re so talented that it would be a sin for them to be in the background,” he said.
“In fact, somebody asked me not too long ago, said, ‘Why do you have all those other people up on stage? You don’t need all of them; you can do it by yourself.’ And I said, ‘No, I can’t.’ If there was a bad note on the stage, and I was surrounded by young people, all I would have to do is turn around and look at one of them and frown, and you’d think he did it. … But if I’m up there by myself and I hit a bad note, then everybody knows it. That’s why you won’t catch me onstage totally alone.”
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Rose State College Performing Arts Theatre, 6420 SE 15, Midwest City.
Information: 297-2264 or www.myticketoffice.com.
“Pickin’ and Grinnin’: Roy Clark, ‘Hee Haw’ & Country Humor”
Where: Oklahoma History Center, 800 Nazih Zuhdi Drive.
Information: 522-5248 or www.okhistorycenter.org.