This story about Roy Clark’s press conference at the American Banjo Museum is a contribution from Pam Tucker with Walkers Folk Mania Media.
I’m a pickin… and I’m a grinnin. Words that will forever echo in my memories. Sunday evenings at home were spent in front of a Zenith console TV, watching Hee Haw with the family. Never in my mind did I contemplate that I would one day be interviewing co-host Roy Clark, but last Thursday I had the opportunity to shake hands, and talk to him. As we sat in the middle of two original Hee Haw costumes, Roy shared some of his memories with me and an array of other reporters at the opening of a new exhibit honoring his career at the American Banjo Museum, which is located in the Bricktown section of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
As his sparkling blue eyes, and his smile reiterated, Roy Clark is more than a super picker extraordinaire. Clark is the son of a musician, who followed his dream and chased rainbows to be the superb entertainer we all know today. It all began on April 15, 1933, when Roy Linden Clark was born in Meherrin, Virginia. At 14, he began to pick on the banjo, mandolin and guitar. One year later, he had won 2 national banjo championships.
Roy was more than a musician, he was an athlete as well. He dabbled in baseball and boxing as a boy. However, his music career took off at 17 when he took center stage at The Grand Old Opry.
Clark said, when asked how long he has been on television, “I’ve been on TV longer than Bob Hope. While I was still living at home, I was on television in 1947.” Most known for his co-hosting of Hee Haw, Roy has more to his background than a family oriented variety show. By 1955, Clark was a regular on Jimmy Dean’s Washington D.C. television program. Dean fired Clark for excessive tardiness, but this didn’t hold Roy back. In fact, he soared to even further heights. When asked about the relationship with rockabilly star, Wanda Jackson, Roy said, “She’s a sweetheart. She got me connected with Capital records on a trip to Las Vegas. Being on the road is hard for a musician, especially for a lady, living out of a suitcase.”
Clark states he has over 100 mandolins, banjos, guitars, and steel guitars in his private collection although none of his instruments are named, they are numbered so he knows what he has. He has brought with him today, a banjo that will be on display this summer at the American Banjo Museum. “This banjo has taken me a lot of places. And has seen a lot of things.”
Roy had airtime on the Muppets, Beverly Hillbillies, Odd Couple and Jackie Gleason shows, but is most known for his co-hosting stint on Hee Haw. The show only aired for 3 years on CBS, but continued in direct syndication for another two decades. Still today it appears regularly in reruns. Clark’s Hee Haw contributions brought bluegrass music to the forefront and showcased the many different genres of country music.
Roy now lives in Tulsa Oklahoma. Clark said, “Oklahoma is centrally located, easy to travel from coast to coast, and to Nashville. So, I would have to say I chose Oklahoma because it’s easy.” Easy or not, Oklahoma and Oklahomans are thrilled to have Roy Clark as a resident, neighbor and entertainer. Yes, today, Roy is still a pickin’ and a grinnin’.
Photos by Budd Walker and M. King.