Editor's Note: Roy Clark passed away on Nov. 15, 2018. He was 85 years old.
The world knows Roy Clark as the beloved musician and entertainer who entered their homes each week as host of the TV series "Hee Haw." In addition to his career as a recording artist and touring musician, he is also a pilot, self-proclaimed "sports nut," humanitarian and diplomat. Clark has traveled the world making music to cross cultural lines. It has taken him everywhere from Tulsa to the Soviet Union to the White House. Making his home in Tulsa since 1976, he is the man who mastered Malaguena, made the Billboard music charts repeatedly, and is hugely responsible for the development of Branson, Mo. as a live-music hub.
When and where were you born?
April the 15th, 1933 in a little settlement in southwestern Virginia named Meherrin.
What were your first musical memories?
At the very beginning it was my dad and his brothers. They had a little, not a professional band, but they played for their own amusement and played for the neighbors. So that’s the first sounds I heard. Sounds of a guitar, a mandolin and a fiddle that my dad, my uncle Paul and my uncle Dudley played. So it was a natural thing for me.
Would you say your parents were very supportive of your music?
Oh yes, yes. My dad, he seldom paid you a compliment. The fact that he was there and was in a good mood, that means that he must be enjoying it. But he never said anything, but my mother did. Oh, I was the oldest of five children. And so I was her baby. In fact, I said to her one time, "You know, does (Daddy) ever say anything about me? What he thinks of what I’m doing?’"
And she said, "Are you kidding? He tells everyone that will stop and listen just how great you are."
And I said, "Oh, that makes me feel good. I can live with that."
Would you like to say anything about your friendship with noted music manager Jim Halsey?
His attitude is because he believes everything is possible. He’s told me that through the years. I did some things that never panned out. But it was an experience that I went through that I’d take a little bit out of it and put it with the rest. He’s always been there saying, "You can do it," a lot of times when I really needed it.
Because of "Hee Haw," did you begin to be recognized more?
I was on an airplane one time, just after filming the Tonight Show in New York, on a shuttle flight that ran from New York LaGuardia to Baltimore. So I found out (that) if I was to tape the show in New York, I could be back home by the time it aired that night.
I’m sitting there with makeup on trying not to be noticed and these two guys walk by and say, "Hey Harry, look! Hee Haw!"
And I said, "I’m guilty."
That’s just amazing, the scope of people that watched that show.
Did you ever meet anybody that was so larger than life that they just knocked your socks off?
Well, well, well. Bob Hope was one. When I hosted the Tonight Show, Bob Hope was the first guest that I had. So I’m thinking, "Now what am I gonna ask Bob Hope that he has not been asked 100 times before?" And soon as the curtain went up and I introduced him, he jumped right in. He could tell I was a little uneasy in my role of sitting in the seat that Johnny Carson owned.
Who do you view as continuing your legacy?
I tell you, I went out and saw Garth (Brooks) when he played the one-man show on the (Las Vegas) strip. I thought, "Man, that’s got to be a hard set to do, especially in Vegas." But I went out to see his show and it blew me away. It has to be one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, and that’s been a bunch.
Jim Halsey has said that in the Soviet Union, even though you weren’t going to talk about politics or religion, you would end the concert with a gospel song about Jesus. Is that true?
They just wanted to hear the harmony of the Oak Ridge Boys. And you know how it is with a country boy, you tell him not to do something, he’s gonna do his best to do it. Don’t tell us not to mention Jesus.
What defines a star to you?
When I was playing square dance music, we played in Baltimore at the Hippodrome Theatre and this was like 1948; I was just a kid. The star of the show was Hank Williams Sr. Not Junior. I would just, later in life, think, "What was it he had? What magic did he have? Something that comes from within him?"
And all he did was stand there and sing. He didn’t do gyrations or anything. But what is it? And to this day, I don’t know. Charisma, I guess you’d call it. But it was just something that came from within.
Many people call you a star. What do you think it is that people recognize in you as charisma?
I think probably that I’m honest. I’m honest in my thoughts. And I don’t take credit for it. But I have never envied anyone else. I want to see everybody successful. That means that there’s room somewhere for me. If it’s a closed shop, and nobody gets in, then I don’t get in. Just do as much good as you can do.