Roy Clark, the country singer, multi-instrumentalist and longtime host of the television variety show Hee Haw, which brought country music into the mainstream, died in his home in Tulsa, Oklahoma today (15) at the age of 85. A publicist, Jeremy Westby, said the cause was complications of pneumonia, the AP reports.
Clark became the face of country music to millions who watched the guitar virtuoso on the vaudevillian country comedy show. He was a fixture on the show for its entire run of more than two decades. He also made regular appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and The Ed Sullivan Show, further broadening country’s appeal.
With the news of Clark’s passing reverberating in the country music community, many have taken to social media to share the country icon’s far-reaching influence on its stars.
“My first Country Music Awards memory,” wrote Keith Urban on Twitter, “is sitting on my living room floor watching Roy Clark tear it up. Sending my love and respect to him and his family for all he did.” Brad Paisley also shared his personal memories of Clark, writing: “When the Nashville floods wiped out most of my guitars, Roy heard about it and showed up at a show and gave me one of his. This is who this man was. Constantly giving. I owe him so much. Go say hi to my Papaw for me Roy. You left the world a much better place.”
While many knew Clark as the amiable host who could ham it up with the best of them, he was also an extremely skilled musician and a pioneer, along with Buck Owens, of what became known as the Bakersfield Sound in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Over the course of his career, Clark earned eight Grammy nominations and was awarded the Best Country Instrumental Performance Grammy for ‘Alabama Jubilee’ at the 25th Annual Grammy Awards in 1982.
Born Roy Linwood Clark on 15 April 1933 in Meherrin, Virginia, he moved with his family to Washington, DC when he was still young. His picking career started with the banjo and mandolin, before he mastered the guitar, making his first television appearance in 1947 at age 14.
Clark would spend most of his adolescence playing local clubs and bars in DC and soon found himself on tour with country legends Hank Williams and Grandpa Jones. But his biggest break came after he won a national banjo competition in 1950 and was invited to perform at the Grand Ole Opry, leading to gigs with Red Foley and Ernest Tubb.
In 1960, after scoring an opening spot for Wanda Jackson at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas, Clark secured his own headlining tour and soon released his debut album for Capitol Records in 1962, The Lightning Fingers of Roy Clark.
His first hit came the following year with remake of Bill Anderson’s 1960 hit, ‘The Tip of My Fingers’. The single found crossover success, featuring an orchestra and string section and reached the country top ten, peaking just outside the pop top 40.
Throughout the 1960s and ’70s, Clark scored 24 singles in the country top 40; nine of them reaching the top ten, including the 1973 No. 1 ‘Come Live With Me.’ Both ‘Somewhere Between Love and Tomorrow’ and ‘If I Had To Do It All Over Again’ reached No. 2. He would remain musically ambitious throughout his storied career, recording albums with artists ranging from fiddle player and guitarist Gatemouth Brown to jazz guitarist Barney Kessel.
Clark placed 28 albums on the country LP chart, ten of which made the pop listings. He became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1987 and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2009.
He is survived by his wife of 61 years, Barbara Joyce (Rupard) Clark; three sons, Roy Clark II, Michael Meyer and Terry Lee Meyer; two daughters, Susan Mosier and Diane Stewart; four grandchildren; and his sister, Susan Coryell.