Roy Clark was one of country’s first “multi-media” stars, as the industry used to call them, and ultimately helped bring country music to a wider audience. An expert guitarist, recording star and lively on-stage entertainer, Clark also triumphed in the medium of television as co-host of the popular musical-comedy series Hee Haw from its inception in 1969 through 1997. The show was inspired by country culture and featured country music artists and a barn full of backwoods-style jokes. But, remarkably, Hee Haw proved a hit in big-city urban markets like Boston and Chicago after moving from CBS to syndication in 1971. The affable Clark showcased his flair for broad humor in the show’s comedy sketches, and became the proverbial household name through the series.
Clark played a major part in Hee Haw’s homespun hilarity, but he was absolutely serious about his music. He first hit the charts in 1963 with “Tips of My Fingers,” written by Bill Anderson, and scored a major crossover smash in 1969 with the poignant, “Yesterday, When I Was Young.” Clark’s other chart successes included “I Never Picked Cotton,” “Thank God and Greyhound,” and his only No. 1 single, “Come Live With Me.” For his contributions to both music and television, Clark won the prestigious CMA Entertainer of the Year award in 1973. He was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2009.
Clark died in November of 2018 and left behind a loveable litany of outstanding songs. Now, fans can relive Clark’s musical legacy in a new compilation album, Roy Clark Greatest Hits, available now. The album features 18 of Clark’s most memorable tunes along with his brilliant instrumental, “Riders in the Sky.” Greatest Hits is a true showcase of Clark’s ability to shift from serious selections like “Yesterday, When I Was Young” to the playful “Thank God and Greyhound” and “The Lawrence Welk-Hee Haw Counter-Revolution Polka,” along with such lighthearted fare as “Think Summer.”
Greatest Hits marks the only collection of Clark’s original recordings currently in print. For this compilation, the emphasis lies squarely on the term “original recordings,” notes Cary Mansfield, Producer and Vice President of Catalog A&R at Varese Sarabande Records. “Nothing was remixed,” says Mansfield. “I think that’s how compilations should be done. I’m not big on re-recording material or editing it in any way. This is the newest collection that’s available,” Mansfield adds, “and it’s really like the ‘Best of the Best.’ Through this album, I think that people will be reminded of what a tremendous artist he was. He could play classical music on the guitar as well as other styles. He got songs from some amazing songwriters like Bill Anderson and Bobby Russell (“Then She’s a Lover”), and he really knew how to pick songs that were right for him. I’m just happy that we were able to do this.”
A couple of selections from the album stand out for Mansfield. He points to “Tips of My Fingers,” citing that it was Clark’s country chart debut and also noting its intriguing bit of back story. Clark sang the number as “Tips of My Fingers,” although Bill Anderson had written it originally as “The Tip of My Fingers,” and released it under that title in 1960. Further covers have alternated between “Tip,” notably by Eddy Arnold, and “Tips,” most recently by Steve Wariner in 1992. “Roy might have been the first to say ‘Tips,’ according to Bill Anderson,” Mansfield says. “It’s a great song and Roy did a beautiful version.” Clark’s rendition peaked at the No. 10 spot in 1963.
Clark also took the rueful ballad “Yesterday, When I Was Young,” based on the French song “Heir Encore (Only Yesterday)” by France’s popular artist Charles Aznavour, and gave it a relatable English language makeover. Clark’s emotional vocal captured the song’s piercing sentiment, as a man reflects on the wasted days of his youth as he nears the end of his life. “That showed Roy’s versatility,” Mansfield says. “It was a hit in country and pop.” Released in 1969, the song became Clark’s biggest country hit at the time, landing at No. 9. It briefly resurfaced in 1995 when Clark rendered “Yesterday, When I Was Young” at the funeral of baseball legend Mickey Mantle, per Mantle’s request.
In an era when instrumentals were often staples of country recordings, Clark shined with his virtuoso guitar playing on “Riders in the Sky,” often written as “Ghost Riders in the Sky.” Clark took the classic Western song to No. 27 in 1973, and placed it on his all-instrumental album, Roy Clark/Superpicker. “He was a fantastic guitarist, and so prolific,” raves Mansfield. “He put instrumentals on most of his albums.”
Not surprisingly, Clark’s one-two punch of vocal prowess and musicianship wielded a strong influence on such current stars as Keith Urban and Brad Paisley, who’s often listed Clark as one of his early heroes. “I think Roy is still as popular as ever,” Mansfield states earnestly. “There is no doubt that his legacy will survive.”