Roy Clark at first gained recognition as a crossover TV personality whose citified country humor and instrumental talent appealed to TV variety show audiences.
Like Glen Campbell, Clark rose to stardom in Los Angeles with an urbanized country sound that reflected the migration from the farm to the city. Clark, who gained widespread fame as the host of the long-running country-fried hit "Hee-Haw," died this week of pneumonia in Tulsa, Okla.
While Clark's musical performances brought him appearances on 1960s TV variety shows, he also developed a comic personna of the canny Southern bumpkin, similar to those of Andy Griffith or Jim Nabors. Clark's rubbery facial expressions guaranteed laughs.
Later, Clark reverted more and more to cornpone hillbilly humor as the host of the long-running "Hee Haw," along with the dynamic Bakersfield singer Buck Owens. Clark and Owens' "picking' and grinnin'" routine always made me cringe, as if I were watching the black actor Stephen Fetchit act out black stereotypes in 1930s movies.
While the "Hee-Haw" act's broad humor was funny enough, it depended on demeaning Southern stereotypes. I was chagrined that such wonderful musical talents as Clark and Owens stooped to such condescending work. Owens apparently hated the bit.
While Clark was funny, his self-deprecating comic act overshadowed his immense talent as a singer and guitar/banjo player. Clark's musical talent compared to Campbell's, and he could have had a similar singing/playing career without the clowning.
Well, people loved "Hee Haw," as white audiences once loved "Amos and Andy." Such broad, corn-shucking humor was long a staple of country acts. Even Hank Williams had such a comic in his band. Minnie Pearl built a durable career out of country humor.
Clark had stage presence, and his comedy touched millions. Yet, his delivery of songs like "Yesterday When I Was Young" and his virtuoso instrumental performances made me wish that he'd concentrated on his music.