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Published: Friday, 12/10/2004

Roy Clark remains regular ol' nice guy

BY BRIAN DUGGER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Roy Clark Roy Clark
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The voice is obviously older, but it's still evident who's on the other end of the phone when Roy Clark jokingly bellows, "Welcome to Hee Haw," thereby bringing a flood of memories from 20, 25, even more than 30 years ago.

Clark is calling from Florida, getting ready for a show at a local community center, although he's not exactly sure where. "All I do is put on my suit, and they point me," he says with a laugh.

He's a country and popular culture legend disguised as a regular ol' nice guy. He's the guy who once said "I'm a firm believer in smiles. A real sincere smile is a mighty powerful thing."

And after almost 45 years in country music and television, including 24 as a co-star with Buck Owens on Hee Haw, he still lives by that belief.

Hitting the charts for the first time in 1963 with "The Tips of My Fingers," Clark has amassed 23 Top 40 country hits, including eight Top 10 songs, including "Yesterday, When I Was Young," "The Tips of My Fingers," and "I Never Picked Cotton." But he will forever be linked with Hee Haw, which appeared on CBS for the first time in 1969.

"I was a guest on the Jonathan Winters Show when these guys approached me and asked me if I'd be interested in doing this country version of Laugh-In. I said of course, because I learned early on to say yes to everything because usually those shows never work out anyhow," he says. "Well in early January [1969], my manager called and said they're getting ready to do that show. I said 'What show?' And he says, 'They're calling it Hee Haw. And I said, 'They're calling what Hee Haw?"

It may not have seemed very memorable in the early days, but Hee Haw" became a classic, running for 2 1/2 years on CBS, then more than 20 years in syndication. Its format was quick jokes, music, special guests, and more jokes.

"The first time I had to say these corny jokes, I looked at Buck Owens and said, 'These are terrible. I could write better stuff than this,' but when I was able to see a rough cut, I could see what they were doing. You'd say this corny joke, then zoom, right off to music. It was fast-paced."

Since the show ended in 1992, Clark, 71, has spent life on the road, singing his hits, telling a few jokes, and featuring his band, Roy's Boys. Last year, he spent 220 days away from home. This year it will be 180.

"I've been really blessed as an entertainer," he says. "I've never been one place while wishing I was somewhere else. I'm never in Toledo wishing I was in New York City. Each place is unique. The only thing you hear entertainers complain about is having to live out of a suitcase, but when you come on stage and they introduce you, that's what it's all about."

One of the nicest men in country music stops and pays tribute to his wife of 47 years, Barbara. "She is as much responsible for this than anyone else. In 1960, it was just her and I on the road. She'd drive to one engagement and I'd sleep. Then I'd do my thing while she would sleep. We were on the road for 347 days that first year," he says. It's not 347 days a year now, but the blood of an entertainer still flows as strong as it used to.

"My wife teases me because when I come back from a long trip, I have this guitar next to this chair I relax in and I'll grab it and start to strum it. She'll say 'Don't you ever get tired?' And I'll say, 'No, I never get tired of music.'‚óŹ"

Roy Clark will perform his "Christmas Memories Show" at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Stranahan Theater, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd. Tickets, $20 to $35, are available from the box office or Ticketmaster. Information: 419-381-8851.

Contact Brian Dugger at: bdugger@theblade.com

or 419-724-6183.



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