It’s a bit odd that I pay my respects to a country artist but me and Roy go back quite far. You might say we have a history.
There was a time when rural TV stations would run the syndicated Lawrence Welk show and Hee Haw back to back, often on a Saturday night. This was a ratings bonanza for them, raking in that whole “greatest generation” audience, not to to mention their still living parents. For the baby boomers and their younger siblings, it was unimaginable torture.
My maternal grandparents lived about sixty five miles from us. We’d often drive up on weekends. We were not given leave to control the channels on grandpa’s big color TV. Oh hell no. Especially as teenagers. Nope, Saturday night was the night for great music. The sweet, smooth, makes-me-barf-just-thinking-about-it sounds of Lawrence Welk and his cadre of mellow minions watering down just about anything they could get their clumsy mitts on. Followed by the hayseed humor and wretched twanging tunes on Hee Haw. At least Hee Haw had the sexist Honeys. The women of LW were so bland and sexless that even a horny teenager could find no inspiration. That said, everyone I grew up with has reels of tape in their minds with old ditties and routines from Hee Haw taking up space in their brains, rotting fragements like: Where, where are you tonight? Why did you leave me here all alone? I searched the world over and I thought I found true love. But you met another and Pffpt you were gone!
We are going to a birthday party tonight of a friend of ours. Many of the attendees are my age. I know for certain that if I were to start to sing “Where, where are you-” at least a half dozen will join in before I get to the second verse. So yeah, Hee Haw (and Welk) is a universal experience up here.
Roy Clark, who passed away two days ago, was one of the co-hosts of Hee Haw (the other being the Prince of Bakersfield – Buck Owens). So I grew up with a strong dislike of those two. After a while I had to grudgingly admit that Roy was one blazing guitar player, even if his genre of choice was one I personally abhorred. I didn’t realize that for Roy, Hee Haw was a pretty good gig, getting paid for clowning around with Buck and performing with people he liked. I am sure it beat the hell out of playing on the road 360 days a year.
Though he did tour. We saw him at the North Dakota Centennial Celebration in the summer of 1989, on the big grass mall of the state capital in Bismarck. There were over 100,000 people there and Roy was one of the acts, possibly the headliner. He played all his best know stuff, offered up some down-home humor, and basically entertained an audience that ranged in age from 1-90. And towards the end of his set, he did “Malaguena” on a twelve-string.
The song was in his repertoire for a long time, probably taken from seeing Jose Feliciano do it in the late 60s. It was written by Ernesto Lecuona for piano and was originally the sixth movement of his Andalucia Suite. It is a fiery piece of music and it puts Roy’s considerable skills to the test. That night in Bismarck he joked, “this is the one that plays hell with my tendinitis”. Nonetheless he nailed it. And I was finally impressed with Roy Clark.
So farewell Roy. I will no longer blame you for Hee Haw and I certainly respect you as a musician. I’m still not sure how much cred I’ll ever give to Buck Owens.