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Roy Clark picks and grins in Chambersburg

January 25, 1999

By DON AINES / Staff Writer, Chambersburg

photo: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer




CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - "That man plays guitar like there's no tomorrow," a fan said after Roy Clark's first performance Sunday at the Capitol Theatre.

Clark, the former "Hee-Haw!" star who played two packed shows, doesn't have to worry about tomorrow, except to find some spare time. Between shows he said he's booked through 2000, with about 200 road dates a year.

The 65-year-old guitar and banjo virtuoso is on a tour that began in Wilmington, Del. Next stop: Mount Pleasant, Mich.

This weekend he'll be in Nashville, Tenn., for three shows at the Grand Ole Opry.

Clark made a name for himself at 17, winning a national banjo competition in Warrenton, Va., in 1951.

"I got $500 for first place and a trip to Nashville," the performer said in his tour bus. The Virginia native stayed about a year before going home with an ulcer "and an acute case of homesickness."

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He played clubs in the Washington, D.C., area and recorded with Jimmy Dean and other artists. "We all played on each other's records," he said.

Clark's career took off when Jack Paar left the "Tonight" show in 1962. Before Johnny Carson took over the desk, NBC used several guest hosts including Dean, who gave him national exposure.

His first hit, "Tips of My Fingers," soon followed, but it was "Hee-Haw!" that made him a household name. A mixture of country music and unabashedly corny humor, it ran from 1969 to 1991, making it one of the longest-running variety shows in television history.

For 2 1/2 seasons "Hee-Haw!" ran on CBS, with "Green Acres" and "The Beverly Hillbillies" on Tuesdays. Clark had a recurring role as a Clampett cousin on the latter.

"Two hours of cornfields," Clark called the lineup.

But CBS executives dumped all three shows despite decent ratings. "They said the image was too rural," Clark said. "Hee-Haw!" immediately went into syndication, "which was the greatest thing that could have happened."

The show played on 165 CBS stations but jumped to 227 in syndication. "Hee-Haw!" was also freed from network meddling, Clark said.

"I'm just thrilled. He was great," Chambersburg resident Anne von Schwerdtner said after the first show.

"We had seen him in concert 25 years ago," her husband, Dietrich, said.

"He hasn't changed a bit," Anne said.

Half a century on tour hasn't eroded his skills, but Clark confessed life on the road is tiring. He said he can't sleep on a bus and was looking forward to a few days in a hotel.

"I think this is the best live show we've ever seen. Roy's kept a lot of the true country sound," Beverly Grenci, of Hagerstown, said while waiting for a signed photograph.

Clark also showed off his adeptness at bluegrass, gospel and Spanish styles during the hour and 45-minute show. He was backed by a 12-piece band, including Jimmy Henley, who has played banjo and guitar with Clark since he was a boy.

Clark's 1999 schedule includes 71 performances in Branson, Mo., the Mecca of Middle America where he once owned a theater.

After playing "Yesterday When I Was Young" and a series of hits familiar to a mostly older audience, Clark was self-effacing in his thanks to the crowd.

"We had to be here today, but you had a choice," he said.

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