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25 Years Of A-Pickin' And A-Grinnin': Roy Clark Reflects On 'Hee Haw'
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25 Years Of A-Pickin' And A-Grinnin': Roy Clark Reflects On 'Hee Haw'

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25 Years Of A-Pickin' And A-Grinnin': Roy Clark Reflects On 'Hee Haw'

25 Years Of A-Pickin' And A-Grinnin': Roy Clark Reflects On 'Hee Haw'
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NPR's Scott Simon speaks with Roy Clark, a musician in the country music hall of fame and co-host of the variety show Hee Haw, about his time on the TV show he once believed would fail.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The next time you hear somebody confidently predict the future of media, remember "Hee Haw." It was a show that most TV executives said would fail, so did critics. Country music, barnyard humor and quick cut blackouts.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HEE HAW")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Hey, did that medicine I gave you for your uncle straighten him out?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Yep, buried him yesterday, straightened him right out.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: In fact, the co-host of the show didn't even think it would last. But "Hee Haw" stayed on the air for 25 years, 1969 to 1993 on CBS, then syndication for 585 shows. It helped make mainstream stars of Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard, Tammy Wynette, Conway Twitty and many others. And now it's a three-DVD collection. "Hee Haw" indeed.

The co-host who said the show wouldn't last? Roy Clark, one of the great guitar players and a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. He joins us now from the studios of KWGS in Tulsa. Thanks so much for being with us.

ROY CLARK: Oh, can I say hee haw?

SIMON: Yeah, should we?

CLARK: Hee haw.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HEE HAW")

CLARK: It is my pleasure to be here and especially when you start off by talking about "Hee Haw." I've told everyone that I grew old on "Hee Haw," but I could've grown old without it.

SIMON: (Laughter).

CLARK: So I'll take the plus.

SIMON: Well, I didn't know until reading a short memoir you wrote in The Huffington Post, there is a link between Jonathan Winters, the Smothers Brothers and "Hee Haw."

CLARK: Well, I think that we had the same producers when it first started out. The two gentlemen from Canada came down with this idea for doing a country music, not unlike "Laugh-In" - wanted to know if I would be interested. And, you know, in this business, you say yes to everything.

SIMON: What do you think almost everybody missed about "Hee Haw" that kept it around for 25 years?

CLARK: I think basically, we didn't hurt anyone. We were out there having a good time. You can go and get educated, but you can come to "Hee Haw" and get another education. The critics all said that the only listeners that we had were country. And I said, wait a minute - I was just in New York City, and I was walking down the street and the guy yells across and says, hey, Roy, I'm a-picking. Well, I'm obligated to say, well, I'm a-grinning.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HEE HAW")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) I'm a-picking

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) And I'm a-grinning.

SIMON: Did great editing make the show work?

CLARK: Oh, yes. Yes it did. Anything that comes out, that's really, you know, not your favorite part of the show, well, just wait a minute, and it'll be something else.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HEE HAW")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters) (Singing) Well, where are you tonight? Why did you leave me here all alone? I searched the world over and thought I found true love. You met another and (blowing raspberries) you was gone.

(LAUGHTER)

CLARK: And then somebody like Garth Brooks will come on if you don't like the corny joke. And, you know, a lot of the big stars of today got their beginnings and their first network and national exposure from "Hee Haw."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HEE HAW")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Here's Donna Fargo.

(APPLAUSE)

DONNA FARGO: (Singing) Funny Face, I love you. Funny Face, I need you. My whole world's wrapped up in you.

CLARK: Back when we were writing in our heyday, a little lady came up to me one day and she said, Mr. Clark, don't let them take "Hee Haw" off the air. That's the only thing we have left. And she had a tear in her eye. And I said, sweetheart, I'll do all I can in my power to keep it on as long as you and I both are willing to listen to it.

SIMON: What do you think she meant by it's the only thing we have left?

CLARK: That most of the other television - the only other things that she has to watch are not anything that she really understands or looks that much forward to. And it - she identified so much with "Hee Haw," and that goes back to personal contact with people.

All the mail that I got, half of it said, you looked exactly like my brother, or you look exactly like so-and-so. And I looked at myself later - I had those pork chop hairdos that look like it grew out of my ear. And I looked - we were opening a concert, and I looked down in the first five rows, would be some young people with pork chops on their face. So I knew that they were watching me and copying everything I did.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I NEVER PICKED COTTON")

CLARK: (Singing) I never picked cotton. But my mother did and my brother did and my sister did and my daddy died young, working in the coal mine.

SIMON: So how did you get introduced to country western music?

CLARK: You know, like my dad told me, listening to different types of music and the way that people live, he said, don't put it down until your heart hears it.

Now, you'll hear it with your ears, but don't write off, say I don't like that. Listen. Listen for a while. There'll be something in there that will appeal to you. And it - it's made me, you know, a successful life that I wouldn't change one note.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROY CLARK SONG)

CLARK: (Singing) Where did it go, baby? I've got to know, baby. What are you and I going to do? We've both got to try 'cause I know that I don't want another lonely night with you.

SIMON: Roy Clark. The "Hee Haw" collection is now a three-DVD set. Thanks so much for being with us and happy holidays, Mr. Clark.

CLARK: Bless your heart. It's my pleasure.

SIMON: Picking and a-grinning, BJ Leiderman wrote our theme music. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROY CLARK SONG)

CLARK: (Singing) If love is still there but hiding somewhere, let's find it and start something new.

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