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Published November 10 2011

Morast: Roy Clark, country music ambassador

Roy Clark will never be called a country music legend – that term is reserved for the likes of Hank Williams, Loretta Lynn and Willie Nelson.

But when you run through the history of country music and the culture surrounding it, few people had the impact Clark did as an ambassador who exposed the genre to countless people across the world.

Of course, most of Clark’s influence came during his run as the smiling, fleet-fingered co-host of “Hee Haw,” the music/humor TV show created as a “country” version of “Laugh-In.”

Depending on who you talk to, “Hee Haw” is a classic part of pop culture Americana or a bastardized send-off of true rural lifestyles.

Either way, the TV show beamed country music into the living rooms of households across the country, many of whom would have never listened to the music of Clark, co-host Buck Owens or any of the musical guests on the country variety show.

“Hee Haw” ended its 22-year run on TV in 1992, but Clark is still playing his country music that features a guitar skill set often reserved for rock gods.

“I’m surprised … the people in the audience, when you play something that when I was doing in my early 20s and 30, they react like they remember it, too,” Clark says. “It makes me feel good that I am not alone. I feel like I may be bringing back some memories.”

Clark will be working the nostalgia Sunday night when he steps into the Fargo Theatre for a 7:30 p.m. concert. Earlier this week, he talked about that gig, Buck Owens and, of course, his “Hee Haw” experience.

On “Hee Haw” being good or bad for country music/rural stereotypes:

A lot of that did come up at the time of the success of “Hee Haw.” I had some friends in country music saying, “You set country music back 20 years.” I could never think why they said that because what we did was a play on words and a play on situations. They started complaining about the image we had with the bib overalls and the shoes. I said I was raised in bib overalls and I often went barefoot because I only had one pair of shoes. I also said I have two fitted suits. Through the years, they came around and realized what we were doing was a cartoon.

I had some very dear friends who, just between the two of us, said they wouldn’t do that show because it would set them back. And they all came around.

On rumors of new version of “Hee Haw” being produced:

That has been talked about through the years; I’ve had people come up to me and want me to invest in a “Hee Haw” type of show. My reaction is don’t try to do a “Hee Haw” look-a-like. Do something that is different.

My defense to anyone is that we never hurt anyone. We didn’t do any negative things.

On his “Hee Haw” co-star Buck Owens:

Buck was a totally different person than what I am. He was really locked into the business side. He owned radio stations, newspapers, studios, publishing companies, and he really worked at that. My whole career was based around performing.

I can see it like it was yesterday, he would come in as we were setting up for the first taping. And he’d come over and sit on the nail keg and he’d say: “What have you been up to?” And I said, “I just came out of a 25-date tour.” And he’d say, “I haven’t made a record, played a concert in three years.” He let me know he was really involved in his business. We didn’t talk about going fishing, going hunting … I didn’t know any part of his personal life. The only communication we had was on the set during the taping of “Hee Haw.”

He left the show after I think 17 years of production because doing a TV show did not help his businesses.

The guitar phenom on his ability at age 78:

In the last two or three weeks, I have really noticed an improvement that I’m not embarrassing myself anymore. I’m getting to where this is fun.

What people can expect from Clark’s Sunday night gig with his backing band Roy’s Toys:

We do everything from some of the things I’ve recorded, “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” “Drifters Polka,” to some of the things I was doing like instrumental tunes.

Readers can reach Forum Features Editor Robert Morast at (701) 241-5518 or rmorast@forumcomm.com

If you go

What: Roy Clark

When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday

Where: Fargo Theatre, 314 Broadway , Fargo

Info: Tickets cost $37.50 to $53, available at Tickets300.com or by calling 800-514-3849.