My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Classic Album Review: Roy Clark — ‘Roy Clark Live!’

Back in 2011, I wrote an article 25 GREATEST LIVE COUNTRY ALBUMS. In that article I had this album pegged as the ninth greatest album, an assessment I stand by today. At the time I said the following:

Roy Clark released a number of live albums over the years, but this one, released on Dot Records in 1972, is the one Roy Clark album. This album showcases Roy’s instrumental prowess and his innate sense of comedy – even when he’s not trying to be funny, Roy can be hilarious. The album is worth buying if only for the “Great Pretender medley” but there’s so much more to this album including his then-hit “The Lawrence Welk – Hee Haw Counter-Revolution Polka”, earlier hits such as “I Never Picked Cotton” and “Thank God and Greyhound” as well as some very flashy instrumentals plus his two biggest pop hits “Tips of My Fingers” and “Yesterday When I Was Young”. Parts of this album have been released on CD, but unfortunately, not the “Great Pretender medley”.    

Roy Clark is an all-around entertainer who became a superstar without being a big hit-maker on the charts. He had a few top ten hits scattered across a fifteen year period, but he was huge concert draw, a great instrumentalist, a frequent guest on many local and national television shows, and of course Hee Haw which he hosted for over twenty years. It is possible that for three decades Roy Clark was the most familiar face in country music.

This album is so much fun that I find myself pulling it out frequently (I digitized it about fifteen years ago so I could play it in my car – before that I had dubbed it to a cassette). The album was one of Roy’s more successful albums, reaching #4 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart. While there was only one single issued from the album, local radio stations played several of the tracks from the album, especially the “Great Pretender” medley. The album was recorded at the Landmark Hotel in Las Vegas, so Clark is backed by a typical Vegas sage show orchestra. Fortunately, Clark is in the front and center of the sound mix.

The album opens with the introduction of Clark and Clark’s hyperkinetic guitar work (and vocals) on “Alabama Jubilee”. From here Clark moves into funky town with his take on Wilbert Harrison’s “Kansas City”.

“Thank God and Greyhound” was a top ten country single for Roy in 1970 and even crossed over onto the pop charts. The song starts off as a breakup ballad, but the chorus is a spirited up-temp kiss-off:

 I’ve made a small fortune and you squandered it all

You shamed me till I feel about one inch tall

But I thought I loved you and I hoped you would change

So I gritted my teeth and didn’t complain

 

Now you come to me with a simple goodbye

You tell me you’re leaving but you won’t tell me why

Now we’re here at the station and you’re getting on

And all I can think of is thank God and Greyhound you’re gone

 

Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone

I didn’t know how much longer I could go on

Watching you take the respect out of me

Watching you make a total wreck out of me

That big diesel motor is a-playing my song

Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone

 

Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone

That load on my mind got lighter when you got on

That shiny old bus is a beautiful sight

With the black smoke a-rolling up around the taillight

It may sound kind-a cruel but I’ve been silent too long

Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone

Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone

Roy closes out side one of the album with three instrumentals: “Under The Double Eagle” (guitar), “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” (banjo) and “Orange Blossom Special” (fiddle). I always felt that Roy could play anything with strings and he proves it here.

Side two opens with Roy’s biggest hit “Yesterday When I Was Young”. Released in 1969 and written by France’s legendary singer-songwriter Charles Aznavour, the song was both a country (#1 Cashbox & Record World, #9 Billboard) and pop hit (#19 USA – #7 Canada) and sold well over a million copies. While not released as a single in England, I heard the song many times on the BBC. For those who have never heard the song, I guess I would describe it as the ultimate self-recrimination ballad, easily one of the saddest and most intense songs I’ve ever heard:

Yesterday when I was young

The taste of life was sweet as rain upon my tongue

I teased at life as if it were a foolish game

The way the evening breeze may tease a candle flame

 

The thousand dreams I dreamed, the splendid things I planned

I always built, alas, on weak and shifting sand

I lived by night and shunned the naked light of day

And only now I see how the years ran away

Yesterday when I was young

Roy Clark always had a knack for finding humor everywhere so there will be little more seriousness from this point forward. “Green Green Grass of Home was a recent hit for Johnny Darrell and for Tom Jones. Roy gives it almost a straight treatment. After that, he launches into the “Lawrence Welk-Hee Haw Counter-Revolution Polka about the actions of ABC and CBS in canceling the Lawrence Welk Show and Hee Haw despite excellent ratings (‘attracting the wrong demographic’). Both shows went into immediate syndication and were seen on more stations and larger audiences than they ever had been on the networks. This song was the only single released from the album and was a top ten hit As the chorus states “… they still play the polka in Milwaukee, still play the waltz in Tennessee…” – indeed they do!

They’re goin’ through a music revolution

The hippies say they’ll overcome us all

While they’re blowin’ smoke and air pollution

We’re hangin’ in with help from Geritol.

 

They’re rounding up the squares in California

They’re picking off our heroes in New York

But they’ll never take away our champagne music

As long as Lawrence Welk can pop his cork

 

And they still do the polka in Milwaukee

Still, do the waltz in Tennessee

Still pickin’ bluegrass in Kentucky

With old-fashioned country harmony

So give me some beer drinkin’ music

And play that double eagle march for me

For they still do the polka in Milwaukee

So let me hear that one ah two ah three

 

The big wheels at the network started spinnin’

The verdict was that Hee Haw had to go

Cause city slickers don’t believe in grinnin’

And who the hell needs jokes in Kokomo

 

So they canceled all the singin’ and the pickin’

But the stubborn little donkey wouldn’t leave

And that little fella’s still alive and kickin’

And Hee Haw is laughin’ up its sleeve = hee haw

 

And they still do the polka in Milwaukee

Still, do the waltz in Tennessee

Still pickin’ bluegrass in Kentucky

With old-fashioned country harmony

So give me some beer drinkin’ music

And let me hear that one or two or three

While we swing to that good old country music

For Hee Haw is good enough for me

Yes, Hee Haw is good enough for me

It is difficult to describe “The Great Pretender” medley. “The Great Pretender” was a huge hit (#1 Pop & R&B in 1955) for legendary 1950s R&B/Pop Vocal group the Platters   It starts off conventionally enough (sort of), with Roy doing all the vocal parts of all five of the Platters. As the song moves along, Clark starts kidding about, with most of the jokes being aimed at himself.

A couple of minutes into the track eleven minute track (and while near the end of the final verse) Roy launches into instrumental versions of “High Noon”, “Loch Lomond”, Turkey In The Straw”, “Lara’s Theme” (from the movie DR ZHIVAGO -a/k/a “Somewhere My Love”) and “Honky-Tonk” before returning to “The Great Pretender” – at the same point from which he had departed the song.

Roy had been sending up “The Great Pretender” for several years (without the medley interjections) prior to recording this album and you can check out the shorter version on YouTube

This album is hugely funny, with lots of interesting vocals, good musicianship, and lots of laughs. I wish I’d been there to see it – a definite A+ in my book.

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