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Greater Tulsa Reporter

Roy Clark: Master Entertainer, Prominent Tulsan

Searching for the Sound by BRYAN CANTRELL

LEGENDARY TULSAN: Roy Clark sits side stage at Cain’s Ballroom during the Leon Russell Tribute concert on Dec. 15, 2016. Clark, a Tulsa resident since 1976, died from complications associated with pneumonia in November. The 24-year host of Hee Haw and Country Music Hall of Famer was 85.

Phil Clarkin Photography/

“We loved this time we spent with you, to share a song and a laugh or two, may your pleasures be many, your troubles be few.”
– Closing song from Hee Haw

Writing this column has, for the most part, been a labor of love for me. It’s an opportunity for me to dive deeply into a subject about which I’m passionate. I find each month to be a fascinating journey through Tulsa’s rich musical history, and I’m grateful to have this platform. I’m also grateful for you, the reader, for your willingness to take that journey with me.

It’s not surprising. Music is one of our city’s most valuable assets and is widely loved by Tulsans. We love our music scene. We love the history and notoriety. We love the musicians and their songs. Unfortunately, and at the risk of plagiarizing Hallmark, grief is the price we pay for love.

I was reminded of that in March, when we lost Red Dirt Legend Brandon Jenkins. I was reminded again in September with the passing of Jimmy Markham. And the latest reminder of the inescapable link between love and grief: in November, the great Roy Clark took his ear-to-ear smile and incomparable flat-picking skills to the great hereafter.

His passing came just days from the two-year anniversary of the day we lost Leon Russell, Nov. 13, 2016. Before this column gets any more depressing, let me segue to the event held at Cain’s Ballroom a month later, which paid tribute to the master of space and time.

With a lineup that included Tulsa Sound pioneers like Don White, Jamie Oldaker and Jimmy Markham sharing the stage with current carriers of the torch like Paul Benjaman, John Fullbright and Wink Burcham, the Dec. 15, 2016 concert billed as, “A Tribute to Leon,” was a multi-generational celebration featuring the best sound Tulsa has to offer.

John Fullbright showed he had the chops handle the heavy lifting required to play keyboard for a Leon Russell tribute. Jimmy Markham channeled his own early days of playing gigs with Russell as a teenager. And Roy Clark took it all in from the best seat in the house.

It was the ever-vigilant lens of photographer Phil Clarkin that captured the super-picking, Hall of Fame musician sitting in a chair on stage, just out of sight of the audience. The 83-year-old stayed for the whole show.

Without Clarkin’s photograph, I wouldn’t have known that he was there; that he was one of us that night, enjoying the show, paying respects and being supportive. When Clarkin recently reposted the photo on Instagam, I realized how fitting it was as a tribute.

Roy Clark was always there. He was always one of us; always supportive and always a positive force in the Tulsa community. It’s just that he didn’t have to be center stage.

Whether it was bringing pro baseball back to Tulsa when the Oilers moved to New Orleans, raising money for Children’s Medical Center, or donating guitars to his namesake school in the Union District, Clark was a pillar of the Tulsa community from the day he bought his home here more than four decades ago.

He believed that such actions were not extraordinary, but were simply, “paying part of your human dues.”

Roy Clark’s dues were paid in full, and Tulsa will continue to benefit from his philanthropy. Most importantly, the pickin’ and grinnin’ will live on.
Legends never die.

For more about Clarks life, legacy and impact on our community, see Bob Lewis’ article on page 10.

For holiday gift ideas that support our local music scene, see the list below. To find the next legendary Tulsa musician, get out there and keep searching, keep listening.

The Gift of Local Music
The holiday season is a time to reflect and give thanks. If, like me, you’re thankful for the music scene we enjoy here in Tulsa, consider expressing that gratitude by giving the gift of music this year.
Here are a few gift ideas that support local musicians, and those who support them:

Red Dirt Rangers
Blue Door Nights
The two-disc live recording from The Blue Door in Oklahoma City is proof that this band, now in its fourth decade, is still the gold standard for Red Dirt music. Featuring guests John Fullbright and Terry “Buffalo” Ware, this is a must-have for Red Dirt fan. Available at

Desi & Cody
Yes, This Is Killing Us
The married duo describe their second album, released in October, as a “dark comedy.” Featuring jazzy horns, impressive harmonies and an appropriately seductive cover of Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game, the CD is available at

Annie Oakley
Words We Mean
This is the debut full-length album for the Oklahoma City-based indie-folk trio. Consisting of twin sisters Sophia and Grace Babb on rhythm and lead guitars and vocals, with Nia Personette on violin and third-part harmony, Annie Oakley has been playing sold-out shows throughout the midwest. This album, three years in the making, shows remarkable artistic range. Expect to hear more out of these three. Words We Mean is available at

Eric Himan
Award-winning Tulsa-based singer/songwriter, Eric Himan released his tenth album, Contenders on Nov. 27. With elements of pop, soul, rock, R&B, and even a bit of a latin feel, the album was fully funded through his listeners via the crowd-sourcing website, PledgeMusic. Contenders is available at

Phil Clarkin Photography
As far as I know, Clarkin has not released an album. He has, however, been a valuable asset to the Tulsa music scene and is, therefore, deserving of a mention in this sidebar. Visit and find your favorite musician, venue or Tulsa landmark and order a print on metal, canvas, wood or paper. Clarkin capture Tulsa like nobody else and his photos are sure to please any proud Tulsan.

Happy Holidays to all you music lovers, and thank you for taking this journey with me. I look forward to more searching in 2019.

Updated 12-18-2018

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