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Still Yukkin’ It Up--Unplugged : His ‘Hee Haw’ heyday is history. Now string-wizard and country-singer Roy Clark gives fans a ‘total package’ on a fast-paced tour schedule.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Y’all know Roy Clark, host of the wholesome if cornball “Hee Haw.” Shucks, for 600 original episodes and 24 years of syndication, he was one of the most recognizable faces to fill our television screens.

But you’d be hard-pressed to find that big grin anywhere on the tube since the Nashville Network stopped airing reruns three years ago. That’s about to change, and the veteran country music singer couldn’t be happier.

“I’ve been invited to do a little cameo spot on ‘The Drew Carey Show,’ and the network’s gonna tape it over in Hollywood on Monday,” said an enthused Clark, who performs two shows Sunday at the Crazy Horse Steak House in Santa Ana.

“I don’t know when the episode will air, but it’s gonna be great. I’ve been talking to some friends and acquaintances, and they’re all excited. It’s a very, very popular show.”

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Truth is, Clark could use that kind of widespread exposure these days. The string wizard did perform--along with Willie Nelson, Rosemary Clooney and Glen Campbell--last year at a star-studded gala celebrating Gene Autry’s 90th birthday. He also was awarded the Country Music Assn.'s prestigious Pioneer Award, presented for his outstanding lifetime contribution to country music.

In general, though, Clark has faded from the public eye. Except for “Play Hank Williams,” a 1995 collaboration with late jazz guitarist Joe Pass, his recorded output this decade has been a variety of greatest-hits collections.

Does Clark hunger to make new music?

“I’ve got a major record deal pending, but the financial details are still being worked out so I really can’t say much,” the 65-year-old Clark said by telephone on a tour stop in Medford, Ore. "[It’s] very encouraging for me. The label did this survey to see which of the ‘older’ artists the public would like to hear a new album by, and I rated very high. I guess the public hasn’t put me out to pasture just yet.”

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Indeed, Clark is a first-class picker and consummate professional who continues to be a strong live attraction. New album or not, he and his 13-piece band believe in giving audiences the most bang for their entertainment buck.

“I believe I am an entertainer, rather than a singer or guitar player or banjo player, and that’s why I’ve lasted so long,” the Virginia-born musician said. “I do try to offer the total package, where folks leave feeling like they’ve really experienced something fairly unique and memorable.

“I just love all kinds of music, and we’ll play everything from country and bluegrass to folk and pop standards. We even play this one Russian folk song called ‘Moscow Nights.’ At the same time, when I’m onstage, I feel there’s really no separation between me and the audience. I hope people look at me and say, ‘There’s old Roy. . . . He’s no real big deal.’ ”

Clark’s touring itinerary--"We bounce around like a pingpong ball!"--has the band on the road through mid-December, many times playing twice nightly, and with little down time. It’s the kind of hectic, demanding pace that convinced him in 1995 to sell his Roy Clark Celebrity Theatre in Branson, Mo.

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“With me gone so darn much, it was just too much of a burden to stay involved with the operation,” he said. “The roof needed repairs, or the air-conditioning had to be upgraded. I was worried about somebody getting hurt and maybe suing me. It was just too much pressure.”

Part of the sale agreement was that Clark would do 35 performances a year there. “I’ve only done about 20 dates. . . . So you know I’ll be back.”

* Roy Clark plays Sunday at the Crazy Horse Steak House, 1580 Brookhollow Drive, Santa Ana. 3 and 8 p.m. $59-$65. (714) 549-1512.


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