Narrow-minded hypocrisy courtesy of Roy Clark’s ‘Do You Believe This Town’
“Do You Believe This Town” was Roy Clark’s overlooked July 1968 social commentary on covert rural prejudice, recorded several months before Jeannie C. Riley’s much-ballyhooed “Harper Valley P.T.A.” A nameless pastoral community is not as it seems. Town pillars, from the mayor to the chief of police, are knee-deep in hypocrisy. The church deacon “preaches brotherly love every Sunday, and forecloses loans on widows’ homes every Monday.” The final verse is even more scathing — “Do you believe they burned a house down yesterday…if the folks who lived there had a-known their place, they could still be hangin’ around.” The summer of 1968 was rife with the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy, racial unrest, and a draft that transformed optimistic high school graduates into damaged Vietnam vets. Authority was no longer unchallenged. Good guys wore black.
Joining Buck Owens as co-host of the long-running Nashville showcase Hee Haw the following year, who would have surmised that Clark embraced liberal hippie values? He actually sat in with First Lady of Southern Soul Candi Staton for a hair-raising Gibson Byrdland guitar attack on B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone,” risky for a picker courting a conservative audience over 50 years ago.
Slamming into a brick wall at No. 53 C&W, the 2009 Country Music Hall of Famer’s plea for tolerance was not for naught. “Do You Believe This Town” launched the most commercially rewarding chapter of the lightning fast axeman’s career on Randy Wood’s Dot Records [third single “Yesterday When I Was Young,” a dramatic rendering of the French ballad, became Clark’s biggest pop crossover smash] as well as a five-year collaboration with producer Joe Allison. The many-sided Allison previously shepherded Willie Nelson’s first major label deal on Liberty Records and penned Jim Reeves’ country standard “He’ll Have to Go.”
And Dean Martin, whose eponymous, freewheeling variety series ranked among the Nielsen Top Ten on NBC, submitted a version that closed side one of his I Take a Lot of Pride in What I Am LP. Martin’s producer Jimmy Bowen literally went to town, commissioning an obtrusive orchestra and girl group oohing, aahing, and chanting “yeah, yeah, yeah!” A stripped down remix of the original multi-track masters would be revelatory. For that matter, Clark’s original country folk take, driven by acoustic guitars, a dobro, bass, and drums, is in dire need of a sonic upgrade. Only a needle drop source is available. The founding Rat Pack crooner paid an additional tip of the hat by singing Clark’s first hit — “The Tips of My Fingers” — on My Woman, My Woman, My Wife in 1970.
As far as video material, a clip of Clark lip-synching to the studio master in Hee Haw’s debut season is all that survives. The 60-minute cornpone variety series built a nearly 30-year legacy in spite of being cancelled by CBS after two seasons of compelling ratings [the network’s “rural purge” paved the way for syndication]. Clark also depicted “Cousin Roy” on The Beverly Hillbillies, gamely participated in sketches with Flip Wilson, and guest-hosted The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. His reputation as a stocky, happy-go-lucky comic consequently overshadowed his stellar musical credentials as a vocalist, songwriter, and instrumentalist [see his acoustic run through of “Malagueña” as Odd Couple Tony Randall and Jack Klugman sit incredulously]. A similar pitfall happened to Jerry Reed. In The Encyclopedia of Country & Western Music, Rick Marschall likened Clark’s voice to a “permanently hoarse tenor, and the emotion he brings to heart-songs sounds like every drop of feeling has been wrung out for the task.”
Nashville songwriters Joe Nixon and Charlie Williams are guilty as charged for “Do You Believe This Town.” A subsequent A-side by the duo, “Right or Left at Oak Street,” garnered more encouraging chart placement for Clark, narrowly missing the Top 20 by one slot. “Oak Street” also refused to pursue an insipid ear candy route, chronicling a husband’s tortuous decision about whether to leave his family or remain stuck “in the same old routine…I don’t know which takes more courage, the staying or the running away.” Williams’ history with Clark stretched back to his formative years with Capitol. Written in tandem with outlaw country forerunner Bobby Bare, the scarce “Through the Eyes of a Fool” landed snugly in the Top 40 in 1963. Of all his Clark contributions, 1970’s Top Five “I Never Picked Cotton” prevails as the most fondly remembered and has turned up on innumerable greatest hits compilations. The dusk of the disco decade found Williams still capable of authoring gold records as evidenced by Gene Watson’s “Farewell Party.”
Do You Believe This Town [Lyrics]
Joe Nixon and Charlie Williams
© Attache Music, BMI
The woman next door has gone to the P.T.A.,
And stopped to see her best friend’s husband on the way,
The folks down the street have a different faith,
So everybody’s puttin’ them down,
Do you believe this town?
Deacon Jones preaches brotherly love every Sunday,
And forecloses loans on widows’ homes every Monday,
But the smart guys say it’s the only way,
To keep the economy sound,
Do you believe this town?
Do you believe they voted this town dry,
Well, you won’t believe it when I tell you why,
The mayor and his cousin and the chief of police,
Have got the bootleggin’ all nailed down,
Do you believe this town?
Do you believe they burned a house down yesterday,
You won’t believe the reason that they gave,
If the folks who lived there had a-known their place,
They could still be hangin’ around,
Do you believe this town?
Roadsick blues with old school country balladeer Gene Watson
The “Fourteen Carat Mind” country emperor probes stage fright, tough crowds, lucky charms, guitars, sycophants…
Just myself and a guitar: Funny shenanigans with ‘Spiders and Snakes’ song architect Jim Stafford
The mid-’70s “Swamp Witch” singer-songwriter-guitarist holds nothing back in a thorough interview covering a…
Streakin’ through the hits with witty wordsmith Ray Stevens
The novelty artist and 2019 Country Music Hall of Fame alum has a knack for flipping the switch between laugh-out-loud…
Having a ‘Mississippi Squirrel Revival’ with side-splitting songwriter Buddy Kalb
“I don’t even know if I’d be in the record business if it wasn’t for my friendship with Ray Stevens,” says Kalb in a…
Jimmie ‘Honeycomb’ Rodgers, ‘Sloop John B,’ and the Beach Boys
The folk rock pioneer amassed 14 Top 40 pop hits, wrote “It’s Over” for Elvis, and cut “The Wreck of the John B” years…
The last word on Bobbie Gentry, songwriter
For the first time Gentry’s 46 songwriter credits between 1967 and 1977 are listed chronologically with YouTube links…
The coolest drummer on the planet: Taking the load off Levon Helm
Sandra B. Tooze exclusively weighs “Levon: From Down in the Delta to the Birth of The Band and Beyond,” the debut bio…
‘Even If I Hold It in My Hand [Hard Luck Story],’ the Everly Brothers’ minor chord mini-masterpiece
Accented by a fab Glen Campbell guitar solo, “The Hit Sound of the Everly Brothers” 1967 outtake screams hit if not for…
Never givin’ up with foremost country troubadour Danny Dawson
The Georgia Traditional Artist of the Year alum covers his hardscrabble Georgia roots with 18 siblings, Waylon…
Deep country cut of the day — Ray Price’s ‘Rose Colored Glasses’
The stone cold classic country contained within the Cherokee Cowboy’s 1965 rendition of “Rose Colored Glasses” is…
‘Someday I’m gonna sing on the Grand Ole Opry:’ Uncovering Connie Smith
The Country Music Hall of Famer and wife of roots rocker Marty Stuart declares how she was discovered at a theme park…
The serendipitous final romance of Statler Brothers tenor Lew DeWitt
At last Judy Wells DeWitt breaks her silence to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Country Music Hall of Fame…
Settin’ my watch back to ‘Tulsa Time;’ Inside the dobro-powered Don Williams career record
Eric Clapton’s admiration for the Gentle Giant is exemplified by bluesy concert staple “Tulsa Time” and country cover…
Inside Merle Haggard’s long-gestating ‘Tribute to the Troubadour’ album
Why was the late country maverick’s proposed album honoring honky tonk legend Ernest Tubb shelved? An exclusive…
When Merle Haggard sang the stellar ‘I Am What I Am’ on ‘The Tonight Show with Jay Leno’
The “Okie from Muskogee” country icon made a rare visit to late night TV when he sang the unflinching ballad and title…
Full circle with the founding frontman of trendsetting country rockers the Dillards
Rodney Dillard explores mid-’60s L.A. music, Bob Dylan, Beatles, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and when his bandmates left…
Mayberry blood brothers: The light and darkness of Andy Griffith and Don Knotts
“Andy & Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show” biographer Daniel de Visé furnishes a panoramic…
© Jeremy Roberts, 2021. All rights reserved. To touch base, email email@example.com and mention which story led you my way. I appreciate it sincerely.