Articles & Stories


In addition to historical material gathered by our Editor, The Kentucky Explorer is a unique magazine in that many of our articles and stories are submitted by readers, just like you. "Budding" authors have had their first stories published here at absolutely no charge, but the good news is that you don't have to be a professional writer to contribute.

There are a few basic guidelines and requirements, but they are rather simple:

(1) The material must be original and non-copyrighted;

(2) It must have a general interest to all Kentuckians;

(3) All stories and articles should be factual. Don't worry about spelling or grammar. We'll take care of that;

(4) Your stories should be accompanied by appropriate photographs and/or illustrations. Since the backlog of material is generally quite large, stories with the best photos and illustrations stand a better chance of being published; and

(5) Stories should be submitted in typewritten form, whenever possible, but may also be handwritten or printed. If submitting typewritten material, please use double-spaced lines and upper/lower case lettering with no fancy fonts.

The Kentucky Explorer prides itself in the quality of articles and stories found in our magazine each month. The pages of the May 2001 issue has 22 of them, all interesting and unique. We invite you to view the "Table of Contents" for this month, if you haven't already done so.

Here is a story (complete with photos) found on page 33 in our June 2001 issue:
Old Joe Clark Is Back Bigger Than Life At Renfro Valley
Tennessee Native Settled Down In
Kentucky As A Performer For Over 50 Years

By Dr. David B. Settles - 2001

There is a new Old Joe Clark in Renfro Valley, complete with his vest emblazoned with dozens of buttons and pins, including the one with "JEAN" printed on it. He still sports his beard, his dilapidated knee-high boots, the unmistakable beat-up hat and, of course, he holds his five-string banjo. He is big as life, and he is cast in bronze.

The ceremony preceeding the unveiling of the impressive statue was attended by approximately 200 invited guests on March 31, 2001, inside the Old Barn Theater. Among those eulogizing Old Joe were long-time Renfro Valley comedian, Pete Stamper; a long-time friend, Rev. Bill Hall of Danville; and Old Joe's son and fellow banjo picker, Terry Clark.

I met Old Joe Clark when I created the Berea Homecoming Festival in 1951. The three-day country music festival was highly publicized in the news media. The public was invited to visit and enjoy a country music extravaganza featuring stars of Renfro Valley; including the Coon Creek Girls, Pete Stamper, Slim Miller, Claude Sweet, Emory Martin, and of course, the show-stopper, Old Joe Clark.

The Homecoming Festival was so named because we brought home former Berea area stars such as Red Foley and his band. Red also brought along the Jordanaires and his new son-in-law, Pat Boone. Also on stage were Ernie Lee (Cornelius), Bill Haley, Jimmy Skinner, and Billy Keith Williams, who was considered at that time to be the best instrumental guitarist in the country. String Bean also performed, as did Grandpa Jones and Ramona. During the following annual festivals, many of the top Grand Old Opry stars appeared as featured guests.

The first day of each festival featured the Grand Parade and speeches from local and visiting dignitaries. In 1954 after I was elected District Governor of Lions International, the President of Lions International, the past president, three International Directors, and several past governors were in attendance. Merchants had sidewalk sales, and artists and craftsmen displayed their works.
The second evening featured the Talent Hunt Show, which attracted the finest young musicians from Central and Eastern Kentucky. Many of the young participants went on to Nashville to become background musicians and songwriters. The big show featuring the many country music stars was held on the third evening.

The Berea Lions Club Radio Show was created as a showcase for the Talent Hunt winners. The show was aired over WRVK radio (Renfro Valley) for a number of years. I became the writer, director, producer, commercial salesman, and performer with the group. As members left to pursue music or other careers, the program evolved into a disc jockey format. Old Joe Clark came to my rescue. He secured a radio license for me and taught me to use the control board. With his help and encouragement, the show was a success, and our friendship remained strong through the years.

While most of the Renfro Valley stars went on to pursue their fame and fortune elsewhere, Joe felt right at home in the Valley.

On June 1, 1996, Renfro Valley celebrated 50 years of "orneriness" from its favorite legend, Old Joe Clark. Over 1,000 people attended the Barn Dance that evening to honor Joe on his 50th anniversary on stage at Renfro Valley.

After Old Joe and his son, Terry, left the stage following their performances, he was called back by emcee Jim Gaskin. Joe was seated in a rocking chair; and a line of visiting dignitaries, including Senator Mitch McConnell, Congressmen Hal Rogers and Scotty Baesler, paid tribute to the man who had gained fame throughout the country and many other parts of the world with his incomparable country banjo picking and his unpredictable, irrepressible comic wit.

This bright, shiny bronze statue of Old Joe Clark (at right) now stands at Renfro Valley in Rockcastle County.
(Photo courtesy of the author.)

Joe was surprised. The occasion had slipped up on him, and he didn't know what was happening until he was called back on stage.

About his 50 years on the Renfro Valley stage, Old Joe said, "I guess I am the only country music entertainer who came to this part of the U. S. and stayed. When so many went from one place to another, I settled down here. I had planned to stay two or three years. I guess I forgot to leave."
Joe was then escorted to a seat in the audience with 40 of his family and friends for the surprise of witnessing video messages from Gov. Paul Patton, who was in Japan at the time on a trade mission; Little Jimmy Dickens; Dolly Parton; Porter Wagoner; Kitty Wells; the Osborne Brothers; Bill Carlisle; Grandpa Jones; and Ralph Emery. Country music historian, Robert Oermann, told of Joe's impact and influence on the country music field.

After viewing these messages on a giant screen monitor, Old Joe said, "It's not often you catch me speechless, but this beats all. Bless their hearts. These folks just make me want to sign on for another 50 years."

A videotape of some of Joe's performances over the years was presented to Joe at the close of the show.

Manuel D. Clark was Joe's name when he came to Renfro Valley. He was originally from Johnson City, Tennessee, but came to Kentucky shortly after being discharged from the service in WWII.
Joe could sing and tap dance, but he never dreamed of becoming a comedian. He had a band called The Lonesome Pine Boys and was playing in London, Kentucky, when Randall Parker and Tommy Covington suggested that they audition for a job at Renfro Valley, then owned by John Lair. Lair recognized Joe's talent and created the character of "Old Joe Clark" and encouraged Joe to play the part of a cantankerous old man with an ornery attitude, who talked like a rascally country hick from the hills of Tennessee. Lair encouraged Joe to kick in with his naturally-quick wit and country humor.

So Old Joe Clark was born on the Renfro Valley stage, a product of the suggestion of John Lair and the imagination of Manuel "Speedy" Clark.

In those years, Joe needed full makeup, a false beard, and battered clothing to turn into the character of Old Joe Clark on the stage.

Joe worked with many of the greatest country music entertainers.

"I've been trained by Jam Up and Honey, Rod Brassfield and Kentucky Slim," Joe recalled. "It was Kentucky Slim who taught me how to dance. I could tap dance, but Kentucky Slim taught me the 'Buck and Wing.' They call it clogging now.

"But I guess the greatest influence was Red Skelton. He was the greatest comedian who ever lived. I've worked with all the old-timers at Renfro Valley, the Grand Old Opry, and WLW," Joe said. "Bill Monroe, Minnie Pearl, Jimmy Dickens, Pee Wee King, and Hank Snow... I've worked with all of them."

All of the hoopla at the tribute ceremony actually embarrassed Joe.

"It's embarrassing to me," he said. "I never would brag on myself or listen to my own records. It embarrasses the devil out of me. When they play my tapes, I have to leave. I can't take it."

Even though Joe worked with all the legends and appeared on TV, in the movies, and performed at Madison Square Garden, Joe gained the most pleasure working with his son, Terry.

"You have to have one of your own working with you to know how it feels. It's precious. He's a lot better performer than I am."

Terry played a mean banjo and served as straight man for Joe, starting at the age of ten.

Joe had previously been honored by having the Bluegrass Festival named after him. The Old Joe Clark Bluegrass Festival continues to get bigger and better each year. There is also the Old Joe Clark Deli at Renfro Valley.

Joe passed away on February 20, 1998, but his friends and fans will always remember the unforgettable and loveable character called Old Joe Clark.

The unveiling of Joe's statue was very impressive. The magnificent work was sculpted by noted sculptor, Ed Breathitt of Arizona, son of the former governor and Mrs. Ned Breathitt. Governor and Mrs. Breathitt were present for the ceremony.

With the Old Renfro Valley Home as a backdrop (above), the Cumberland Ridgerunners pose for a publicity photo many years ago. Old Joe Clark performed here for over 50 years.

As the statue was unveiled, I could imagine Joe looking down on the scene. I looked up and thought, "Like it or not, Joe, you are now immortal. I hope you aren't embarrassed!"

On February 23, 1998, State Representative Danny R. Ford presented House Resolution 85, which was passed by the House of Representatives. It reads as follows:

1988 Regular Session - HR85

A RESOLUTION adjourning the House of Representatives in loving memory and honor of Manuel Dewey Clark, Jr., affectionately known to his many fans as "Old Joe Clark."

With deepest respect and admiration, we pay homage and tribute to Old Joe Clark, and we pause in silent reverence for his soul.

WHEREAS, Old Joe Clark was born on August 6, 1922, a native of Erwin, Tennessee, and long-time resident of Berea, Kentucky, and crossed that final bourne from which no traveler returns on February 20, 1998, and

WHEREAS, Old Joe Clark was the loving son of the late Manuel D. Clark, Sr., and Sarah Ann Rice; he was the devoted husband of Jean Clark; he was the loving father of three sons, Terry Clark, George Clark, and Lewis Clark, all of Madison County; a daughter, Sara Miracle of Mount Vernon; and he was the proud grandfather of a grandson, Gary Lee Miracle, and a great-grandson, Christopher Dale Miracle, both of Mount Vernon, Kentucky; and

WHEREAS, Old Joe Clark, the grizzled, leg-slapping, foot-stomping, story-telling, banjo-plucking, country music genius was the epitome of country music and humor through the traditional characters he portrayed to a conventional world audience for well over a half-century; and

WHEREAS, Old Joe Clark's entertainment included authentic American folk music with the humor of 19th century medicine and vaudeville shows that led him to performing at the Renfro Valley in Rockcastle County; the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee; Madison Square Garden in New York City; many New York City nightclubs; CBS; NBC; Mutual Radio; and hundreds of engagements throughout the South; and

WHEREAS, he captivated audiences with his outlandish mountain-folk dialect that he so fluently kept alive during his performances, always repetitive in such phrases as "pon my word n' honor," "plum wore out," "tuckered," and "bodacious;" and throughout a career that spanned nearly 50 years, he was awarded millions of laughs and chuckles following his repertoire filled with country humor and quick wit; and

WHEREAS, the passing of Old Joe Clark has left a void that will be difficult to fill, and he is mourned across the length and breadth of the Commonwealth;

Be it resolved by the House of Representatives of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Kentucky:

Section 1. The House of Representatives of the General Assembly does hereby express its profound sense of sorrow at the passing of Old Joe Clark, and it does extend to his family its most heartfelt sympathy.

Section 2. When the House of Representatives adjourns this day, it does so in loving memory and honor of Old Joe Clark.

Section 3. The Clerk of the House of Representatives is hereby directed to transmit a copy of this Resolution to Mrs. Jean Clark, Richmond, KY 40475.

Dr. David B. Settles, 105 Coveside Court, Georgetown, KY 40324, shares this story and photo with our readers. Dr. Settles contributes to our magazine from time to time.

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