CLARK CUSTOM STEEL GUITARS
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Bio. & History

  

 



Jim has always loved to hear a steel guitar being played whether Hawaiian, Dobro, or lap Steel since He was a young boy at home in Anderson Mo. He grew up Listening to the Grand Ol Opery on Saturday nights on an old Sears battery powered radio.

Jim still has that old Silvertone radio to this day. He remembers a picture of his mother playing an old flat top guitar using a bar and finger picks. But doesn’t remember ever hearing her play.

Jim was born and grew up in a small town in the southwest corner of Missouri, Anderson Mo, on a 40-acre farm.

He played trumpet, and bass horn in the Anderson High School band for four years, Jim married Barbara in 1952.


            Jim didn’t play steel guitar until He went into the army in 1954. He was drafted and was sent to Korea to become an aircraft mechanic, while in Korea. Jim heard a group of guys that had started a country band in another company, the guy playing steel guitar stood up with a little lap steel lying on a small table.  I thought he sure sounded good. I had a chance to talk to him, he said he bought the steel and amp in Tokyo, Japan while he was there on R &R so I decided when I went there I was going to buy me one also

 

Jim did just that even though he couldn’t play a note on it, he found another guy who played guitar in his company who helped Jim tune the little six-string steel to E cord

Jim says he almost drove everyone crazy learning to play steel. “We got together almost every evening to practice & play”, and remembers that they got to sounding pretty good over time. Jim sold his little lap steel when he was leaving Korea to come back to the states in May of 1956 he got his discharge from the Army. He remembers flying on T.W.A. to Kansas City, MO where his wife Barbara and family came to pick him up at the airport. Jim, Barbara and their son Ken lived in Webb City. MO. near Joplin.


Jim continued with his aviation experience that he had gained in Korea and worked at Frazier Aviation in Joplin for about two years. That is when Jim first started to become interested in building a guitar of his own,  he built a couple of lap steel guitars, “they were very crude but I had no tools at that time” Jim recalls, but work they did and the seed was planted that kept Jim designing, working on and building steel guitars for more than 50 years.


 In 1958 Jim went to work for North American Rocketdyne in Neosho. MO.   Jim ordered a D-10 B-Jay steel guitar built by Ben Jack in Fort Smith, Arkansas. He played it in bands around Neosho and Joplin, MO. During that year his second son James was born.

In 1959 he moved to Neosho, MO to be closer to his job and recalls,” that brand new house was only $9,500.00 “. Jim began playing in some local bands or groups in Southwest Mo. And the Northwest Arkansas area. He got a chance to play for Al Brumley Jr. on some radio stations, and stage shows. The reason He had the chance to play for Al Jr. was because his brother Tom Brumley went on to play steel for Buck Owens.

It was about this time that he started thinking about needing a guitar that would do more things and be built to a higher quality level then was currently being produced. So Jim thought he would try to design & build a more refined and durable guitar himself.

Unfortunately his job at Rocketdyne became unstable and he was transferred to Tulsa, Oklahoma to work at Rockwell. At that point everything that had to do with building a new guitar was on hold for a while.
 
         Jim’s friend Bill Cole had been transferred to Tulsa from Neosho earlier; he had a band and asked Jim if he would play steel for them. Jim was more than happy to get back to playing with Bill and his band, which was called “The America Strings”, Their band was the "House Band" at the famous Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa. They had the pleasure of backing many artists who didn’t have there own bands with them such as Carl Belew, Kenny Price, Cal Smith, Loretta Lynn, Tommy Wynette, Freddy Hart, Lefty Frizzell, Bobby Barnett, Crystal Gayle and many others. By this time Jim had designed and built his first steel guitar and was playing it at the Cain's.

“ I would build one and play it and someone would want to purchase it. So then I would have to build another one to play” Jim recalls. “I met a very good friend John Buffington (by the way he bought my first steel a D-10) I think he said it is still in his family”, that was about or 1970.

John was a fan of Sonny Curtis who played steel guitar for George Jones and Tammy Wynette. John told Sonny about Jim building steel guitars and they discussed bringing some of the Clark guitars to Columbus Ohio where Sonny had a music store. John and Jim took 5 or 6 D-10 steel guitars to Columbus to let Sonny look over and play the guitars that weekend at the guitar shop. Sonny was delighted with the quality, sound and playability of the guitars and said he would like to play one of Jim’s guitars on the road with George Jones & Tammy Wynette.


            Jim built Sonny a special guitar to his specs. Sonny has owned that guitar for 38+ years. And says that he would never sell it. Jim and Sonny went into business together Sonny playing, promoting & taking orders performing with  his Clark D-10, Jim remembers “he kept me so busy filling orders that I was having trouble keeping up”.   Jim was also working at American Airlines at the time and the workload was getting overwhelming. 

Jim decided in 1985 that he couldn’t continue with the pace he was working at anymore.  He made the difficult decision to take a break from producing the Clark Guitar. This would be the official end of the first series of the Clark Guitar ,he never realized that he would  be away from the guitars and even playing music for another 22 years.


Jim has always been a busy guy and he wouldn’t be sitting around for long , during the next 22 years he pursued his other love & hobby of antique & collectible automobiles, restoring 30+ classic cars all with that same determination and attention to detail that he had put into the Clark Guitar many receiving national awards.


In 2007 Jim lost his beloved wife of 55 years Barbara. Jim recalls “ I felt so lost without her”  For some time Jim had been thinking of building a few more guitars , not just copies of the original but a completely new guitar.


Along with encouragement from his sons Ken, James & others Jim decided to build a new shop building and  start a limited production of his newest guitar, producing the first one a left handed model for Larry Cloyd (Larry’s second Clark Guitar) this was the official beginning of the second series of guitars .


Jim now built a few custom and hand made “Series 2” Clark guitars and is also restoring several of his original series guitars for owners old & new, which have an amazing life span with many showing minimal wear in the mechanical parts which can be attributed to the unique quality of the mostly stainless steel mechanical parts used in their construction ( A design that continues in the new series 2 model).


 Jim also did repair work & refinishing on many types of guitars for many of his old and new friends along with playing and jam sessions with local music lovers.  Throughout his life Jim always retained that continued excitement and enjoyment of producing a quality instrument and seeing others enjoy it.

               Jim passed away unexpectedly on July 4th 2014 , although he had struggled with some health issues recently he was doing well and continued to enjoy working, building and repairing guitars, he continued working in his shop daily until his passing , He will greatly be missed by many.

            



 

 

                                                                               Ken & James Clark