Sanford Clark graduated from high school in Phoenix and joined the Air Force, serving in the South Pacific. Clark played guitar and, during his military stint, formed a band that won a talent show in Hawaii.
After he got out, he was kicking around back home when he met radio disc jockey Lee Hazlewood, who was an Army veteran of the Korean War. Lee was writing songs and producing records and cut “The Fool” with Clark in 1955.
The song was a regional hit for MCI Records and became a national sensation after Dot Records licensed the song, rising to #7 on the Billboard Top 100, #5 on the R&B charts and #14 on the country charts.
Clark died at age 85 in Joplin, Missouri, on July 4, 2021, of COVID-19 that he contracted in a hospital while receiving cancer treatment. Missouri is one of the states that has seen a marked spike in cases as the Delta variant of the virus spreads across the country.
Clark was part of a generation of singers who topped the charts after military service. Johnny Cash (Air Force), George Jones (Marines), Charlie Rich (Air Force) and Conway Twitty (Army) were born in the South within a few years of each other, and each came to his career with worldly experiences that helped them rise above their show business competitors.
Clark never really had another hit. He gave “The Fool” another try in 1965 in a new version with Waylon Jennings (alas, not a veteran) on guitar. That’s the recording used in Matthew McConaughey’s Oscar-winning movie “Dallas Buyers Club.’’
In the meantime, Hazlewood became a big deal after writing and producing a series of hit singles for Duane Eddy and eventually wrote and produced Nancy Sinatra’s 1966 monster worldwide #1 hit, “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’.” Hazlewood started LHI Records in 1967 and signed Clark to a contract, releasing the album “Return of the Fool” in 1968.
Things never really picked up for Clark, and he eventually put down his guitar and went into the construction business. That doesn’t mean he didn’t have a lasting impact on the history of rock ‘n’ roll. In his 2010 autobiography “Life,” Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards reveals that “The Fool” was one of the very first songs he learned to play on guitar. You can hear the DNA in every record the Stones ever made.
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