Rockabilly Artist Sanford Clark, Who Influenced Elvis Presley and Keith Richards, Dead at 85

Sanford Clark, who was best known for his 1956 Top 10 hit "The Fool," died on the Fourth of July from COVID-19

Sanford Clark
Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

Sanford Clark, a rockabilly artist best known for his 1956 Top 10 hit "The Fool," has died. He was 85.

The singer/guitarist died from COVID-19 on Sunday at Mercy Hospital in Joplin, Missouri, where he was receiving cancer treatment before he contracted the coronavirus, his publicist Johnny Vallis told the Associated Press.

Clark debuted in 1956 with writer/producer Lee Hazlewood's "The Fool," which peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard Top 100. He later re-recorded the track in 1965 with Waylon Jennings on guitar. The song was featured onscreen in the Academy Award-winning 2013 film Dallas Buyers Club, and it's been covered by several artists, including Elvis Presley.

According to Vallis, Presley recorded the song twice, once for his personal recordings while serving in the Army, and again for release in 1970. "You can hear that he's trying to emulate Sanford's sound," Vallis said. "You know, most people I know want to impersonate Elvis, and here Elvis was trying to impersonate him."

The Oklahoma-born musician has also been cited as one of Keith Richards' influences, as the Rolling Stones member recalled Clark's "Son of a Gun" as one of the first songs he performed onstage in his 2010 memoir Life.

Sanford Clark
Sanford Clark. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

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His other songs include "Calling All Hearts," which has been featured in episodes of Nashville and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and "Bad Case of You," which appeared in two episodes of Transparent.

Born Oct. 24, 1935 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Clark was raised in Phoenix, Arizona, where he began performing in the early 1950s. After releasing several other songs in the '50s and '60s, he left the music business to work in construction, but he occasionally recorded under his own label Desert Sun Records in later years.

Clark is survived by his wife Marsha and several children.

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