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Hernando neighbors | Clay Kirk, 68

Country singer Clay Kirk helps others through music

Local country singer Clay Kirk worked as a maintenance mechanic for most of his life. He has thrown himself into his music career in his retirement and recently recorded his first CD.

JEAN HAYES | Times

Local country singer Clay Kirk worked as a maintenance mechanic for most of his life. He has thrown himself into his music career in his retirement and recently recorded his first CD.

How long have you lived in Hernando County, and where do you live? Where did you live previously?

My wife, Sheila, and I have lived in the High Point community for the past eight years. I was born and raised in Pennington Gap, in southwest Virginia. At the age of 18, I moved to Chicago, which is where I eventually met and married Sheila. Before moving to Florida, we lived for about 13 years in Woodstock, Ga.

Who are the members of your family?

Sheila and I have been married for 26 years. I have two children. Son Rob and his family live in Illinois, and daughter Cindy and her family live in Wisconsin. We have seven grandchildren.

I married Sheila in 1985, and I thank God every day for putting her in my life. If it wasn't for Sheila, I wouldn't be singing today. She is the one who encouraged me, seeing something I couldn't see in myself.

Tell us about your career.

I spent 22 years at Borden, the food company, as a maintenance mechanic at the plant in Chicago. This is where I met Sheila. When we moved to Georgia, I started working for Piolex, a company that made plastic injection molding parts for cars. I worked as a maintenance mechanic for the company for 11 years before retiring.

What kinds of activities are you involved in now?

I volunteer in our High Point community on the mobile patrol, and I'm a deacon at Anclote River Baptist Church, where I lead the congregation in singing. Singing is what I enjoy doing most of all. And it's turned into more than a hobby.

I love singing at local nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Watching their smiling faces, knowing they remember and love the songs I'm singing, is really the best feeling in the world — right next to the feeling I get when they get up and dance.

And though from time to time I've dabbled in some karaoke singing, I tend to find better uses for my voice.

Quite some time ago, I was asked to help with a fundraiser here in High Point to benefit the volunteer fire department. From that day on, my life changed — I was hooked. I never realized how much I'd enjoy emceeing, in addition to performing.

Sheila is the best booking agent ever, and she keeps me busy. She was recently asked if I would put on a variety show to help raise funds for VFW Post 10209 in Spring Hill. On New Year's Day, thieves destroyed six air-conditioning units and the surrounding chain-link fence, and although insurance covered the damage and replacement units, the deductible was pretty hefty.

Of course I agreed, and in an instant two variety shows were being organized. Several local people signed on to help, including Arthur Haywood, Mikey Bates, Morgin Nicole, Ashley Shannon and Danielle Pacifico. The first Clay Kirk Variety Show and Friends was held Jan. 21, but if you missed that one, we'll have a second show March 3. Tickets are $10 and include the show and a meal.

Tell me more about your musical interests.

I have always loved singing. My favorite music to listen to is Gospel music. About 12 years ago, I joined the choir at church. Soon I was singing solos a capella. The first time I entered a karaoke contest, I won. I also placed in the top 10 in Talent Quest, a recent karaoke contest in Tampa.

My wife, who is my biggest fan, once entered me in the Florida Orange Blossom Country Music Association state competition, and I came in first place. For the last two years, I've entered the state competition and won first place in the male vocalist category and then entertainer of the year.

I've been lucky enough to compete at the Country Tonight Theater for the North American Country Music Association's international competition in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., and I'll be going back again in March.

Recently, I recorded my very first CD with 10 original, never-recorded songs. The CD is called Pondering Over You.

Do you have any special hobbies?

I like playing cards and traveling, and I love watching sports on television — college and pro football, but especially baseball. My favorite team is the Tampa Bay Rays.

What are your favorite things to do in Hernando County?

We love eating out and trying different restaurants here in Hernando County. We love spending time at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, too.

What do you think would make Hernando County a better place to live?

I think we need a minor league baseball team here. I'd also like to see more improvements being made to Weeki Wachee Springs. Now that the state is running the park, there should be more concerts and other entertainment held there.

Tell us something about yourself that most people don't know.

I was raised in Virginia in the Appalachian Mountains near Kentucky and Tennessee. I have a twin brother named Clinton who lives in Tennessee. My parents always disputed who was born first, him or me. Dad says my brother was born first, but Mom insisted that I was.

There were 13 of us kids — six boys and seven girls, and all except my oldest sister, Lena, are still living. My dad was a coal miner who worked very hard for his family. He never learned to drive, so unless a friend or family member drove him to work, he walked. Mom was a schoolteacher for a short while, but was unable to continue working after the family began growing.

We were all raised in a four-bedroom house with no running water. We didn't consider ourselves poor, though we obviously were. We had everything we needed and were just happy kids. We had food on the table and a warm bed to share with three or four siblings each night. On Saturday nights, when the Grand Ole Opry came on, we would sit in front of the radio and listen, and I would secretly wish I could do that.

Dad died in 1969 of black lung at the age of 61. Mom lived to be 95. I thank God that my parents raised us kids to go to church on Sunday, and to respect our elders and our neighbors' property.

Hernando Neighbors is an occasional feature of the Hernando Times. Do you know someone who would make a good profile? We'd like to hear from you. Contact Jean Hayes, community news coordinator, at jhayes@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1438.

Country singer Clay Kirk helps others through music 02/04/12 [Last modified: Saturday, February 4, 2012 11:08am]
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