The end of a life brings pause and reflection. Clisby Clarke, Class of ’64 with a degree in marketing from the University of Georgia, became a successful and seasoned advertising executive for McCann-Erickson. He made innumerable friends whom he left with a grateful smile. We are sad today, but happily recall the countless days when Clisby made our day.
Clisby played golf. He wrote music. He played music and was the life of the party when he sat down at the piano. When he played and sang, he enjoyed a cigarette and a libation. If anybody ever enjoyed life, it would be this native of Marshallville. Love and laughter were Clisby’s companions all of his seven-plus decades of making others feel good about themselves, especially if it were a post game party when things went right between the hedges.
A clever jingle which struck a nerve with Coca-Cola was good for business. Conjuring up ideas which had clients singing his praises was also good for business. Clisby was good at what he did mainly because of a creative gift for his profession. But he also brought the right touch to business relationships. He made friends out of his clients. And, nobody could entertain with the flair of the nattily dressed Clisby, who never met a social he didn’t like.
Clisby had connections. He had an impressive rolodex, if you remember his era. He had friends and his professional career was noteworthy, but, aside from family, nothing had higher rank with his emotions than the Georgia Bulldogs. A lot of us can sing the fight songs of alma mater, but Clisby could also play them. Give him a piano and he could sway the room.
In late summer 1980, Clisby fixed himself a drink one weekend and sat down and wrote a song that reached the top of the Georgia charts. He called it, “Bulldog Bite.” It warmed hearts statewide.
Standing up cheering, September till the first of June,
Thinking ‘bout the victories, humming those Georgia tunes,
Well, everybody knows that the Bulldogs come to fight,
But you never seen a thing,
Till you see those Bulldogs bite,
Hunker Down hairy Dawgs,
Hunker down for a fight,
When you meet the Georgia Bulldogs,
You gonna feel the Bulldog bite.
I arranged for him to play his popular song on the Tailgate Show and on the practice field. Wasn’t too difficult getting a piano on the hill behind the South stands or to Woodruff practice field, but to do so now would require jumping through more hoops than there are hotdogs at a picnic.
The big challenge would be to find a loyal Dawg who could anticipate that the next season would be something to write home about as Clisby did. A Herschel Walker, the heart of Clisby’s inspiration, doesn’t show up but once in a lifetime. And, a conservative Vince Dooley doesn’t agree to bringing a piano on the practice field but once in a blue moon — even when the session with his players singing along was being taped for his own Sunday TV show.
When Clisby sang his song for the Tailgate Show, fans, led by his long time friend, Bat Varnedoe, gathered around with the greatest of feeling and affection. It was sing along at its finest. It had the appeal of a piano bar in Minnesota in winter.
One of Clisby’s greatest aficionados was John Terrell of Athens, who literally swooned to Clisby’s post game harmonizing. Clisby played robust tunes with the greatest verve, but he could gear it down to governed affection. Perhaps, his best musical rendition, Bulldog Bite notwithstanding, was when silence enveloped the room and Clisby sang, “Georgia on My Mind.” I’ve seen a lot of folks choke up. I’m happy to admit that I was one of them.
Loran Smith is co-host of “The Tailgate Show” and sideline announcer for Georgia football. He is also a freelance writer and columnist.