Clayton-Thomas performing at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Florida
|Birth name||David Henry Thomsett|
13 September 1941 |
Kingston upon Thames, Surrey UK
|Genres||R&B, rock, funk, pop|
|Occupation(s)||Musician, songwriter, record producer|
|Associated acts||Blood, Sweat & Tears|
|Website||David Clayton-Thomas Official Website|
David Clayton-Thomas (born David Henry Thomsett; 13 September 1941) is a Grammy Award-winning Canadian musician, singer and songwriter, best known as the lead vocalist for the American band Blood, Sweat & Tears. Clayton-Thomas has been inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and in 2007 his jazz/rock composition “Spinning Wheel" was enshrined in the Canadian Songwriter's Hall Of Fame. In 2010 Clayton-Thomas received his star on Canada's Walk Of Fame.
Clayton-Thomas began his music career in the early ‘60s, working the clubs on Toronto’s Yonge Street, where he discovered his love of singing and playing the blues. Before moving to New York City in 1967, Clayton-Thomas fronted a couple of local bands, first The Shays and then The Bossmen, one of the earliest rock bands with significant jazz influences. But the real success came only a few difficult years later when he joined Blood, Sweat & Tears.
Clayton-Thomas's first album with the band, Blood, Sweat & Tears (which was released in December 1968) – despite the self-titled name, actually the band's second album – sold ten million copies worldwide. The record topped the Billboard album chart for seven weeks, and charted for a staggering 109 weeks. It won an unprecedented five Grammy awards, including Album Of The Year and Best Performance By A Male Vocalist. It featured three hit singles, "You Made Me So Very Happy", "Spinning Wheel", "And When I Die" (on the Hot 100, each peaked at #2 and lasted 13 weeks) as well as an irresistible rendition of Billie Holiday's "God Bless The Child" that became Clayton-Thomas’s signature song.
With Clayton-Thomas fronting the band, BS&T continued with a string of hit albums, including Blood, Sweat & Tears 3 which featured such high points as Carole King’s "Hi-De-Ho" and Clayton-Thomas’s "Lucretia MacEvil", and Blood, Sweat & Tears 4, which yielded another Clayton-Thomas penned hit single, "Go Down Gamblin’". "And When I Die", "Hi-De-Ho", "Lucretia MacEvil", and "Go Down Gamblin'" all depict the everlasting struggle against evil.
In 2004 Clayton-Thomas left New York City for Toronto and launched an All-Star 10-piece band. Since then, he has toured and recorded almost a dozen albums under his own name. In his autobiography entitled Blood Sweat and Tears (Penguin, 2010) Clayton-Thomas gives a heartfelt, first-hand account of his amazing journey from street life to stardom.
Life and career
Clayton-Thomas was born in Surrey, UK, the son of Fred Thomsett, a decorated Canadian soldier of World War II who met his piano-playing mother Freda when she came to entertain the troops at a London hospital. After the war, the family settled in Willowdale, a suburb of Toronto. From the beginning Clayton-Thomas and his father had a troubled relationship. By the time Clayton-Thomas was fourteen, he left home, sleeping in parked cars and abandoned buildings, stealing food and clothing to survive. He was arrested several times for vagrancy, petty theft, and street brawls and spent his teen years bouncing in and out of various jails and reformatories, including the Burwash Industrial Farm.
Clayton-Thomas inherited a love for music from his mother and when an old guitar came into his possession, left behind by an outgoing inmate, he began to teach himself to play. Upon his release in 1962, Clayton-Thomas gravitated to the Yonge Street “strip” in Toronto. Rhythm & Blues, migrating up from Detroit and Chicago was the music of choice on the strip and Arkansas rockabilly pioneer Ronnie Hawkins recognized the formidable talent of the young 'Sonny' Thomas and took him under his wing. It wasn’t long before he was fronting his own bands. The first was called “David Clayton-Thomas and The Fabulous Shays”. By this time Clayton-Thomas changed his name to put some distance between his new life and his troubled teenage years.
In 1964 Clayton-Thomas and The Shays recorded a smoky, funky rendition of John Lee Hooker’s "Boom Boom." This led to The Shays going to New York to appear on NBC-TV's "Hullabaloo" at the invitation of its host, fellow Canadian Paul Anka. Abandoning the bars on the strip, Clayton-Thomas began performing on Yorkville Village's coffeehouse scene. He immersed himself in the local jazz & blues scene dominated by the likes of John Lee Hooker, Joe Williams, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Lenny Breau, Oscar Peterson, and Moe Koffman. Clayton-Thomas made his mark more forcibly with his next band, The Bossmen, one of the first rock bands anywhere to incorporate jazz musicians. In 1966, he wrote and performed the R&B-driven anti-war song "Brainwashed”, which became a major Canadian hit, peaking at #11 on the national RPM chart.
One night in 1966 after “sitting in” with blues singer John Lee Hooker in Yorkville, Clayton-Thomas left with him for New York. They played a Greenwich Village club for a couple of weeks, then Hooker left for Europe and Clayton-Thomas stayed on in New York City. He survived by playing “basket houses” - performers were given a few minutes of stage time and then passed the basket.
Folk singer Judy Collins heard Clayton-Thomas one night at a club uptown and told her friend, drummer Bobby Colomby, about him. Bobby’s band, Blood Sweat & Tears had broken up four months after releasing its debut Columbia album, "Child Is Father To The Man." Colomby was so impressed with Clayton-Thomas’s vocal talent that he invited him to join the band. They took the reformed group into the Café Au Go Go in the Village. Six weeks later, there were lines of people around the block, waiting to get into a club, which only seated about 200 people.
In his 1974 autobiography, "Clive: Inside the Record Business", Clive Davis, then president of Columbia Records, described his initial impression of hearing Clayton-Thomas at the Café Au Go Go: "He was staggering... a powerfully built singer who exuded an enormous earthy confidence. He jumped right out at you. I went with a small group of people, and we were electrified. He seemed so genuine, so in command of the lyric... a perfect combination of fire and emotion to go with the band’s somewhat cerebral appeal. I knew he would be a strong, strong figure." With Clayton-Thomas largely dominating the creative output, BS&T continued with a string of hit albums, including "Blood Sweat & Tears 3" which featuring such high points as Clayton-Thomas’s "Lucretia MacEvil," and Carole King’s “Hi-De-Ho,” and ”BS&T 4” which yielded another Clayton-Thomas penned hit single, “Go Down Gamblin’.” Blood Sweat & Tears’ “Greatest Hits” album has to date chalked up over seven million copies in worldwide sales.
BS&T headlined at major venues around the world: Royal Albert Hall, the Metropolitan Opera, the Hollywood Bowl, Madison Square Garden, and Caesar's Palace, as well as the Newport Jazz Festival and Woodstock. It was the first contemporary band to break through the Iron Curtain with its historic United States Department of State-sponsored tour of Eastern Europe (May/June1970).
In the early years Clayton-Thomas lived on the road, traveling all over Europe, Australia, Asia, South America, the US, and Canada with BS&T. But the constant touring began to take its toll. Clayton-Thomas left the band in 1972, exhausted by life on the road. By the mid-70s the founding members began to drift away to start families and pursue their own musical ambitions. One by one they were replaced by such notable jazz players as Joe Henderson, Jaco Pastorius, and Mike Stern.
His departure left a gaping hole in the group, which fumbled through personnel changes. The fans simply would not accept a BS&T without Clayton-Thomas. "No matter how interesting we tried to make the music, audiences still wanted to hear David Clayton-Thomas,” BS&T guitarist Steve Katz told Downbeat Magazine at the time. After a three-year hiatus he returned and the band came storming back to the concert stages of the world, headlining international jazz festivals, concert halls, and casino show rooms. Clayton-Thomas was the only one left from the glory years, but it was Clayton-Thomas that the fans came to see and they continued to tour successfully until 2004. Today, living back in Toronto, his boyhood turf and the place where he still feels most at home, Clayton-Thomas has launched a 10-piece band under his own name. Since then, he has toured and recorded almost a dozen albums under his own name.
- Clayton-Thomas, David (June 2010). Blood, Sweat and Tears. Penguin Canada. ISBN 978-0-14-317599-5
- Davis, Clive (December 1975). Clive: Inside the Record Business. Ballantine Books. ISBN 978-0345247605
- LeBlanc, Larry: David Clayton-Thomas (artist biography) (http://davidclaytonthomas.com/)
- Bloomfield, Michael (September 2000). If You Love These Blues: An Oral History (1st ed.). Backbeat Books. ISBN 978-0-87930-617-5. (with CD of uniussed music)
- Brooks, Ken (February 1999). The Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper with Paul Butterfield and David Clayton Thomas. Agenda Ltd. ISBN 978-1-899882-90-8.
- Kooper, Al (February 1977). Backstage Passes: Rock 'N' Roll Life in the Sixties (1st ed.). Stein & Day Pub. ISBN 978-0-8128-2171-0.
- Kooper, Al (September 1998). Backstage Passes and Backstabbing Bastards: Memoirs of a Rock 'N' Roll Survivor (updated ed.). Billboard Books. ISBN 978-0-8230-8257-5.
- Kooper, Al (February 2008). Backstage Passes and Backstabbing Bastards (new ed.). Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 978-0-87930-922-0.
- David Clayton-Thomas Official Website
- Blood, Sweat & Tears Official Website
- Blood, Sweat & Tears band members