Merry Clayton

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Merry Clayton
Clayton in December 2012 at a ceremony for Carole King to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
Background information
Born (1948-12-25) December 25, 1948 (age 66)
Gert Town, New Orleans, Louisiana, United States
Genres Soul, gospel
Occupation(s) Singer
Years active 1962–2000
Associated acts The Raelettes, The Rolling Stones, Sisters Love

Merry Clayton (born December 25, 1948) is an American soul and gospel singer (both solo and back-up), and an actress. She has provided a number of back-up vocal tracks to songs recorded by major performing artists during the 1960s, most notably with her duet with Mick Jagger on the Rolling Stones song "Gimme Shelter."[1] Merry is featured in 20 Feet from Stardom, the Oscar-winning documentary about background singers and their contributions to the music industry. In 2013, she released The Best of Merry Clayton, a compilation of her favorite songs.


Born in Gert Town, New Orleans, Louisiana, Clayton began her recording career in 1962 at the age of fourteen, singing "Who Can I Count On? (When I Can't Count on You)" as a duet with Bobby Darin on his album "You're the Reason I'm Living". A year later, she recorded the first version of "The Shoop Shoop Song (It's in His Kiss)", although it was Betty Everett's version of the same year that reached the top 10 in the Billboard Hot 100.[2] Her early career included performances with artists including Ray Charles (as one of the Raelettes), Pearl Bailey, Phil Ochs, and Burt Bacharach (She is often credited as having recorded with Elvis Presley but her name does not appear in Elvis sessionographies).[3] In 1971 she co-wrote the song "Sho' Nuff", which is about her mother.[4] She contributed vocals to Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg's 1970 film Performance.

Clayton also sang backup on several tracks from Neil Young's debut album Neil Young, originally released in 1968.

She is best known for her 1969 performance in a duet with Mick Jagger on the Rolling Stones song "Gimme Shelter" (The Stones had intended to have Bonnie Bramlett sing, but Bramlett was not available, as her husband, Delaney, refused to let her perform with the Stones).[5] Clayton also sang backing vocals on Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama".[6] Early in her career, Clayton sang backup vocals for Tom Jones, Joe Cocker ("Feelin' Alright"), Linda Ronstadt and Carole King. She also originated the role of the Acid Queen in the original 1972 London production of The Who's Tommy. In 1973, she was featured prominently on Ringo Starr's "Oh My My", a Billboard Top 10 single in early 1974. More recently, Clayton has provided background vocals for Sparta's latest album Threes on the songs "Atlas" and "Translation". As an actress, she co-starred with Ally Sheedy in the 1987 film Maid to Order, and played Verna Dee Jordan in the final season of Cagney & Lacey.

In 1970, Clayton recorded her own version of "Gimme Shelter," and it became the title track of her debut solo album,[7] released that year. Her version would be the first of five singles under her name to crack the Billboard Hot 100, reaching #73. In the mid 1970s, she sang on The Blackbyrds' R&B hit "Rock Creek Park". She continued to release solo albums throughout the next decade, notching several minor R&B singles. Clayton performs a live version of what has been deemed the Black National Anthem, "Lift Every Voice and Sing", on the soundtrack for the 1970 Robert Altman film Brewster McCloud.

Clayton sang "You're Always There When I Need You," the main title for the 1980 film The Nude Bomb, which is the first Get Smart movie and stars Don Adams. She also sang the "Yes" from the 1987 film Dirty Dancing, which was also featured on the "Dirty Dancing (soundtrack)". This tune became her biggest hit to date to crack the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #45 in 1988. She also recorded backing vocals for and sang the "man with the golden gun" bridge on Tori Amos's 1994 hit, "Cornflake Girl".

Personal life[edit]

Clayton was married to jazz artist Curtis Amy from 1970 until his death in 2002.[8] Clayton's brother is the Little Feat percussionist Sam Clayton.[9]

She had a miscarriage upon returning home from recording "Gimme Shelter", according to the LA Times.[10]

On June 16, 2014, Clayton was severely injured in her lower limbs in a car accident in Los Angeles, California.[11]


Studio albums[edit]

Year Album Label Peak chart
1969 Gimme Shelter Ode
1971 Celebration Ode
Merry Clayton Ode 180 36
1975 Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow Ode 146 50
1979 Emotion Fontana
1994 Miracles A&M
2014 Sugar (G. Love & Special Sauce) Brushfire Records
"—" denotes releases that did not chart

Singles (selected)[edit]

Year Single Peak chart
US US R&B UK[12]
1970 "Gimme Shelter" 73 Gimme Shelter
1972 "After All This Time" 71 Merry Clayton
1973 "Oh No Not My Baby" 72 30 Non-album song
1975 "Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow" 45 Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow
1988 "Yes" 45 79 70 Dirty Dancing (soundtrack)
"—" denotes releases that did not chart


Year Film Role
1987 Maid to Order Audrey James
2013 20 Feet from Stardom Herself


  1. ^ True, Rovi Christopher. "Merry Clayton Biography". AOL Music. Archived from the original on April 26, 2012. 
  2. ^ [dead link]"No. 1 in May 1991 an excerpt from The Best of 1000 UK No.1 Hits". Omnibus Press. Retrieved May 11, 2008. 
  3. ^ Jorgensen, Ernst (1998). Elvis Presley : A Life in Music : The Complete Recording Sessions. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0312185723. 
  4. ^ Heckman, Don (July 16, 1972). "Merry Clayton from 'Newahlins.'". The New York Times. pp. D11, D22, D24. 
  5. ^ Paytress, Mark (2003). The Rolling Stones: Off the Record. Omnibus Press. p. 181. ISBN 9780711988699. 
  6. ^ Dupree, Tom (October 24, 1974). "Lynyrd Skynyrd in Sweet Home Atlanta". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on March 27, 2009. Retrieved September 17, 2006. 
  7. ^ "Merry Clayton- Gimme Shelter". Retrieved July 15, 2014. 
  8. ^ Voce, Steve (June 11, 2002). "Obituary: Curtis Amy". The Independent. 
  9. ^ Crazy Horse, Kandia (2004). Rip It Up: The Black Experience in Rock N Roll (First ed.). Palgrave Macmillan. p. 205. ISBN 1-4039-6243-X. 
  10. ^ Snowden, Don (March 13, 1986). "For Clayton, The Gloom Is Gone". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 15, 2014. 
  11. ^ Lifton, Dave (June 20, 2014). "Legendary Singer Merry Clayton Seriously Injured in Car Accident". Ultimate Classic Rock. Retrieved July 15, 2014. 
  12. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 110. ISBN 1-904994-10-5. 

External links[edit]