Clayton was born in Georgia, though he later claimed he had been born in Africa, and moved to St. Louis as a child with his family. He had four children, and worked in a factory in St. Louis where he started his career as a singer (he could also play piano and ukulele, however Clayton never did so on record). Clayton recorded six sides for Bluebird Records in 1935, but only two were ever issued. Clayton's entire family died in a house fire in 1937; following this Clayton became an alcoholic and began wearing outsized hats and glasses. In order to pursue his music career, Clayton moved to Chicago with Robert Lockwood, and he received attention from Decca Records, thanks to a helpful recommendation by fellow musician Charley Jordan. Ultimately Clayton returned to Bluebird, recording with Lockwood, bassist Robert aka Ransom Knowling, pianist Blind John Davis, and Lester Melrose, in 1941-42. He also recorded for Okeh Records at this time.
Among the songs he wrote were "Cheating and Lying Blues", frequently covered by other blues artists; "Pearl Harbor Blues", written after the Pearl Harbor bombing of 1941; and "Moonshine Woman Blues", which became a chart hit for B. B. King under the name "The Woman I Love" in 1968. He recorded again in 1946, recording the tunes "Hold That Train, Conductor" and "I Need My Baby" which were also both covered by King. Most of his later recordings featured Blind John Davis on piano. He was a regional sales success and played regularly in Chicago nightclubs with Lockwood and Sunnyland Slim. Attesting to his companion's popularity, Slim worked as "Dr. Clayton's Buddy" in his debut recording session, in 1947. In the same year, Willie Long Time Smith recorded his tribute song, "My Buddy Doctor Clayton".
- Doctor Clayton and His Buddy: Pearl Harbour Blues (RCA, 1970)
- Gotta Find My Baby (Bluetime, 1987)
- Doctor Clayton and His Buddy (1935 - 1947) (Document, 1989)
- Complete Recorded Works (1935-1942) (Document, 1994)
- Doctor Clayton & His Buddies: Complete Recordings 1946 & 1947 (Document, 1994)
- Angels in Harlem (P-Vine, 2002)
- Discography at wirz.de