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Otis Clay

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Otis Clay
Clay in 1997.
Clay in 1997.
Background information
Birth nameOtis Lee Clay
Born(1942-02-11)February 11, 1942
Waxhaw, Mississippi, U.S.
DiedJanuary 8, 2016(2016-01-08) (aged 73)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
GenresR&B, soul, gospel, blues
Years active1957–2016
LabelsOne-derful, Cotillion, Hi, Bullseye Blues, Blind Pig, Echo Records
Formerly ofGene Chandler

Otis Lee Clay[1] (February 11, 1942 – January 8, 2016) was an American R&B and soul singer, who started in gospel music. In 2013, Clay was inducted to the Blues Hall of Fame.[2][3]

Early life[edit]

Clay was born in Waxhaw, Mississippi, to a musical family, who moved in 1953 to Muncie, Indiana. After singing with local gospel group, the Voices of Hope, he returned to Mississippi to sing with the Christian Travelers, before settling in Chicago in 1957. There, he joined a series of gospel vocal groups including the Golden Jubilaires, the Famous Blue Jay Singers, the Holy Wonders, and the Pilgrim Harmonizers, before making his first solo secular recordings in 1962. They were unissued, and Clay joined the Gospel Songbirds, who recorded in Nashville in 1964 and who also included Maurice Dollison who sang R&B under the name Cash McCall, and then the Sensational Nightingales.[4]


In 1965, Clay signed with One-derful! Records in Chicago, to make secular recordings.[5] After releasing a series of gospel-tinged soul records, his first hit came in 1967 with "That's How It Is (When You're In Love)", which reached # 34 on the US Billboard R&B chart, followed by "A Lasting Love" (# 48 R&B).[6] In 1968 the record company folded and his contract was bought by Atlantic Records, who launched their subsidiary Cotillion label with Clay's version of the Sir Douglas Quintet hit, "She's About A Mover", produced at the FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals. The record became Clay's biggest pop hit, reaching #97 on the Billboard Hot 100 (# 47 R&B). However, follow-ups on Cotillion, including "Hard Working Woman" produced by Syl Johnson, and "Is It Over?" produced by Willie Mitchell in Memphis, were less successful.[4][6]

Clay moved to Mitchell's Hi Records in 1971, and made many of his best known soul blues records for the label. His biggest hit came in late 1972 with "Trying To Live My Life Without You," a #102 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, #70 on Cash Box, and #24 R&B, which he followed up with "If I Could Reach Out". "Tryin' to Live My Life Without You" was later covered by Bob Seger, whose version hit #5 on the pop chart in 1981.[7] After several more Hi singles and the album I Can't Take It, Clay moved to Kayvette Records, where he had his last national hit single in 1977, "All Because Of Your Love" (#44 R&B).[4][6] He later recorded for the Elka and Rounder labels, as well as his own Echo Records for whom he recorded the original version of "The Only Way Is Up" in 1980.[8]

He remained a popular live act in Europe and Japan, as well as the US, and recorded three live albums, Soul Man: Live in Japan, Otis Clay Live (also in Japan on Victor VDP-5111), and Respect Yourself, recorded live at the Lucerne Blues Festival in Switzerland.[4][5] In the 1990s he also recorded two soul albums for Bullseye Blues: I'll Treat You Right and the Willie Mitchell-produced This Time Around. In 2007, he released the gospel album Walk a Mile in My Shoes, which earned him a Grammy nomination for Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance.[3][7]

In 2010, Clay was honored with a marker on the Mississippi Blues Trail in Waxhaw.[9]

As a resident of Chicago's West Side, he was actively involved in community-based economic and cultural initiatives, including the development of The Harold Washington Cultural Center.[5] On August 11, 2012, he was one of several acts that performed at Lincoln Center Out of Doors Summer Concerts in New York City. He was backed by the band Platinum. Clay was joined on stage for the finale by William Bell and Teenie Hodges. Clay was one of the 2013 inductees to the Blues Hall of Fame.[2] In 2015 Otis published with Billy Price the album This Time For Real.

During 2015, Otis Clay and Johnny Rawls won the Blues Blast Award for Soul Album of the Year for their album, Soul Brothers. Soul Brothers was also nominated for Blues Music Award Soul Album of the Year and Living Blues Blues Album of the Year. It was selected as the number 6 Blues Album of the Year in the DownBeat Critics' Poll, being the only soul album on the list of top 20 albums.

Death and funeral[edit]

On January 8, 2016, Clay died in Chicago, Illinois, at the age of 73 of a heart attack.[10] Clay's funeral was held on January 16, 2016, at the Liberty Baptist Church in Chicago. After the funeral, he was buried at the Oak Woods Cemetery in Chicago.[11]



  • Trying to Live My Life Without You (1972)
  • I Can't Take It (1977)
  • Live! (1978)
  • The Only Way Is Up (1982)
  • Live Again! (1984)
  • Soul Man - Live in Japan (1985)
  • Watch Me Now (1989)
  • I'll Treat You Right (1992)
  • On My Way Home (1993)
  • The Gospel Truth (1993)
  • You Are My Life (1995)
  • This Time Around (1998)
  • Testify! (2003)
  • In The House (2005)
  • Walk a Mile in My Shoes (2007)
  • Truth Is (2013)
  • Soul Brothers (2014) Otis Clay & Johnny Rawls - Catfood Records
  • This Time for Real (2015) Billy Price & Otis Clay[12]


Year Title Chart positions
US Hot 100
US Cash Box
1966 "I'm Satisfied" 105
1967 "That's How It Is (When You're in Love)" 131 34
"A Lasting Love" 48
1968 "She's About a Mover" 97 47
1972 "Tryin' to Live My Life Without You" 102 24 70
1977 "All Because of Your Love" 44
1980 "The Only Way Is Up"
"—" denotes a recording that did not chart or was not released in that territory.


  1. ^ Eagle, Bob; LeBlanc, Eric S. (2013). Blues - A Regional Experience. Santa Barbara: Praeger Publishers. p. 204. ISBN 978-0313344237.
  2. ^ a b "2013 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees Announced". Blues.org. Archived from the original on October 26, 2010. Retrieved March 6, 2013.
  3. ^ a b "Otis Clay, Soul and R&B Singer, Dies at 73". The New York Times. The Associated Press. January 11, 2016. Retrieved January 12, 2016.
  4. ^ a b c d "Blind Pig Records". Blind Pig Records. February 11, 1942. Retrieved January 9, 2016.
  5. ^ a b c "Biography". Otis Clay. February 11, 1942. Retrieved January 19, 2016.
  6. ^ a b c Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-2004. Record Research. p. 83.
  7. ^ a b Demming, Mark (February 11, 1942). "Otis Clay | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved January 9, 2016.
  8. ^ "Otis Clay - The Only Way Is Up / Special Kind of Love (Vinyl) at Discogs". Discogs.com. Retrieved March 20, 2014.
  9. ^ Wright, Megan (October 22, 2010). "Blues Trail marker to honor singer Otis Clay |". Mississippi Blues Journal. Retrieved July 22, 2020.
  10. ^ Mervis, Scott. "Soul legend Otis Clay dies at 73". Post-gazette.com. Retrieved January 9, 2016.
  11. ^ "Funeral for Otis Clay". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved January 19, 2016.
  12. ^ "Otis Clay". Soulbluesmusic.com. February 11, 1942. Retrieved January 19, 2016.
  13. ^ a b "Otis Clay Top Songs / Chart Singles Discography". Music VF. Retrieved October 27, 2020.

External links[edit]