Do you know this lady is? I’ll bet you don’t. In fact, I am almost certain of it. The thing is, even though you don’t know who she is, almost all of you have heard her voice.
Her name is Merry Clayton.
Still nothing? Well, it isn’t surprising. Until a few months ago, I didn’t know who she was either. I had no clue to this woman’s identity until after I saw the Rock & Roll hall of fame concert on Home Box Office some time ago. No, she wasn’t on the show… but she should have been.
During the show Mick Jagger performed the classic Rolling Stones hit “Gimme Shelter” backed up by Fergie, U-2, and Will.i.am. Of course, with a lineup like that, they really rocked that song, which has been a favorite of mine since I was a kid. Jagger and Bono did fine on the vocals, but truly, Fergie was excellent. Her vocals were as strong as always, and watching her perform made me think. Watching made me wonder about who had actually done the backing vocals in the priginal recording, mainly because I think that if the backing vocal hadn’t been so strong, that song would have been ok… but it wouldn’t have been the classic that it became.
Which leads me to where I am today.
I did some searching and between Google and Wikipedia, I learned quite a bit abiut Ms. Clayton. One of the first interesting things that I found out her was why she had a name like Merry. As it turns out, she was born on December 25th... a Christmas baby!
Anyway, Clayton, like so many others, began singing in the church, and was fourteen when she began recording in 1962. Over the next thirty-plus years, Clayton recorded with some of the biggest names in the music business including: Neil Young, Ray Charles, Elvis Presley, Pearl Bailey, Tom Jones, Joe Cocker, and Carole King. Clayton, notably sang the original backing vocals when Lynrd Skynrd recorded "Sweet Home Alabama".
Along with recording backing vocals with some of the biggest acts around, Merry Clayton was also a songwriter and recording artist in her own right, having originally rcorded "The Shoop Shoop Song (It's In His Kiss) the year before it became a hit for another artist. She recorded "Gimme Shelter" as a solo single, and co-writing "Sho 'Nuff" with Billy Preston in 1971.
With all of the things that she has done, unless you are a really deep music fan, Ms. Clayton will only be known to most people for the powerful vocals she provided in what was essentially a duet with Mick Jagger when they recorded "Gimme Shelter"... and as luck would have it, there is a really cool story to go with it.
As it turns out, Clayton was not originally supposed to record that song. Another singer, the talented Bonnie Bramlett was supposed to have done the song with Jagger, but was either ill or otherwise unavailable (as the story goes).
So, there you have it. Merry Clayton. The next time you are listening to classic rock on the radio, and "Gimme Shelter" comes blasting out of the speakers, you will have a cool story to tell.