David Clayton-Thomas Interview: ‘Blood, Sweat & Tears’ Legendary Singer Scores on New Releases
-Interviewed on March 18th 2015
By Ray Shasho
David Clayton-Thomas inherited his musical savvy by performing in clubs on Toronto’s infamous Yonge Street back in the early 60’s, a music scene that had also launched the careers of fellow Canadians Gordon Lightfoot and Neil Young to name just a few. Rockabilly musician Ronnie Hawkins referred to Yonge Street as “The Promise Land.” Toronto was without racial barriers and became a Mecca for R&B artists, which also gave them the opportunity to perform for the first time to white audiences. At a young age, David became heavily influenced by those rhythm and blues artists who performed regularly in Toronto, which led to David Clayton-
Thomas becoming one of the most recognized blue-eyed soul singers in the world.
But it would be David’s earliest roots, his passion for Mississippi Delta Blues that helped him move to New York and launch a brilliant career with the finest musicians. While playing in little clubs in Toronto, blues legend John Lee Hooker frequently performed, and David would grab his guitar in between sets and go over and sit in with him. Thomas eventually ended up playing with Hooker in New York and continued to live there for the next forty years.
DAVID CLAYTON-THOMAS joined Blood, Sweat & Tears in the summer of 1968. The band was originally formed by Al Kooper and named after Johnny Cash's 1963 album Blood, Sweat and Tears. Kooper left the group but not before writing the B, S &T early classic “I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know.” Kooper played on hundreds of records, including The Rolling Stones, B. B. King, The Who, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Alice Cooper, and Cream. He discovered the band Lynyrd Skynyrd, and produced and performed on their first three albums
Folk singer Judy Collins heard David Clayton-Thomas one night at a club uptown and told her friend, drummer Bobby Colomby about him. Bobby invited David to help rebuild his shattered band and saying … “We never heard anyone sing like that!” 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.
David Clayton-Thomas’ debut album with the band was simply entitled … Blood, Sweat & Tears and became their most successful album to date, spawning three successive Top 5 hits in 1969 …a cover of Berry Gordy & Brenda Holloway’s “You've Made Me So Very Happy,” the David Clayton-Thomas penned “Spinning Wheel,” and their version of Laura Nyro's “And When I Die.” All three singles reached #2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. "Spinning Wheel" reached #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart. The album sold more than 10-million copies worldwide.
In 1970, Blood, Sweat & Tears won an unprecedented (5) Grammy awards including …
Album of the Year … Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist … and … Best Contemporary Instrumental Performance.
BLOOD, SWEAT & TEARS immediate commercial success was attributed to a brand new sound on the music scene, performed by eight prodigious musicians that incorporated shades of rock, blues, pop, rhythm & blues and psychedelic genres with horn arrangements and jazz improvisation, while David Clayton-Thomas’ soulful renditions amazingly blended meticulously with the horn section. The band’s critically-acclaim recognition led to their day three appearance at the Woodstock Music Festival in 1969.
The band’s subsequent albums …Blood, Sweat & Tears 3 (1970) and Blood, Sweat & Tears 4 (1971) were well- received and commercially successful. Blood, Sweat & Tears 3 spawned the Top 40 hits … “Lucretia MacEvil” penned by David-Clayton Thomas and the Carole King cover tune “Hi-De-Ho.” Blood, Sweat & Tears 4 generated the Top 40 single “Go Down Gamblin’” written by Clayton-Thomas.
David Clayton-Thomas left the group to pursue a solo career after their next album entitled … New Blood. (1972) Jerry Fisher replaced Clayton-Thomas on vocals.
Clayton-Thomas returned to Blood, Sweat & Tears in 1975 and recorded the New City album
Subsequent Blood, Sweat & Tears albums featuring David Clayton-Thomas on lead vocals …More Than Ever (1976), Brand New Day (1977), Nuclear Blues (1980).
David, Clayton- Thomas has sold more than 40 million records worldwide.
In 1996, David was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
In 2007, his jazz/rock composition “Spinning Wheel” was enshrined in the Songwriter’s Hall Of Fame.
In 2010, David received his star on Canada’s Walk of Fame.
In 2011, Author David Clayton-Thomas released his memoir Blood, Sweat & Tears: A brutally truthful memoir, Clayton-Thomas reveals what it was like to headline at Woodstock, to tour behind the Iron Curtain, to watch brilliant musicians tear their own band apart with in-fighting, and to make his fortune only to lose it all ... and start over again. This is a story of grit, courage, and determination. It is, above all, a story of survival. -Available to purchase now at amazon.com.
Today, David Clayton-Thomas is as busy as ever … his three recent releases … Soul Ballads, Combo (An album of classic standards) and A Blues for the New World … (3) separate genres performed by the musical genius of David Clayton-Thomas is available now at amazon.com.
-I gave Soul Ballads by David Clayton-Thomas (5) Stars!
I had the rare pleasure of chatting with David Clayton-Thomas recently about the Soul Ballads album, Blood, Sweat & Tears, The inception of “Spinning Wheel,” The current state of the music industry, My infamous ‘Field of Dreams’ wish question and much-much more!
Here’s my interview with the award-winning, legendary singer & songwriter of Blood, Sweat & Tears …DAVID CLAYTON-THOMAS.
Ray Shasho: David thank for being on the call today!
David Clayton-Thomas: “It’s good to be with you Ray.”
Ray Shasho: It’s funny, I chatted with Al Kooper back in September of 2014, and the very first thing he said to me when he answered the phone was … Have you just been talking with David Clayton-Thomas? … I swear, true story!
David Clayton-Thomas: “The strange thing is that Al Kooper and I really don’t know each other. He was gone from the band when I joined and we went out on the road and were on different paths. I think he lives down in Nashville now. When we met it was very quickly and casually backstage once or twice. So I really don’t know Al.”
Ray Shasho: David, I really enjoyed listening to Soul Ballads.
David Clayton-Thomas: “Thank you very much, we put a lot of love and care into it, and a lot of trepidation too, those are very hard songs to follow, when you’re doing a song by Ray Charles or Otis Redding, you’d better bring your ‘A’ game because those records were done beautifully.”
Ray Shasho: A track off Soul Ballads which I thought may have been particularly difficult to sing is “Midnight Train to Georgia.”
David Clayton-Thomas: “I idolized Gladys Knight, and that was one of the first tunes that I picked for the album. I thought …I’ve got to do that song.”
Ray Shasho: I haven’t really heard many artists cover that song; I think Neil Diamond and Aretha Franklin may have done it?
David Clayton-Thomas: “Gladys is a tough act to follow; there are artists who put their stamp on a certain song and nobody wants to even touch it … Ray Charles, “Georgia on my Mind” …that song has been done, unless you can do it any better, but who can do it better than Ray Charles?”
Ray Shasho: David, you also did an excellent version of “People Get Ready,” an R&B classic penned by Cutis Mayfield when he was with The Impressions.
David Clayton-Thomas: “Those songs are old friends for me, I grew up singing R&B here on Yonge Street and those were our repertoire. My old piano player Lou Pomanti who was with me with Blood, Sweat & Tears for about five years, and now he’s a big producer around here, he’d just got finished writing all the arrangements for the Michael Bublé album and he prevailed on me one more time, he said, “Come on man, we’ve got to do an album with those songs!” The hardest part was figuring out which of those songs worked, because once we started coming up with ideas, we sat there with about thirty five songs and only ten could go on an album. So the hardest part was what we weren’t going to do. I’ve got to say; those songs came very-very easy to me because I sang them five shows a night, six nights a week for years. That was my repertoire when I first started out; I idolized all of those artists, so I don’t think there is a song on the album that I haven’t sung about a dozen times before. You know it’s funny; I didn’t even take lyric sheets to the studio because I knew the songs so well. But you know everyone can sing those songs … (“Sittin’On) the Dock of the Bay” … everyone can sing that.”
Ray Shasho: Track eleven on Soul Ballads, “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me” by the great Smokey Robinson, had a sort of jazzy spin to it?
David Clayton-Thomas: “When we started looking back at these songs and listening to the original recordings, we were pretty amazed how badly they were recorded. But it didn’t matter because the soul came through. Remember, they were probably recorded on a little four track machine, they weren’t the greatest musicians in the world, I know on the Bobby Hebb tune “Sunny” the horns were so out of tune that it made my teeth hurt. But it didn’t matter. We have the advantage now of using a 21st century recording studio with digital editing and hundreds and hundreds of tracks if we wanted, and really top notch musicians. It was quite a labor of love making that record and I’m so glad it’s coming out in the states now.”
Ray Shasho: Soul Ballads featured an incredible array of musicians …
David Clayton-Thomas: My buddies from up here in Toronto, half the guys in the rhythm section and horns of that band play in my regular band. We’ve got some really good talent up here in Canada.”
Ray Shasho: Besides you … I’ve interviewed many Canadian music legends …Randy Bachman, Burton Cummings, Frank Marino, Gino Vannelli and the list goes on …but Canada has produced so many great comedians and actors as well.
David Clayton-Thomas: “If you go to Hollywood in LA there’s a whole Canadian community out there, Mike Myers and that whole gang, especially in theater and comedy … Jim Carrey, it’s just a whole enclave of Canadians in LA. Belushi and the Aykroyd Boys all came from Chicago, but The Firesign Theatre and Second City Television was really up here in Toronto, and that’s what really formed the very first Saturday Night Live. The Producer Lorne Michaels is a Canadian and when he first started he brought everybody down from Toronto to start that show.”
Ray Shasho: You had a close relationship with John Lee Hooker in those early days.
David Clayton-Thomas: “It was John who basically brought me to New York the first time. My earliest roots were Mississippi Delta Blues artists like John Lee Hooker, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Robert Johnson … and the blues were my entrance into music. Playing in little clubs here in Toronto, John Lee Hooker used to come up here and play all the time, so I would grab my guitar in between sets and go over and sit in with him. It ended up me going to New York and playing with him. I ended up living there for forty years.”
Ray Shasho: You’ve written a memoir entitled … Blood, Sweat & Tears?
David Clayton-Thomas: “The book and the Soul Ballads album were kind of tied together, because while the book was coming out in October of 2010, it was also announced that I was getting my star in the Canadian Hall of Fame. So I had pressure coming to me from the book publisher and from the record company who said, you’ve got to get a new album out because you’ve got all this stuff going on in the fall. I had just finished the book and I’ve got to tell you…I was pretty much written out! It takes a year and a half to two years to write a book, and during that time you’re not writing many songs. Writing a book for me was kind of a one-time thing, I just wanted to put a postscript on all of those Blood, Sweat & Tears years and wrapped it up and tie a bow on it, and say here’s what happened and here’s how it was … and move on.”
“But like I said, I was getting pressure from both sides to get a new album out and that’s when I called Lou Pomanti, I said, you know you’ve been bugging me for years to do this album, I think the time is right. I don’t have any original material ready to go and we need an album three months from now. I said can we do it? He said, sure we can!”
Ray Shasho: David, what year did you join Blood, Sweat & Tears?
David Clayton-Thomas: “In the summer of 1968. We recorded the album over the course of that summer, it was released in October and by Christmas it was the number one album in the world.”
Ray Shasho: The album was a huge commercial success and spawned (3) consecutive Top 5 singles. It also won a Grammy Award for ‘Album of the Year.’ How did a newly reconstructed Blood, Sweat & Tears achieve commercial success right out of the gate?
David Clayton-Thomas: “We had the top musicians in New York, who weren’t generally known to the public, but these were the ‘A’ team guys … Bobby Colomby, Randy Brecker… these are great-great musicians! But I think the musical climate was different then. Today it seems that everybody wants to put out records to please the marketing guys and it sounds like everything else on the radio. In the 60’s it was a different philosophy, we came into an era that was mostly big power rock bands like Hendrix, The Who, Cream … and we came out of left field with Julliard graduates playing trombones, trumpets and flutes with Basie-Ellington types of arrangements and very much a New York City band. We succeeded so quickly because it was so different, there was nothing like it out there. And in those days was a bonus. Blood, Sweat & Tears were serious musicians and all of a sudden they were playing to 22,000 screaming people at Madison Square Garden. It was a great band and had a great run. I’m very proud of it.”
“Today, I think doing something completely different is almost career suicide. The Record industry is another oxymoron along with jumbo shrimp, it’s pretty much gone. When was the last time you saw a record store? It’s been going for the last several years and I watched it go, and in some ways I’m kind of glad. Remember when the old studio system dissolved in Hollywood and all of these wonderful independent films came out. They weren’t governed by the big corporate bureaucracies. In some ways, the artist has been under the thumb of the record company or the whim of the record company for so many years. I’ve talked with some of the early guys who invented rock and roll like Chuck Berry …Little Richard …Fats Domino …and these guys signed lifetime record contracts for a new Cadillac and never saw a royalty check ever. I think that the new internet freedom that we have now … we only communicate with record companies that can communicate in 21st century language, like CD Baby, Spotify and iTunes, because that’s where people are going for their music now. The only places left for selling CD’S are like Walmart, Costco or something, and they only sell the Top 10… you’ll get your Justin Bieber, Rihanna and Lady Gaga, but there’s hardly any new music coming into that. So it’s left the artist to do what he knows best and that’s create and go directly to his fans, and you can do that all over the internet.”
Ray Shasho: “Are companies like Spotify paying royalties to the artists like they should?
David Clayton-Thomas: “Its took us a hundred years to build up a system of copyright to protect music and then the internet came along and they just threw it out the window, there was no real laws to govern it. It is happening; unfortunately the laws move a lot slower than the technology. But we’re working on it … it will all come around. The record industry may be in deep dookie but the music business is doing just fine. In fact, I think it’s doing better than ever because of the creativity.”
Ray Shasho: I’d like to talk about your classic hit with Blood, Sweat & Tears … “Spinning Wheel” (1969) … I chatted with Engelbert Humperdinck before our interview and Engelbert recently recorded “Spinning Wheel” for his latest duets album called … Engelbert Calling.
David Clayton-Thomas: “Yea, he did it with Gene Simmons. I go way back with Engelbert; I’ve known him for quite some time and have a lot of friends in common in Germany. I’ve done a lot of work in Germany over the years and have a lot of mutual friends over there. But when somebody called me up and said I just heard “Spinning Wheel” by Gene Simmons … I go are you kidding? (All laughing) Kiss is doing “Spinning Wheel?” I don’t believe it!”
Ray Shasho: “Talk about the inception of “Spinning Wheel” … when we think of the 60’s, I think most people would say “Spinning Wheel” is in the top of their list.
David Clayton-Thomas: “Yea and it was played at Woodstock and released that same year in 1969, so it’s kind of engrained in a lot of people’s memory. This is a song that I wrote up here in Canada two years before I joined Blood, Sweat & Tears and tried to get it recorded. I did a demo of it, but tried to do a real record of it and was turned down by every record company in the country. They said, what is this … it sounds like jazz …we can’t sell jazz! So that was the prevailing wisdom back then. Then I came down and found the right combination of musicians and recorded it in New York and the rest is history as they say.
Record executives follow trends … Artists set trends. That’s the way it’s always been, especially now that the industry is running out of money and basically going broke, and a lot of the talent has left. When is the last time you saw an A&R man at a record company? That post doesn’t exist anymore. Record companies are basically distributorships now. They could be selling toothpaste or hand soap …they’re just units to be moved and not really a connection with the music. That’s why a lot of artists, even senior artists like myself are moving away from the record industry. Except for Nashville, the days when a record company used to make or break an artist are over.”
Ray Shasho: Groups like Blood, Sweat & Tears & Chicago were pleasantly dissimilar when they arrived on the music scene … a prodigious ensemble performing a phenomenal blend of rock, jazz and psychedelic music.
David Clayton-Thomas: “What happens in the record industry … as soon as something comes along that’s different, within a year they’ve cloned it half a dozen times. The same producer that produced the first Blood, Sweat & Tears record with me … we went on the road to promote it, and while we went on the road he produced three Chicago albums. (All laughing) And then everybody had to have a horn band in those days. By the year Blood, Sweat & Tears broke … you had Tower of Power, Chicago, Ides of March, Chase … there was horn bands coming out of the woodwork.”
Ray Shasho: Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention were also early innovators for using horns in a rock band.
David Clayton-Thomas: “Well yea … as a matter of fact I had lunch the day before yesterday with a gentleman by the name of Jim Fielder. Jim was the original bass player in Blood, Sweat & Tears and he has been with Neil Sedaka for the last thirty years. When I first met Jim Fielder he was the bass player for The Mothers of Invention with Aynsley Dunbar and Frank Zappa …playing at the Garrick Theatre in New York City, next door to the Café Au Go Go where Blood, Sweat & Tears played. So Jim came over to Blood, Sweat & Tears. There’s a picture on my website of me and Frank Zappa jamming away on guitars … just a tremendously creative guy.”
Ray Shasho: Dave, are you going to hit the road again anytime soon?
David Clayton-Thomas: “Not really on the road, my days of being on the road are over. I am coming down to the states and doing some concerts this year. I like to pick events. Last year I came down and did the St. Louis Blues Festival and did the Toronto Jazz Festival here with Earth, Wind & Fire and Chaka Khan, and two nights at Massey Hall with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, but that’s not being on the road, that’s doing things you really want to do. Being on the road is when you go out for 150 days at a time and half the gigs are to pay for gas …that’s being on the road. (All laughing) I did that for 40 years and I won’t do that anymore. The record company that put out Soul Ballads also books a lot of concerts and they’ve already asked me if I’d come down and do a few spots this year, and I’d love to do that.”
Ray Shasho: Do you enjoy performing with a live symphony orchestra?
David Clayton-Thomas: “It’s one thing I do. The new album that I just finished is called Combo. It’s a small quintet and we play all acoustic, it’s a very unplugged and very intimate kind of album. It’s really great to sing in that kind of environment. On the other hand when you’re playing with a symphony orchestra and you hear 80 pieces strike up the opening to “God Bless the Child,” you wouldn’t be human if your hair didn’t stand up in back of your head. (All laughing) The last few years I’ve been doing concerts with a 10-piece band, Blood, Sweat & Tears was only eight pieces. So this year we’ll cut it back a little because of the new album and play more intimate concerts. Of all the places I’ve played … from Carnegie Hall to Royal Albert Hall to Madison Square Garden … my favorite place is still an 800 to 1000 seat performing arts center. Where the people are sitting in nice plush seats and relaxed and you have a beautiful stage with nice production, great lights, and the audience is three feet away, you can reach out and touch them. That’s my favorite place to play.”
Ray Shasho: Producer/songwriter/musician James William Guercio produced your classic debut album with Blood, Sweat & Tears; he also worked with The Buckinghams, Chicago and Beach Boys to name a few. He was obviously a successful producer, why didn’t he work with the band again after that first album?
David Clayton-Thomas: “The makeup of Blood, Sweat & Tears, except for the songwriters, everybody made 100% of their living by going on the road, and that included the agents, promoters and people in our front office. We went from being basically a Greenwich Village street band making five hundred bucks a night split nine ways, to all of a sudden, tens of thousands of dollars a night pouring in. So Blood, Sweat & Tears basically went on the road for three years until finally our manager called a halt to it and said, look, you guys have been out there for three years, while your all out there touring all over the world and making tons of money, Jimmy Guercio has made three Chicago albums in that time. (All laughing) So we decided that we needed to get more products in the can and make some more albums. So we went in and recorded B, S &T 3 and B, S &T 4 in basically consecutive years. If you notice between the first Blood, Sweat & Tears album and second B, S &T album, there is a three year gap. We were in Australia, South America, Russia … you name it and we were there.”
Ray Shasho: Dave you’ve written several great tunes with the band, any regrets for not having written more songs?
David Clayton-Thomas: “Not particularly …I’m not a singer who only sings his own songs; I’m not a Bob Dylan, I write a few songs that happen to fit me. I enjoy just as much doing Soul Ballads and singing those great iconic Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles and Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes songs. I’m first a singer and a songwriter second.”
“The Toronto music scene is heavily R&B oriented and the reason for that being is, back in the 60’s when we young Canadian musicians were growing up, and I’m talking about people like Burton Cummings, Randy Bachman, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell … there was a color bar in the states, if you were a black band and worked in Detroit you worked black clubs. They wouldn’t even allow mixed bands, you couldn’t even have a white guy in your band or a white band couldn’t have a black guy in it. What happened was because of our proximity to all those great towns, all those great R&B artists from Chicago and Detroit came up to Canada. There was no color bar up here. Up here they played in all the finest clubs and were idolized. Those great R&B artists loved to go to England and to Canada because there was no racism here. The first time I heard Eric Clapton, I said this guy has been listening to Chicago Blues … well of course; all the black artists would go over and play in England and would develop a huge following there, everyone from The Beatles to the Stones were heavily influenced by the Black American artists.”
Ray Shasho: David, here’s a question that I ask everyone that I interview. If you had a ‘Field of Dreams’ wish like the movie, to sing or collaborate with anyone from the past or present, who would that be?
David Clayton-Thomas: “I’ve been very lucky because I’ve already collaborated with everyone who I’d want to collaborate with … I would have loved to sit down and sing with Ray Charles, I did get to sing with Aretha Franklin on a number of different occasions and she’s another one of my idols. There are a few young bands … I saw a Bruno Mars show a couple of months ago and he kicks ass … that’s a serious old school R&B artist.”
Ray Shasho: David, thank you so much for being on the call today and for all the incredible music you’ve given us with Blood, Sweat & Tears and all the great music you continue to bring!
David Clayton-Thomas: “It’s been a pleasure talking with you Ray.”
Very special thanks to Anne Leighton PR *Media * Music Services * Motivation
Purchas David Clayton-Thomas’ latest releases … Soul Ballads, Combo and A Blues for the New World … (3) separate genres performed by the musical genius of David Clayton-Thomas, available now at amazon.com.
Soul Ballads …
Track List Midnight Train To Georgia
A Change Is Gonna Come People Get Ready If You Don`t Know Me By Now Sunny I`ve Been Lovin` You Too Long Dock Of The Bay Ruby When Something Is Wrong With My Baby You Don`t Know Me You Really Got A Hold On Me When A Man Loves A Woman
As Time Goes By
Stormy Monday Blues
The Glory Of Love
Freedom for the Stallion
God Bless the Child
When I Fall In Love
Purchase Author David Clayton-Thomas’ memoir … Blood, Sweat & Tears at Amazon.com
COMING UP … An interview with vocalist/author JOE BONSALL
of the legendary … ‘OAK RIDGE BOYS’ and guitar legend/singer/producer …
DAVE EDMUNDS (Rockpile).
Contact music journalist/author Ray Shasho at email@example.com
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