Willie Clayton the Last Original Soul Singer Standing
A gifted soul and blues singer and songwriter, Willie Clayton has been performing since the late ’60s. His reedy, thin, raw, whiskey-soaked voice melds the Southern gospel tradition with Chicago soul-blues, gritty Stax/Volt-styled funk and erotically charged urban R&B. From his earliest singles in the late ’60s and early ’70s (most produced by Willie Mitchell), Clayton established himself as an original, comfortable with virtually every style he took on. His 1984 single “Tell Me,” produced by General Crook in 1984, was a regional hit but could be found on jukeboxes across the United States and in England. He scored again in 1989 with “Never Too Late” (as Will Clayton) for Polydor. But his greatest chart success began in the late ’90s when he released a string of albums that consistently landed on the Top Blues Albums lists including Something to Talk About (1998) and 2008’s My Tyme, that cross-charted (one of five of his full-lengths to do so) on both the Top Blues Albums and Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums charts. His 2009 album Love, Romance and Respect featured two back-to-back Top 25 Urban Adult Contemporary Airplay singles with “Dance the Nite Away” and “We Both Grown.” In 2017, he switched up and delivered the old-school Chicago soul-blues date Crossroad of the Blues while maintaining a near-constant performance schedule.
One of 11 brothers and sisters, the Mississippi vocalist debuted with “That’s the Way Daddy Did” on Duplex. He moved to Chicago in the early ’70s and became a club and city favorite. Clayton was introduced to Al Green‘s producer, Willie Mitchell, after appearing with Green, and Mitchell signed him to a deal with Pawn, a subsidiary of Hi. Mitchell produced some fine Clayton efforts, including “I Must Be Losin’ You,” “It’s Time You Made Up Your Mind,” and “Baby You’re Ready,” but none of them hit. He spent time touring with Green, Barry White, and James Brown and started his own Sky Hero label in 1980, but the song “Living with You, But My Heart Is Somewhere Else” had only marginal regional exposure.
Clayton tried again with the Kirstee label, issuing “Where Has Love Gone,” and finally enjoyed a taste of soul success in 1984 when his “Tell Me” (produced by General Crook) and “What a Way to Put It” for Compleat Records nudged onto the R&B charts. Let’s Get Together, Clayton‘s 1993 album for Johnny Vincent‘s Ace logo, was a smooth soul-blues hybrid dominated by originals but titled after Al Green‘s immortal hit. Simply Beautiful, his Ace follow-up, found Clayton mixing dusties by Reverend Al, Aretha Franklin, and Arthur Crudup with his own stuff. It’s About Love followed in 1999. After the turn of the century, Clayton recorded for the Malaco, Endzone, and Select-O-Hits labels. Among his finer releases during these years were Changing the Game (2004), Love, Romance & Respect (2009), The Voice (2011), and Heart and Soul (2015) distributed by KES Distribution out of Chicago. Clayton stuck to his tried-and-true sound, and many of his albums during these years peaked in or near the Top Five of Billboard’s blues chart. His 2017 date Crossroad of the Blues melded Chicago-style soul-blues and 21st-century urban R&B and landed inside the Top Five on the Top Blues Albums chart. 2018 saw the re-release of the 2010s The Voice with bonus material, followed by the futuristic soul single “Where You Get That Body.”
Currently, Willie Clayton delivers once again, at his best. So, age ain’t nothing but a number. If it’s Soul music, R&B, Contemporary Blues or dance music; you’ll find it on his new CD “Excellence”, due out on March 1st, 2019. His performances on this CD are exceptional. Vocally he is an ageless artist who’s making real music, not synthetic. Clayton’s turns in Stella performances on his tributes to the late Aretha Franklins “Ain’t No Way” and his rendition of the Etta James classic “I’d Rather Go Blind”. The new CD also contains 11 original new recorded tracks. Clayton says “I’m just keeping Soul & Blues alive”.