Best known for singing on the Rolling Stones' classic song "Gimme Shelter," Merry Clayton is a powerful, gospel-influenced vocalist who's had a long and successful career as backup singer, solo artist, and actress. A member of Ray Charles' Raelettes in the early '60s, Clayton rose to fame singing backup on the Rolling Stones' 1969 anti-war anthem "Gimme Shelter." The song gained immediate popularity, eventually reaching the status as one of the best songs to emerge out of the Vietnam era. Clayton covered her own version of the song for her 1971 debut album, Gimme Shelter, and built upon her success, releasing several more albums and continuing to sing for artists like Carole King, Linda Ronstadt, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and many more. Raised in the church, she also sang in a gospel group with Della Reese and got into acting, appearing in film and on TV. Following her appearance in the Oscar-winning 2013 documentary 20 Feet from Stardom, Clayton was involved in a car accident that resulted in the amputation of her legs. Ever resilient, she recovered and in 2021 completed her return to the spotlight with the ebullient studio album Beautiful Scars.
Named Merry in honor of her birth on December 25, 1948, Clayton grew up in New Orleans in a religious, musically inclined family, the daughter of Eva B. Clayton and Reverend A.G. Williams Clayton, Sr. Beginning at the age of five, she sang with her siblings (including percussionist Sam Clayton) at her father's New Zion Baptist Church. After a family move to Los Angeles, the then-teenaged Clayton caught the attention of vocal group the Blossoms, members of whom took her under their wing and encouraged her to pursue a music career. Often mistakenly billed as "Mary," Clayton quickly found work singing backing vocals. In 1962, she made her recorded debut duetting with Bobby Darin on the song "Who Can I Count On? (When I Can't Count on You.)." Around the same time, she released the Jack Nitzsche-produced solo single "The Doorbell Rings." In 1963, she also recorded the original version of "The Shoop Shoop Song (It's in His Kiss)," which would become a Top Ten hit for Betty Everett the following year.
More work followed, including a stint as a member of Ray Charles' backing vocal group the Raelettes. She also sang on tracks with a bevy of iconic performers, including Pearl Bailey, Phil Ochs, Burt Bacharach, Tom Jones, Joe Cocker, Linda Ronstadt, and Carole King, as well as appearing on several tracks off Neil Young's debut album. However, it was her 1969 session on the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter" that solidified her reputation. Recorded during a late-night session with producer Nitzsche, the song heavily featured Clayton (who was pregnant at the time) throughout, including on the chorus, which found her harmonizing with Mick Jagger. Although never officially released as a single, "Gimme Shelter" helped land Rolling Stones' album Let It Bleed at number three on the Billboard 200 and became an iconic anti-war anthem of the Vietnam era. Regularly played at the Stones' live shows, it is largely considered not just one of the group's best songs, but one of the best songs of the '60s.
In 1970, Clayton followed her success with the Rolling Stones by releasing her debut solo effort, Gimme Shelter. Produced by Lou Adler, the album found her backed by a bevy of soul and funk musicians, including keyboardists Billy Preston and Joe Sample, guitarist David T. Walker, drummer Paul Humphrey, and others. Her version of "Gimme Shelter" peaked at number 73 on the Hot 100. That same year, she sang a version of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" which was included on the soundtrack of director Robert Altman's film Brewster McCloud, and she contributed two songs to Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg's film Performance, which also starred Jagger.
by Matt Collar
1. Country Road (James Taylor) - 3:45
2. Tell All the People (Robby Krieger) - 2:54
3. Bridge Over Troubled Water (Paul Simon) - 5:47 -
4. I've Got Life (Galt MacDermot, Jerome Ragin, James Redo) - 3:27
5. Gimme Shelter (Mick Jagger, Keith Richards) - 3:30
6. Here Comes Those Heartaches Again (James Cleveland) - 3:03
7. Forget It I Got It (Jimmy Miller, Gary Wright) - 2:53
8. You've Been Acting Strange (Billy Preston) - 3:16
9. I Ain't Gonna Worry My Life Away (Merry Clayton, Billy Preston) - 4:19
10.Good Girls (Billy Page) - 2:43
11.Glad Tidings (Van Morrison) - 2:40
*Merry Clayton - Vocals
*David Cohen - Guitar
*Gary Coleman - Percussion
*Victor Feldman - Percussion
*Paul Humphrey - Drums
*King Errisson - Congas
*Lou Morrell - Guitar
*Orville 'Red' Rhodes - Guitar
*Billy Preston - Organ, Piano
*Joe Sample - Organ, Piano
*Louie Shelton - Guitar
*David T. Walker - Guitar
*Bob West - Bass