The music industry lost one of its greats today when legendary Chicago soul singer Otis Clay passed away on Friday at the age of 73, reported the Chicago Tribune.
“The music industry liked to peg Chicago vocal master Otis Clay as a soul singer. Or an R&B King. Or a gospel titan. Or a high-energy showman. He was all of that, and more.”
Also a member of the Blues Hall of Fame since 2013, the music industry veteran was known for hits like “Trying to Live My Life Without You,” (which also happened to be his biggest hit and was later covered later by Bob Seger) “Got To Find a Way” and “Hard Working Woman,” to name only a few.
Born February 11, 1942, Clay grew up in Mississippi, which gave him a strong southern blues and gospel background. Then he moved to Chicago as a teenager in the mid-1950’s and was influenced by a variety of other musical styles, including soul and R&B. This depth of exposure made him a remarkably diverse and multifaceted artist who drew on a variety of stylistic influences throughout his career.
Clay’s management confirmed he passed away following a heart attack when they confirmed his death on the artist’s official site and asked fans to “keep the Clay family in your prayers,” reported Rolling Stone.
Otis Clay was renowned as a true master of the blues, soul, and R&B genres, but he also knew his way around gospel music. In fact, he first ventured into the music world by joining a number of different gospel vocal groups before finally branching out to secular music in the min 1960’s.
Billy Price, a longtime collaborator with Otis Clay and close friend, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Saturday that he was in devastated at first, but ultimately has only fond memories of the Grammy-nominated singer.
“After the shock of this wore off a little, I was left with a feeling of gratitude to have known him. We first sang together in 1983, and I have so many memories of the great shows we did together over the years.”
Upon the release of his album “Truth Is” In 2013, Clay told the Chicago Tribune that his life has always been “a combination of things musically,” and said he enjoyed listening to the Grand Ole Opry every Saturday night.
“During the day, later on, you listened to (radio) coming out of Memphis. At 12 o’clock, we listened to (blues pioneer) Sonny Boy Williamson, coming out of Helena, Ark. And I’m listening to Vaughn Monroe and Rosemary Clooney and listening to Hank Williams and Roy Acuff.”
The wide range of musical styles these artists represent is typical of Clay’s own style, having been firmly ingrained in his musical repertoire before he even left for Chicago. Here, he signed with Chicago label One-derful! Records, snagging R&B hits with 1967’s “That’s How It Is (When You’re In Love)” and “A Lasting Love.”
“I guess I’ve always loved Chicago. You got to be in a place where a lot of legends (lived), whether they were blues or gospel, they were in Chicago.”
Next, he moved to Atlantic Records’, ultimately recording a fantastic version of the Sir Douglas Quintet’s “She’s About a Mover” at the famed Muscle Shoals, Alabama’s FAME studios. Later, he teamed with Al Green’s producer Willie Mitchell at Memphis-based Hi Records in 1971, which resulted in the creation of “Trying To Live My Life Without You.”
Over the following decades, Clay never stopped performing and recording, doing a cover of “Wild Horses” for the Rolling Stones tribute album Paint It Blue in 1997 and scoring a Grammy nomination in 2008. In fact, respected Chicago blues musician, arranger and producer Dave Specter told the Chicago Tribune that Clay had been scheduled to perform Saturday night on Chicago’s west side and had just spoken to him Wednesday.
“He was just a combination of his voice, his passion, his intensity. Performing with Clay was the most inspiring feeling I ever got.”
[Photo via YouTube screenshot]