David Clayton-Thomas' life is a remarkable story in which he transformed himself from Canadian barroom rocker into one of the most recognized performers in the world, selling over 30 million albums worldwide. As well, he's one of the most inventive songwriters in contemporary music. David has survived more than four decades on the road and countless career triumphs and tragedies. He has played everything from one-room beer joints to amphitheaters. Performed with everyone from John Lee Hooker to Aretha Franklin.
In 1996, he was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, taking his place alongside Canada's musical icons, Oscar Peterson, Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. Today, living back in Toronto, his boyhood turf, and the place where he still feels most at home, David has launched an 11-piece jazz/rock fusion band under his own name. 'BS&T was a wonderful experience, but it was time to move on," he says emphatically. 'I'm proud of what we accomplished and that I played a pivotal role. Blood Sweat & Tears was important to me. It had a proud musical history.'
David's willingness to abandon assured success on the lucrative U.S. tour circuit for the challenging uncertainties of launching a new band, stems from his conviction that growth is everything to an artist... and from the experience of recording his 2004 Justin Time album, Aurora, with lifelong friend Doug "Doc" Riley. "To write new music, to sing new songs and to record them, is what drives me," says David. "BS&T hadn't recorded in 25 years and I'm a songwriter. If you don't provide me an outlet to be a songwriter, I'm going to implode. While recording Aurora I knew I had come home. There's such a dynamic creative community in Toronto, it's always been inspiring to me.' David was already a showbiz veteran, a central figure in Canadian music, before he became lead singer of BS&T.
His 1968 debut album with BS&T sold 10 million copies worldwide. The self-titled record topped the Billboard album chart for seven weeks, and charted for a staggering 109 weeks. It won an unprecedented five Grammy awards, including Album Of The Year and Best Performance By A Male Vocalist. It featured three hit singles, "You've Made Me So Very Happy" 'And When I Die'," and "Spinning Wheel' as well as an irresistible rendition of Billie Holiday's "God Bless The Child" that became a signature song for David. A 1969 summary in the Los Angeles Times proclaimed that, "Blood Sweat & Tears may just be the most important pop music group of the decade.'
With its success other horn bands followed, including Chicago, Tower Of Power, Chase, Dreams, Ides Of March, Lighthouse, and Cold Blood... Jazz-Rock was mainstream. David knows that fans will always expect him to perform his celebrated musical book... including the signature BS&T songs. "How could I not sing 'Spinning Wheel' or 'God Bless the Child' to an audience that comes to see me,' he asks. "There are a handful of songs I will be singing for the rest of my life, and joyfully so.'
David was born in Surrey, England, on September, 13, 1941. His father was a highly decorated Canadian soldier, his mother a British music student who was playing the piano for the troops in a London hospital. Following the war, the family settled in Willowdale, a suburb of Toronto, when David was four. David was developing into a formidable singer with his early bands, The Fabulous Shays and the Bossmen. Arkansas rockabilly Ronnie Hawkins, backed by Levon & the Hawks (later renamed The Band), reigned at Le Coq d'Or on the Yonge Street strip. "The strongest early influences on me were the great blues singers, The Hawks and Ray Charles' David remembers, 'England was very heavy into American blues but we lived closer to it in Toronto.
In 1964 David Clayton-Thomas and the Shays released a smoky, funky rendition of John Lee Hooker's "Boom Boom." It was only a regional hit but it had a vocal that stopped you in your tracks. A high point for the Shays was going to New York to appear on NBC-TV's "Hullabaloo" at the invitation of its host, fellow Canadian Paul Anka. David loved the atmosphere in New York. "We had three days there, and I haunted the clubs in Greenwich Village," he recalls. "I saw the young Jimi Hendrix, Ritchie Havens, James Taylor, and John Hammond Jr. I went back to Toronto but life wasn't ever the same.' Abandoning the bars on the strip, David began performing on Yorkville Village's bustling coffeehouse and club scene.
He soaked up influences from the great bluesmen... John Lee Hooker, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, and Lonnie Johnson. Yorkville also showcased young Canadian artists like Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. It was a cultural scene that David could swim in with great enjoyment. He immersed himself in the local jazz scene, attracted by the superb musicianship of Doug Riley, William Smith, Lenny Breau, Oscar Peterson and Moe Koffman, local jazz players of dizzying technical prowess. Also living in Toronto, running a nightspot in Yorkville was legendary bluesman, Lonnie Johnson. "He was a true merging of blues and jazz," recalls David with admiration. David made his mark more forcibly with his next band, The Bossmen, one of the first rock bands anywhere to incorporate jazz musicians. In 1966, the band released the explosive anti-war single "Brainwashed" a jazz piano/rock guitar roar of fear and refusal, tougher than any rock recording you can name from the era.
One night in 1966 after playing backup for blues singer John Lee Hooker in Toronto, David took off with him to New York. After playing a Greenwich Village club, Hooker left for Europe but David decided to stay on in New York. 'I survived by doing basket houses,' (performers were given a few minutes of stage time and then passed the basket) 'I also played with an open guitar case in Washington Square Park for spare change, alongside Ritchie Havens and James Taylor.' Folk singer Judy Collins heard David one night at a club uptown and told her friend, drummer Bobby Colomby about him. The two returned the following night. Bobby's band Blood Sweat & Tears, torn apart by infighting, had broken up four months after releasing its debut Columbia album, Child Is Father To The Man, and the band was being written off by everybody. Colomby asked David to help rebuild the band. They took the reformed group into the Café Au Go Go in the Village. Six weeks later, there were line-ups of 2,000 people on the sidewalk, waiting to get into a club, which only seated 250 people.
In his 1974 autobiography, Clive: Inside the Record Business, Clive Davis, then president of Columbia Records, described his initial impression of hearing David at the Café Au Go Go: "He was staggering... a powerfully built singer who exuded an enormous earthy confidence. He jumped right out at you. I went with a small group of people, and we were electrified. He seemed so genuine, so in command of the lyric... a perfect combination of fire and emotion to go with the band's somewhat cerebral appeal. I knew he would be a strong, strong figure." With David largely dominating the creative output, BS&T continued with a string of charted albums, including Blood Sweat & Tears 3, which featuring such highpoints as "Lucretia Mac Evil," Goffin/King's "Hi-De-Ho," and Laura Nyro's "He's a Runner," BS&T 4, which yeilded another hit single, 'Go Down Gamblin' and Blood Sweat & Tears Greatest Hits, which has chalked up over five million copies in worldwide sales. BS&T played every major venue in North America... The Fillmores, The Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall, The Hollywood Bowl, Madison Square Garden and Caesar's Palace, as well as the Newport Jazz Festival and Woodstock. It was the first contemporary band to break through the Iron Curtain with a historic 1970 tour of Romania, Poland, and Yugoslavia. In the early years David lived on the road, traveling all over Europe, Asia, South America and the United States with BS&T.
The constant touring began to take it's toll. By the early seventies the founding members began to drift away to start families and pursue their own musical ambitions. They were replaced by such notable jazz players as Joe Henderson, Jaco Pastorius, Don Alias, Mike Stern and Larry Willis. With a brutal tour schedule of 200-plus concerts a year, David left in 1972, frustrated by the lack of creative time. He moved to LA and recorded four fine solo albums, David Clayton-Thomas (Columbia), Tequila Sunrise (Columbia), Harmony Junction (RCA) and Clayton (GRT). His departure left a gaping hole in the group, which fumbled through personnel changes. The fans would not accept a BS&T without David Clayton-Thomas. "No matter how interesting we tried to make the music, audiences were still waiting to hear David Clayton-Thomas," BS&T guitarist Steve Katz told Downbeat at the time. After a two-year hiatus, a revitalized BS&T, now under David's leadership came storming back to the concert stage, playing international jazz festivals, symphonies, concert halls and casino show rooms. The band continued touring successfully until 2004, when David moved back to Canada to devote himself to his solo projects.
On October 27th, 2005 David recorded a live album at the Opera House in Toronto. The show was outstanding, and the album includes his much lauded hits such as 'Spinning Wheel,' 'Lucretia MacEvil' and 'You Make Me So Very Happy,' to name a few. The CD, A Musical Biography, captures David's fiery live show. A tasteful mix of classic hits and new songs, the album was released on May 9th 2006 on Justin Time Records. Through the years, David has lost none of the attributes that have made him one of the greatest performers of his generation. The voice now soaring and sunny, now a somber shade of blue. He still just sings the hell out of a song. 'People like me don't retire,' says David with his face in a wide grin around those storied, sparkling steel-blue eyes. "Performing is an addiction... It's what I was put here to do."