(b. 13 September 1941 in Surrey, England), musician, composer, and lead singer of the rock fusion group Blood, Sweat, and Tears.
Born in Great Britain during the most trying days of World War II, Clayton-Thomas was the son of Fred Thomsett, a Canadian serving in the British army, and his wife, Freda, a former music hall performer and native of England. (Originally called David Henry Thomsett, Clayton-Thomas purportedly changed his name in the mid-1960s to help escape a troubled past.) In 1944 Clayton-Thomas and his mother immigrated to Canada, where they took up residence in the remote Amich Lake region of Ontario. A year later, the father joined them. At the age of fourteen, Clayton-Thomas dropped out of school and subsequently moved out of his parents' home to find work and to escape a strained, and oftentimes violent, relationship with his father. For the next few years, he lived from hand to mouth, toiling in mining and logging camps; sleeping in parked cars; spending countless nights at blues clubs; singing at small venues in Quebec; and, finally, serving time at the Millbrook Reformatory in Peterborough, Ontario, for vagrancy, petty theft, and various other minor infractions.
After his release from Millbrook in the spring of 1962, Clayton-Thomas made his way to Toronto, where the vibrant nightlife and thriving music scene of Yonge Street beckoned the young man. He performed whenever and wherever the opportunity arose, sitting in with such established Yonge Street acts as Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson, and Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks. Eventually, Clayton-Thomas formed his own band, the Shays (later the Bossmen) and began attracting wide attention across Canada. His deep, raspy vocals seemed perfectly suited for rhythm and blues and helped the group score several Canadian gold records over the next three years, including "Boom Boom" (1963), "Walk That Walk" (1964), "Take Me Back" and "Out of the Sunshine" (1965), and "Brain-washed" (1966). The latter song stayed at the top of the charts for sixteen weeks.
Clayton-Thomas's runaway success in his home country soon created opportunities abroad. After an appearance on the National Broadcasting Company program Hullabaloo in 1967, he decided to move the band to New York City and try his luck there. Settling in Greenwich Village, the young Canadian quickly became a mainstay on the coffee-house circuit, attracting both the famous and the not so famous to his gigs. One evening, the folk singer Judy Collins attended a performance at the Scene and was impressed by the range and power of Clayton-Thomas's voice. Afterward, she contacted her friend Bobby Colomby, the drummer for the band Blood, Sweat, and Tears, and asked him to attend the next show. Colomby, who was trying to salvage what was left of his own band after the departure of its founding member, Al Kooper, and other key players, was deeply impressed by the white blues singer. After an audition in mid-1968, Clayton-Thomas became a full-fledged member of Blood, Sweat, and Tears, leaving the small stages of Greenwich Village and Ontario behind for good.
The group that now welcomed Clayton-Thomas into its fold was first formed in the summer of 1967 by Kooper, a former member of the Blues Project and a sessions musician who appeared on numerous recordings of the famed folksinger Bob Dylan. After cutting its first album, Child Is Father to the Man, which sold reasonably well, the band began to fall apart. Several members expressed dissatisfaction with Kooper's vocal ability and suggested that he move over to the organ to make room for another front man. Kooper steadfastly refused and instead left Blood, Sweat, and Tears for a job as a producer at Columbia Records. Two other members, Randy Brecker and Jerry Weiss, quickly followed suit. The future of the band was in doubt until Colomby's fateful encounter with Clayton-Thomas in New York. Other vocalists, including Stephen Stills, had been considered, but Clayton-Thomas seemed a better fit for the group's unique style, which blended elements of rock, soul, and jazz. By the end of 1968 the new Blood, Sweat, and Tears, which included Clayton-Thomas on vocals, Colomby on drums, Steve Katz on guitar, Dick Halligan on keyboards, Chuck Winfield and Lew Soloff on trumpets, Jerry Hyman on trombone, Jim Fielder on bass, and Fred Lipsius on saxophone, had entered the studio to record a follow-up to Child Is Father to the Man.
Released in January 1969, the new album, aptly titled Blood, Sweat, and Tears, made a steady climb to the top of the charts. Powered by Clayton-Thomas's soulful voice and a beefy horn section, both of which seemed reminiscent of the big band era, the record produced a spate of hit singles, including "You've Made Me So Very Happy," "And When I Die," and "Spinning Wheel" (penned by Clayton-Thomas). The album stayed at the number-one chart position for seven straight weeks, eventually winning a Grammy Award for album of the year. Clayton-Thomas also took the Grammy for best performance by a male vocalist. The band followed up its success with Blood, Sweat, and Tears 3 and 4 in 1970 and 1971, respectively. Although these albums did not measure up to their 1969 predecessor in terms of sales and critical acceptance, they did produce some minor hit singles, such as "Hi-De-Ho," "Lucretia MacEvil," and "Go Down Gambling," earning the band a place in the musical pantheon as daring innovators of jazz/rock.
Fueled by the success of three hit albums, Blood, Sweat, and Tears became a huge draw on the concert circuit, packing in audiences across the United States. They were among the featured performers at Woodstock in August 1969. In 1970 the band embarked on a goodwill tour of Eastern Europe on behalf of the U.S. State Department and gained legions of fans overseas. But by mid-1971 the band's days appeared numbered. Harsh reviews, creative differences, and declining record sales were slowly unraveling the group. In early 1972 Clayton-Thomas left the group to record his first solo album, David Clayton-Thomas. After another reorganization, the band carried on the best it could, but it clearly had been damaged by the loss of its star vocalist.
Clayton-Thomas followed up his solo debut with Tequila Sunrise in 1973 and Harmony Junction in 1974, but the commercial and critical success he had enjoyed with Blood, Sweat, and Tears failed to materialize. For a brief time in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he and his mates had risen above a field crowded with guitar-driven bands and delivered a refreshing mix of jazz, rock, and soul for a generation raised on the Beatles and Rolling Stones. By the mid-1970s the group's sound seemed a bit outdated. In 1974 Clayton-Thomas reunited with his former band for a series of ill-received albums, including New City (1975), More Than Ever (1976), Brand New Day (1977), and Nuclear Blues (1980). Clayton-Thomas continues to record and perform with Blood, Sweat, and Tears today, delighting audiences of aging baby boomers with his renditions of the group's classics. He has been married four times and lives in the Catskill Mountains in New York with his wife, Suzanne. Clayton-Thomas has one daughter from an earlier marriage.
Information on Clayton-Thomas can be found in Nicholas Jennings, "Blasts from the Past: Five Veteran Canadian Rockers Recall Their Glory Days," Maclean's (11 Mar. 1996). Clayton-Thomas's home page at <http://davidclaytonthomas.com> provides valuable biographical information, along with a discography, photo gallery, and reviews.