Saturday, January 09, 2016

Passings: Blues Hall of Famer Otis Clay (1942 - 2016)

Otis Clay, Chicago based bluesman and a member of the Blues Hall of Fame, died on Friday from a heart attack at the age of 73.

From his Facebook page:

Heart & Soul artist management is very sad to announce Otis Clay passed away unexpectedly of a heart attack in the early evening of January 8, 2016. Our hearts are broken. Please keep the Clay family in your prayers.
Clay was very active on the concert scene, having just announced his participation at the 2016 Family Reunion Fest and on the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise 2016 in October.

Clay was born in Boliver County, MS and moved to Muncie, Indiana at the age 15 where he sang in the local gospel group The Voices of Hope. He later sang with the Christian Travelers back in Mississippi before moving permanently to Chicago in 1957.

For the next five years, Clay sang with a series of gospel groups before making his first secular record in 1962 but it wasn't until 1965 when he signed with One-derful! Records in Chicago that he started to break into the mainstream.

Otis finally made it on the national charts in mid-1967 with two songs, That's How It Is (When You're in Love) (1967 / #34 R&B) and A Lasting Love (1967 / #48). The next year, One-derful! went bankrupt and Clay's contract was picked up by Atlantic for their Cotillion label where he had his only Hot 100 song, a cover of the Sir Douglas Quintet's She's About a Mover (1968 / #47 R&B / #97 Pop).

Even though Clay worked with both Syl Johnson and Willie Mitchell on further records for Cotillion, none were hits and he moved to Hi Records, to work further with Mitchell, in 1971. It was with Hi that he scored the highest charting hit of his career, Trying to Live My Life Without You (1972 / #24 R&B), a song that Bob Seger would resurrect a decade later and take to number 5.

In 1977, Otis moved to Kayvette Records where he had his last charting records while he also started his own label, Echo. For the rest of his career, Clay continued to record acclaimed blues albums along with mounting successful tours of the U.S., Europe and Japan.

But there was more to Clay than just the music. In his hometown Chicago, he was a board member of People For a New Direction, helping to create economic opportunities on the city's impoverished west side. He was also Chairman of the Board of Tobacco Road, Inc. who were instrumental in the development of the Harold Washington Cultural Center which is helping revitalize the Bronzeville area of Chicago.

Clay is a past Grammy nominee and is currently nominated for Soul Blues Artist and for his album This Time For Real at the Blues Music Awards. He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2013.