David Clayton-Thomas


Wayne Bledsoe, News-Sentinel entertainment writer,May 2 1999

Used by kind permission of The Knoxville News-Sentinel

A trail of Blood, Sweat & Tears from Woodstock to the symphony halls.

David Clayton-Thomas says symphony musicians seem appreciative when they see the scores written for shows with Blood, Sweat & Tears. "They open the book and go 'Great, here's some real music!'" says Clayton-Thomas. "I've seem some pops performances before where the symphony is just a big lush pad behind the band or the singer. That's not the case with us." Clayton-Thomas says that when Blood, Sweat & Tears performs with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra Saturday, May 8, at the Civic Coliseum, the orchestra will be featured on some challenging work. It shouldn't be a surprise, considering Blood, Sweat & Tears' origins. Since the 1960s, the New York-based group has always been filled with a collection of classically and jazz educated musicians. Although singer Clayton-Thomas is the only member from the band's hit-making heyday still with the group, the band continues to employ an educated combination of musicians. Trumpeter/musical director Steve Guttman, who has been with the band since 1983 is a graduate of Oberlin Conservatory of Music and has led the group through performances with symphonies all over the country.

Although few remember, Blood, Sweat & Tears recorded one album before Clayton-Thomas joined the group. Producer/performer Al Kooper formed the group in New York in 1967 and the group's debut "Child Is the Father To the Man" was a critical success and a commercial flop. Disagreements forced lead singer Kooper from the group and transplanted Canadian Clayton-Thomas was recruited to take his place. "I came from the world of rock 'n' roll into a world of Julliard graduates," says Clayton-Thomas. It was more "rock 'n' roll" than most knew. Clayton-Thomas grew up in reformatories and foster homes, the reasons for which he says are private and in the past. "I was on my own since I was 14," says Clayton-Thomas. "I slept in parked cars, whatever. In 1958, you find a kid sleeping in cars what do you do with him? 'Put him in jail for about six months, make a man out of him.'" Yet, it was in one reformatory that Clayton-Thomas picked up a guitar left behind by a former inmate and found his niche. In his early 20s, Clayton-Thomas became a regular in Toronto rock and R&B bands. "There was a bohemian area of Toronto called Yorkville," says Clayton-Thomas. "Neil Young was there, Joni Mitchell ..." After sitting in with the likes of Levon Helm and Robbie Robertson, who were in Ronnie Hawkins' band The Hawks, Clayton-Thomas formed a band called The Bossmen. The group recorded a cover of John Lee Hooker's "Boom Boom," which went to No. 1 on local radio charts. The group followed that hit with his own compositions "Walk That Walk" and "Brainwashed," which both went to No. 1 on the Canadian national charts. Clayton-Thomas says there is actually some correlation between The Bossmen and the band were would record with later. He says the guitar parts in the band were written in the style of horns." Maybe it was being ready that made things click quite so fast for the group. The band's first effort with Clayton-Thomas produced three million-selling hits, won three Grammys (including Album of the Year), and eventually sold more than 7 million copies. While the distinctive combination of Clayton-Thomas' soulful vocals blending with a tight horn section is what sold the group, one of the underappreciated things that set Clayton-Thomas apart was the fact that he put his vocal trademark on so many songs written by women. The group's first hit "You've Made Me So Very Happy" was a Motown nugget by Brenda Holloway. "Hi-De-Ho" was a Carole King number and even though it wasn't a hit, Clayton-Thomas is one of the few singers to make Billie Holiday's classic "God Bless the Child" his own. "A lot of my idols growing up were girl singers," says Clayton-Thomas. He recalls that one of the group's biggest hits came from the girlfriend of B,S &T bassist Jim Fielder. The band was fishing around for material for that first post-Kooper album when Fielder told the group to listen to his girlfriend's songs. "So she sat down at this piano and sang all these incredible songs," says Clayton-Thomas. "And When I Die,' 'He's A Runner,' 'Stoney End' ... And, of course her name was Laura Nyro." Nyro later became one of the most respected singer-songwriters of the era. Clayton-Thomas says it was not unusual that such talent was sitting right under the group's nose. "It was all around," says Clayton-Thomas, describing the scene in New York City's Greenwich Village. "We worked at the Caf‚ Au Go-Go. Upstairs Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention would be playing; across the street would be the Flying Machine (James Taylor's group); and down the street was Jimmy James and the Blue Flames (Jimi Hendrix's early band). Clayton-Thomas has good memories of the era, but aspect does still rankle him -- the fact that so many people think the band didn't perform at Woodstock. "I've had to explain that to everyone, including my daughter," says Clayton-Thomas. "We were not in the movie or on the record, but neither was Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead or The Band." Clayton-Thomas says that following the festival there were so many lawsuits that original plans for the movie and album were changed. He says the band's contracts included a clause giving them a share of the film and record receipts. "The easiest way to circumvent that was to drop those acts (from the movie and album)." "In retrospect it disappoints me to not be a part of that history, but we were lucky to get paid for that gig at all." The Blood, Sweat & Tears personnel changed greatly during the '70s. Several future jazz greats, including Don Elias, Jaco Patorious and even Joe Henderson spent time in the band. And, Clayton-Thomas spent 18 months out of the group in '72 and '73. The last original member, drummer Bobby Colomby, quit in 1976. Recently, though, Clayton-Thomas has been hard at work on a solo album called "Bloodlines," which will feature several former members of the band. "I just started casting around for musicians and calling the A-list musicians in New York and realized that half of them had played in Blood, Sweat & Tears at one time or another."