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Willie Clayton

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A soulful Mississippi-born vocalist, Willie Clayton is known to his fans for his rich, passionate delivery that fuses the fierce emotions of the blues with a melodic style that honors vintage soul and rhythm & blues. While some of his earlier efforts reflected the tastes of R&B radio of the '80s, as his career progressed his audience came to appreciate material that was more solidly rooted in soul and blues traditions, focusing on Clayton's favorite themes, love, romance, and seduction. The New Jack Swing-styled title track of 1989's Never Too Late was one of Clayton's biggest hits, 2002's The Last Man Standing typified the soulful, sexy (and sometimes funky) sound that helped propel his career into the 21st century, and 2011's Sings the Number Ones saw him honoring his influences with a set of cover tunes. Willie Clayton was born in Indianola, Mississippi on March 29, 1955. He grew up with ten siblings and got his start in music singing in church. By the time he was in his early teens, he was working with an R&B group called the Soul Blenders, and they released a single on Duplex Records, "That's What My Daddy Did," in 1969. Clayton moved to Chicago in 1971 and became a club and city favorite. After playing a show with Al Green, Clayton was introduced to Green's producer, Willie Mitchell, who signed him to a deal with Pawn Records, a subsidiary of Hi, in 1974. Mitchell produced some fine Clayton efforts, including "I Must Be Losin' You," "It's Time You Made Up Your Mind," and "Baby You're Ready," but none of them hit, and his deal with Pawn ended in 1976. Clayton spent time touring with Al Green, Barry White, and James Brown, and started his own Sky Hero label in 1980, but the song "Living with You, But My Heart Is Somewhere Else" had only marginal regional exposure. Clayton finally enjoyed a taste of soul success in 1984 when his "Tell Me" (produced by General Crook) and "What a Way to Put It" for Compleat Records nudged onto the lower reaches of the R&B charts. "Tell Me" was a regional hit and could be found on juke boxes across the United States and in England. After cutting a handful of singles for the Kirstee label (including "Where Has Love Gone"), he landed a record deal with Polydor, his first experience with a major label. Billed as Will Clayton, 1989's "Never Too Late" peaked at 52 on the R&B charts, and two more Polydor singles also charted that year, "Tell Me" and "I Wanna Be Where You Are." Polydor would issue an album, Never Too Late, but it was his only full-length release for the label. In the early to mid-'90s, Clayton would release albums for the British Ace label (Let's Get Together, Simply Beautiful) and the soul-centric U.S. independent company Ichiban Records (Feels Like Love, No Getting Over Me). After releasing several titles on independent labels, he decided to invest in himself and launched his own Endzone Entertainment label with 2002's The Last Man Standing. In 2005 Clayton jumped from Endzone to Malaco Records, a label that had enjoyed great success with artists performing in the vintage R&B style. Clayton cut four albums for Malaco -- Full Circle, Gifted, My Tyme, and Soul and Blues -- before making his way back to Endzone. This proved to be a good time for Willie Clayton; between 2001 and 2008, he landed six albums in the Top Ten of the Blues Albums chart, and in 2010, his song "We Both Grown" (a duet with Dave Hollister of Blackstreet from Clayton's album Love, Romance & Respect) made the R&B singles survey. Jerry Williams (aka Swamp Dogg) contributed vocals and production to 2011's If Your Loving Wasn't Good Enough to Keep Me … How in the World Do You Think It Can Bring Me Back? 2011 also brought the album Sings the Number Ones, where he interpreted some of his favorite blues and soul classics, as well as The Tribute: One Man, One Voice, which included Clayton's take on Marvin Sease's underground hit "Candy Licker." Clayton's original material took center stage on 2012's I Am Rhythm & Blues and 2015's Heart & Soul, and he was back in solid and seductive form on 2020's Born to Sing, as apt a title as one could ask for.
© Mark Deming /TiVo
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