Clayton-Thomas began his amazing journey as a homeless street kid and
developed into one of the most recognizable singer/songwriters in the
world, to date selling over 40 milion records. In 1996, he was inducted
into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
debut album with Blood Sweat & Tears 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 just may be the most
important pop music group of the decade”
born David Henry Thomsett in Surrey, England, on Sept, 13, 1941. His
father Fred Thomsett, was a Canadian soldier, his mother Freda, a British
music student. After the war, the family settled in Willowdale, a suburb
of Toronto. From the beginning David and his father had a troubled
relationship. By the time David was fourteen he left home, sleeping in
parked cars and abandoned buildings, stealing food and clothing to
survive. A tough, angry street kid with a hair-trigger temper, it wasn’t
long before he ran afoul of the law and was arrested several times for
vagrancy, petty theft and street brawls. He spent his teen years bouncing
in and out of various jails and reformatories.
inheirited a love for music from his mother and when a battered old
guitar came into his possession, left behind by an outgoing inmate, he
began to teach himself to play. Before long he was singing and playing at
jailhouse concerts and for the first time in his life, he found
acceptance. Now he had a dream and his life had direction... he put the
reformatory years behind him and he never looked back.
was released in 1962, he gravitated to the Yonge Street “strip” in
Toronto. “The “strip” was a bawdy six block long stretch of bars and
strip joints populated by a rough crowd of hustlers and hookers, catering
to a rowdy clientelle of steelworkers, truckers and miners, in town for
the weekend, looking to blow off steam along with their pay cheques.
Rhythm & Blues, migrating up from Detroit and Chigago was the music
of choice on the strip and Arkansas rockabilly Rompin' Ronnie Hawkins,
with his band “The Hawks” reigned supreme. Hawkins recognized the
formidable talent of the young singer and took him under his wing. It
wasn’t long before he was fronting his own bands. The first was called
“David Clayton-Thomas and The Fabulous Shays.” By this time David had
changed his name to put some distance between his new life and his
troubled teenage years
David and The Shays recorded 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. This led to the Shays going to New York to
appear on NBC-TV's "Hullabaloo" at the invitation of its host, fellow
Canadian Paul Anka. David fell in love with New York City. "We had three
days there, and I spent every spare moment in Greenwich Village," he
recalls. "I saw the young Jimi Hendrix, Ritchie Havens, Carole King and
James Taylor. “I went back to Toronto but life wasn't ever the
Abandoning the bars on the strip, David began performing on
Yorkville Village's bustling coffeehouse scene, His bar band soon drifted
away, there was no money on Yorkville, but David hung in, playing solo,
soaking up influences from the great bluesmen, John Lee Hooker, Sonny
Terry and Brownie McGee, Joe Williams and Lonnie Johnson. He immersed
himself in the local jazz & blues scene, attracted by the superb
musicianship of Lenny Breau, Oscar Peterson and Moe Koffman, local jazz
players of dizzying technical prowess.
made his mark more forcibly with his next band, The Bossmen... one of the
first rock bands anywhere to incorporate jazz musicians. In 1966, he
wrote the explosive anti-war song "Brainwashed” a jazz piano/rock guitar
roar of fear and refusal, tougher than any rock recording you can name
from the era. It rocketed to number one nationally and dominated the
Canadian charts for an amazing sixteen straight weeks.
in 1966 after “sitting in” with blues singer John Lee Hooker in
Yorkville, David left with him for New York. Hooker soon departed for
Europe and David stayed on in New York City. “I survived by playing
basket houses” performers were given a few minutes of stage time and then
passed the basket.
singer Judy Collins heard David one night at a club uptown and told her
friend, drummer Bobby Colomby about him. 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. Bobby invited David to help
rebuild his shattered band. “We never heard anyone sing like that”
Colomby recalls. They took the reformed group into the Café Au Go Go in
the Village. Six weeks later, there were lines of people around the
block, waiting to get into a club which only seated about 200
1974 autobiography, "Clive: Inside the Record Business", Clive Davis,
then president of Columbia Records, described his initial impression of
hearing David Clayton-Thomas 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."
David largely dominating the creative output, BS&T continued with a
string of hit albums, including "Blood Sweat & Tears 3" which
featuring such highpoints as David’s "Lucretia MacEvil," and Carole
King’s “Hi-De-Ho,” and ”BS&T 4” which yielded another Clayton-Thomas
penned hit single, “Go Down Gamblin’.” Blood Sweat & Tears’ “Greatest
Hits” album has to date chalked up over seven million copies in worldwide
headlined at major venues around the world... Royal Albert Hall, The
Metropolitan Opera, 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
its historic 1970 tour of Eastern Europe.
early years David lived on the road, traveling all over Europe,
Australia, Asia, South America, the US and Canada with BS&T. But the
constant touring began to take it’s toll... David left the band in 1972,
exhausted by life on the road. By the mid-70’s the founding members began
to drift away to start families and pursue their own musical ambitions.
One by one they were replaced by such notable jazz players as Joe
Henderson, Jaco Pastorius and Mike Stern.
departure left a gaping hole in the group, which fumbled through
personnel changes. The fans simply would not accept a BS&T without
matter how interesting we tried to make the music, audiences still wanted
to hear David Clayton-Thomas” BS&T guitarist Steve Katz told Downbeat
Magazine at the time.
three year hiatus he returned and the band came storming back to the
concert stages of the world. Headlining international jazz festivals,
concert halls and casino show rooms with David and a line-up of top-notch
New York City session musicians. He was the only one left from the glory
years, but it was David Clayton-Thomas that the fans came to see, and he
continued to tour successfully under the BS&T name until 2004.
living back in Toronto, his boyhood turf and the place where he still
feels most at home, David has launched a 10 piece band under his own
the years, he has lost none of the attributes that have made him one of
the greatest vocalists of his generation. That unmistakable voice now
soaring and sunny, now a dark, somber shade of blue. He still just sings
the hell out of a song.
like me don’t retire,” says David with his face in a wide grin around
those storied, steel-blue eyes.”This is what I was put here to do”. With
the BS&T years now behind him, look for an outpouring of new music
from this gifted and fiercely creative artist.