Born March 29 1955 in Indianola, MS, Clayton has been recording since 1969. One of the most popular and definitive artists of Modern 'Southern Soul' music (although he doesn't want to be known as a 'Blues" or "Southern Soul" artist). Amazingly, he has only enjoyed steady but modest commercial success since the late 60s. Clayton left Mississippi for Chicago in 1971 but ended up with the legendary Hi Records in Memphis, where he worked with producer Willie Mitchell. Hi issued a series of Clayton singles on its Pawn subsidiary, including "I Must Be Losin' You," "It's Time You Made Up Your Mind," and "Baby You're Ready," but none of them charted.
In 1984 Clayton scored his first regional hits with "Tell Me" and "What a Way to Put It". Picked up by Polygram, the song "Tell Me" Cracked the national R & B chart (Billboard R & B #74). Later in the decade Clayton recorded some strong material for Ichiban Records before signing with Ace. His third for Ace, "Ace In The Hole" included the southern soul smash "Equal Opportunity", a duet with Pat Brown and one of his standards "Three People Sleeping In My Bed". From there a steady stream of southern soul hits has followed. He started his own label, EndZone in the late 90s (which also released LPs on Omar Cunningham and Tyrone Davis) and signed to Malaco in 2005. On his own again in 2009, Clayton reached the Billboard R & B singles chart again when "We Both Grown", a duet between Clayton and Dave Hollister, managed a #84 placing.
Clayton continues to be one of the top shelf artists for modern Southern Soul and Soul Blues, releasing new music almost annually.
"Forever" (Timeless 1988)
1 Your Sweetness
*** Rare CD. Tracks: "Your Sweetness", "Rock And Hold Ya", "Special Lady", "Stone Good Lover", "Make Me Yours Forever", "Can I Change My Mind?", "Stone Good Lover" & "One Night Stand".
"Never Too Late" (Polygram 1989)
1 Tell Me
** Product of the New Jack Swing era, this disc credited to "Will Clayton" is a rather tepic collection of manufactured Pop/R & B. It features Clayton's only Billboard R & B single charter ("Tell Me" #74). TRACKS: Tell Me 2. Baby Don't You Know 3. I Wanna Be Where You Are 4. I Won't Dis Your Love 5. Did You Ever Love Somebody 6. Overdosed On Love 7. Never Too Late 8. Say You Love Me Still 9. Try Me 10. You And Me Girl
"Open The Door" (About Time 1992)
Open The Door
*** A collection of Clayton's earliest material, mostly singles released in the mid 80s.
"Feels Like Love" (Ichiban 1992)
1. Walk Away From Love
*** Contemporary soul release features a splendid take on David Ruffin's "Walk Away From Love" and the self-penned title track.
"Hi Records Presents Bobby McClure & Willie Clayton" (Hi 1992)
1. Was It Something I Said
**** 1992 Hi Records compilation combining these 10 Clayton tracks with 8 from Bobby McClure
"Let's Get Together" (Ace 1993)
1. Three People (Sleeping in My
***1/2 First for Ace Records contains three fantastic songs written by Frank-O Johnson: "Three People Sleeping In My Bed", which has become one of Willie's biggest songs; "I Love Stealin' It", & "Back Street Love Affair". There's also five strong Clayton originals, including the upbeat soul of the title cut and synth-funk "Party Down".
"Simply Beautiful" (Ace 1994)
1. Lose What You Got
*** Second solid Ace release contains two more strong Frank-O songs (the Sam Cooke-like "Dancing With My Baby" & "Love Stealing Ain't Worth Stealing"). Equally fine are the Clayton originals, "Lose What You Got" & "Crazy For You". There's also a note-perfect reading of Al Green's "Simply Beautiful".
"No Getting Over You" (Ichiban 1995)
1. No Getting Over Me
***1/2 Although Clayton was on Ace Records at this point, Ichiban apparently still had an album in the can and thus took advantage of Willie's growing popularity on the "chitlin circuit" by releasing this pop/soul concoction. A mix of Clayton originals and covers. The terrific blues "Midnight Doctor" is a real highlight here as is his immaculate remake of his hit "Tell Me" and the modern soul honey of the title cut.
"At His Best" (Ichiban 1995)
1. Open the Door to Your Heart
*** Despite the title this is not a "Best Of" compilation but a collection of singles Clayton released in the 80s. Many of the tracks were culled from the UK LP entitled "Open The Door" from 1992. You often forget the originals when Clayton remakes a song, and he does many here, excelling on timeless deep soul classics like "I've Been Loving You Too Long," "Open the Door to Your Heart," "Shining Star," "In the Mood," and "Leaving Me."
Otis Clay Willie Clayton "Chicago Soul Greats" (Hi Records 1995)
1. Its's Time You Made Up Your
Mind - Willie Clayton
*** Compilation split between Clayton and the great Otis Clay. Clayton's 10 tracks were recorded between 1972-1975 and represents the earliest material available. Although backed by the Hi rhythm section and produced by Willie Mitchell, Clayton really hadn't found his voice yet. There's seven great tracks from Otis that can easily be found elsewhere. A better deal is the 1992 Hi Records compilation combining many of these 10 Clayton tracks with 8 from Bobby McClure: "Hi Records Presents Bobby McClure & Willie Clayton".
"Ace In The Hole" (Ace 1996)
1. Equal Opportunity
***** Here we have the pinnacle of Clayton's rich discography. The sheer quality of material is staggering. We have two gems by Bob Jones (the huge hit "Equal Opportunity" with Pat Brown and slick "Bartender Blues"), two winners by Ronnie Lovejoy (the hard blues "My Baby's Cheating On Me" & soulful "In Need Of A Good Woman"). Clayton does a great version of Robert "Duke" Tillman's hit "Hurt By Love" and Gwen McCrae's classic "Rockin' Chair". Clayton also adds a decent pop/R & B ditty called "Happy". As if that wasn't enough there's also a superior version of "Three People Sleeping In My Bed", this time a duet with Lynn White. This should be your first purchase.
"Chapter One" (Gamma 1997)
1. Bust My Bubble
*** Mostly originals on this soul blues album. Clayton either wrote or co-wrote with Paul Richmond 10 of the 13 songs. Highlights include the slow R & B lean of "Bust My Bubble", Al Green-like "Sweet Thing" and the upbeat soul called "The Blues".
"Something To Talk About (Avanti 1998)
1. Mine All Mine
*** Another collection of mostly originals and a few covers. Yes the title cut is the same song Bonnie Raitt made famous. Clayton's version leans more toward R & B. The highlight is the gorgeous "Love Is Something Beautiful". The opener "Mine All Mine" ain't far behind.
"Midnight Doctor: Willie Clayton's Greatest Hits" (Blueside 1998)
1. Three People (Sleeping in My
****1/2 A compilation drawn from Clayton's three Ace albums plus a couple unreleased cuts ("Young Blues Man", "Main Squeeze"). Many of Clayton's best are here from "Let's Get Together" to "Equal Opportunity".
"God Has A Plan" (Avanti 1999)
1. God Has a Plan
NR Willie's only full Gospel project to date.
"It's About Love" (Sumthing Else 1999)
1. Everytime You Go Away
*** One-off album between labels once again contains mostly Clayton originals. A good remake of "Let's Get Together" is the highlight. Clayton does an admirable version of Hall & Oates' "Every Time You Go Away", but nixes the hooky piano fill.
"Best Years Of Our Life" (Vivid 1999)
1. Let Me Love You
NR Japanese compilation of Clayton's early sides
"The Lost Tracks" (Avanti 2000)
1. Three People (Sleeping in My
NR Confusing mishmash of previously released tracks Clayton released during his tenure with Ace/Avanti Records? As of writing I am uncertain if any of these were previously unreleased or alternate versions of released tracks.
"Call Me Mr. C" (Claytown 2000)
*** Clayton straddles the line between southern soul and mainstream R & B. The hits were "Party Like We Used To" & "He Don't Love You Like I Do".
"The Little Giant Of Soul" (Claytown 2001)
*** A Little funkier and more mainstream featuring the dance floor favorite "Wiggle", another version of "The Blues" and the Frank-O Johnson classic "Love Is So Good When You're Stealing It".
"Essential Love Songs" (Bellmark 2002)
1. Love Pains
*** Good collection of romantically-themed Ichiban material.
"The Last Man Standing" (EndZone 2002)
1. Lookin' to Hook
**** Typically-robust collection of modern soul, R & B, blues & a touch of dance floor funk. The formula is here: Funky dancers ("Looking To Hook"), upbeat soul head bobbers ("Ooh Baby Baby", "I Found Love (When I Found You)"), smooth slow soul ("I Love Me Some You", Bobby Womack's "I Wish He Didn't Trust Me So Much"), even some gospel ("Jesus Will Make A Way"). The production is tight and Willie's aching tenor wails all in this joint.
"Classic Soul Vol. 1" (EndZone Ent. 2003)
1. I Love Stealing It
****1/2 Superb (albeit incomplete...where's "Equal Opportunity"?) 15-track collection features a hit remix of "I Love Me Some You" plus two more new songs ("Won't You Be My Lollipop" & "Loving Each Other 4 Life"). Most of Clayton's very best are here amongst the remaining 12 selections from "Three People" to "Tell Me" to "Let's Get Together" to his dead-on version of Al Green's "Simply Beautiful". Clayton's smoke and whiskey-tinged tenor is a throwback to the days when R&B meant real deep soul.
"Changing Tha Game" (EndZone 2004)
1. Fact, No Rumor
***1/2 On his latest CD he moves closer to mainstream R & B rather than Southern Soul (retro-soul). In fact there's even a little hip-hop in the mix ("Fact, No Rumor" features rapping by his son dubbed "Young Bap" & the Ying Yang Twins join Willie on the remix of "Monkey See, Monkey Do"). But don't let that scare you off if you don't dig rap 'cuz by far all the ingredients WC fans like are here. The first hit is "Love Mechanic", which is classic upbeat Southern soul music. Plenty of steamy, soulful jams are here like "Whipped", Curtis Mayfield's "So In Love", the very Marvin Sease-like "I Wanna Get It On", "Take 'um Off", etc.. You also have the requisite dance tracks ("Keep Steppin'", "Monkey See, Monkey Do", "Love Zone"). Other notables are his version of Marvin Gaye's "I Want You", the gorgeous "Unconditionally" and the sentimental "My Mama Song"
"Full Circle" (End Zone Ent./Malaco 2005)
1. Going Crazy (Malaco version)
**** One of Southern Soul's biggest stars is back serving up another platter of smooth & creamy R & B filled to the edges with slow to midtempo jams sung and produced marvelously. Hey, wait, this isn't a new CD. Yes, "Full Circle" was already released earlier this year and it had a DVD that came along with it! So when Malaco re-released it they dropped the DVD and the remix of "Keep Steppin'" (you have the song on "Changing Tha Game") and added a new track called "Going Crazy". Like many of you I was like, "Sonuva..! They must think I'm going crazy to buy it again for one song!" Well, I'll tell you what... that one song is worth paying 15 bucks for! "Going Crazy" is an instant classic with it's Al Green-kissed vocal and immaculate arrangement (Clayton & Vick Allen). Sweeter than a hot fudge sundae for the ears. The ballad "If You Ever Get Lonely" was already a radio favorite and Lee Field's gorgeous "Meet Me Tonight" shouldn't be far behind. The madfunky "Take It 2 Da Club" is aimed at the feet (would've been nice to have a couple more uptempo cuts on the album). Another highlight is "Georgia On My Mind". Although this Hoagy Carmichael classic has already been sung by greats like Ray Charles and Bobby "Blue" Bland, the sprightly altered arrangement and Clayton's phrasing keep it fresh. There's not a dud in the bunch. Look on the bright side: If you bought this CD the first time you got a limited edition DVD containing some riveting live performances so it's all good. But now the CD is even better.
"Gifted" (Malaco 2006)
1. Boom Boom Boom
***** Malaco Records dubs itself "The Last Soul Company" and with a roster that's included ZZ Hill, Dorothy Moore, Tyrone Davis, Little Milton, Johnnie Taylor and Denise LaSalle you can understand why. With the recent signing of Willie Clayton and Marvin Sease they're showing no signs of straying from that fertile Soul/Blues sound.
If this release on Clayton is any indication Willie has found the right home for he reaches his full potential on "Gifted". The right songs. The right sound. The right performances. 13 tracks of modern Soul gold. The masterful Al Green-kissed "Going Crazy" from his last record ("Full Circle") was a portent of great things to come and "Gifted" is the fulfillment. Although he hasn't completely abandoned mainstream R & B (as evidenced by the sumptuous lead single "Boom Boom Boom") Clayton seems less concerned with connecting with the same audience that listens to a Pop artist like R. Kelly. Though quite listenable the Hip Hop pandering found in some of his his recent work is gone from this project. At it's heart "Gifted" is classic Southern Soul circa 1968 (ala Clarence Carter/Atlantic Records) albeit modernized (programming) for the present.
Clayton is "gifted" with one of the most elastic, yearning tenors in the business today and he's at the peak of his powers on horn-backed ballads like "Beautiful", "When I Think About Cheating" and his duet with Shirley Brown on "Trust". As a footnote, the lilting, melodic Pop ballad "My Lover My Friend" could probably even snatch up some of the that Disney money. Horns are an integral part of Soul music and Harrison Callaway and the Muscle Shoals Horns add layers of frosting to an already sweet éclair. The production is crisp, full and clean on each and every track either produced by the Clayton/Vick Allen team, Mike Snoddy or Paul Richmond. There's too many highlights to mention but upbeat shuffle-bumpers like "My Miss America", "Sweet Lady" and "She Holding Back" are surefire radio staples. Even the lone two covers are exemplary. Tyrone Davis' "Can I Change My Mind" has been covered often but the version here is the first one that makes the song sound fresh. Same goes for Johnnie Taylor's "Running Out Of Lies". A lot of talent went into this project so "Gifted" may be the album to beat come this year's Blues Critic Awards For Southern Soul,R&B.
"My Tyme" (Malaco 2008)
1. Gotta Love
**1/2 The hits keep coming for Malaco's Willie Clayton. "My Tyme" boasts one of Clayton's best Soul/Blues numbers in some time. "A Woman Knows" sounds like pre-mainstream R & B-leaning Willie- the Bluesier Willie from back when he was with Ace Records. 1996's "Ace In The Hole" remains his masterpiece. While his most recent albums seemed more aimed at Urban Adult Contemporary markets rather than "Southern Soul Blues", "My Time" is in a sense a "return to the Blues". A great promise indeed but a mixed bag nevertheless. Clayton updates two tracks from "Ace In The Hole" ("Happy Time" & "Three People") but neither exhibits the immediacy of the predecessors. The mildly funky "Young Blues Man" comes from the same era (the original can be found on the import compilation "Midnight Doctor: Greatest Hits"). Then a cover of Z.Z. Hill's "Down Home Blues" is as pedestrian as I've ever heard Clayton on record.
Even some of the new material feels tossed together. The Al Green-inspired "Gotta Love" is an inferior retread of his own "Going Crazy", which ruled airwaves two years ago. "Angel" and "Give You My World" are sumptuous ballads, however, and "Back 2 The Good Ole Days" is an instant classic- one of those left up your cup and wiggle Southern Soul bumpers. Gotta be the next single.
"My Tyme" will sell a ton and keep him all over radio and the charts but it smells of contractual filler. Being that his last few albums have been so superb it's easy to forgive this mediocre effort.
"Soul & Blues" (Malaco 2008)
1. I Feel a Cheatin'
*** Second new Clayton CD of the year offers up more of his bluesy-tined Soul, true to the unimaginative title. On the Geirge Jackson-penned "I Feel A Cheatin' Coming On" he sings "Aretha's lost all respect for me and Millie J want no drama at all. Latty won't help me straighten it out and Bobby Womack won't return my call". Willie can't blame them cause he's weak and when he sees a "sexy little thing I feel a cheating coming on". Yeah, nothing new here. But Willie's fans won't mind one bit. That classic voice gets some good production from Vick Allen, Mike Snoddy, Donell "Showcase" Taylor and hisself.
"Love, Romance & Respect" (C & C 2009)
1. Dance The Nite Away
"The Voice" (C & C 2010)
1. The Voice (Intro)
"If Your Loving Wasn't Good Enough To Keep Me...How In The World Do You Think It Can Bring Me Back" (S.D.E.G 2011)
1. If Your Loving
Wasn't Good Enough To Keep Me? How In The World Do You Think It Can
Bring Me Back
** This release features only one new Clayton track (the duet "Cheating In The Day light") produced by Swamp Dogg as well as the same material released many times on albums including "Open The Door". "At His Best", "Essential Love Songs", "Chapter One". The title cut was released as "Good Enough To Keep Me" from the latter album. Too bad there wasn't a full Swamp Dogg-produced Clayton album.
"Sings The Number Ones" (Music Access 2011)
1. Walk Away From Love
NR Previously-released tracks from Ace and Ichiban albums.
"The Tribute: One Man, One Voice" (EMG 2011)
1. Still Called The Blues
"I Am Rhythm & Blues" (EndZone 2012)
1. I Am Rhythm & Blues
"The Tribute Volume 2: One Man, One Voice" (EMG 2013)
1. Ain't No Love
"Untamable" (EMG 2014)
"Heart & Soul" (EndZone 2015)
1 Home Tonight
"Crossroad Of The Blues" (EndZone 2017)
Keep On Loving Me