David Clayton-Thomas (1941-)

David Clayton-Thomas
David Clayton-Thomas

Year Born: 1941

Year of Induction: 2008

Member of CAB Hall of Fame

Clayton-Thomas, David (1941- )

A true giant of Canadian music, David Clayton-Thomas put his heart and soul into all of his songs.
David was born in April 1941 during World War II in Surrey, England as David Henry Thomsett, the son of a Canadian soldier and an English music student.After the war the family came to Canada, and David grew up in Willowdale, a suburb of Toronto. David’s early life was tough, and he left home at fourteen. Surviving on the streets included several brushes with the law, and at times he found himself in various detention facilities.

It was in one such place that he discovered his gift for music. Picking up an old guitar left by a departing inmate, David taught himself to play, and was soon performing for the other inmates. When he was released in 1962, he had found his calling.

Getting his start in the bars of Yonge Street and with early encouragement from the legendary Ronnie Hawkins, the young singer changed his name to David Clayton-Thomas. In 1964, he and his first band, the Fabulous Shays, recorded a funky cover version of John Lee Hooker’s Boom Boom, which sold well and earned the group a trip to New York City to appear on NBC’s “Hullabaloo”, hosted by fellow Canadian Paul Anka. David Clayton-Thomas fell in love with the music scene in New York, and during his visit he was able to take in concerts by the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Richie Havens, Carole King and James Taylor, and was inspired by their work.

Back in Toronto, David played in the coffeehouses, and absorbed the music of blues and jazz legends such as John Lee Hooker, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Oscar Peterson, Lennie Breau and Moe Koffman. With his new group The Bossmen, he had a major hit in 1966 with a self-written anti-war song, Brainwashed. But shortly thereafter he was back in New York City, invited by John Lee Hooker to play with him in Greenwich Village.

There folk singer Judy Collins heard him, and told her friend drummer Bobby Columby about him. At the time, Bobby’s group was being torn apart by infighting, and he invited David to help him rebuild Blood, Sweat & Tears. Soon after, with David as their lead singer, BS&T. had line-ups round the block to see them perform at the Café a Go Go in Greenwich Village. The group’s album, released in 1969, sold 10 million copies worldwide and won multiple Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year and Best Performance by a Male Vocalist.

This marked the beginning of a great adventure. With David Clayton-Thomas as an inspired leader, BS&T toured the world and released a string of hits, including You Make Me So Very Happy, Spinning Wheel and And When I Die. In 1970, the band made a historic trip through the Iron Curtain, as the first contemporary group to play for Eastern European audiences. By 1972 David was exhausted by a touring schedule that took the group all over the world, and he left the band. But without its highly popular lead singer, BS&T struggled, and both the band and the fans welcomed David back in 1975, and BS&T continued to tour and record for many years.

In 1996, David was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. He would continue to make many successful concert appearances, including an appearance at the Toronto Jazz Festival in 2003, first with a reincarnation of BS&T and later as a solo singer backed by his own band. He issued several solo studio and concert recordings, including a live performance at the 2007 Montreal Jazz Festival. In the same year, his song Spinning Wheel was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters’ Hall of Fame.

In a career that spanned more than four decades, David Clayton-Thomas went from the smoky bars of the Yonge Street strip to such landmark venues as Madison Square Garden, Royal Albert Hall and the Hollywood Bowl. From the coffeehouses of Yorkville Village in the 1960s, he took his music to the top of the charts, earning numerous awards and honours.

David was truly an icon who left an indelible mark on the world of music, both in Canada and around the world.

In November 2008, David Clayton-Thomas was inducted into the Music Star category of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Hall of Fame.

Written by Pip Wedge – October, 2008