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Rolling Stones Stories

Merry Clayton

Merry Clayton (born December 25, 1948) is an American soul and gospel singer and an actress. She provided a number of back-up vocal tracks for major performing artists in the 1960s, most notably in her duet with Mick Jagger on the Rolling Stones song "Gimme Shelter." Merry is featured in 20 Feet from Stardom, the Oscar-winning documentary about background singers and their contributions to the music industry. In 2013, she released The Best of Merry Clayton, a compilation of her favorite songs.

Merry Clayton
Merry Clayton
Merry Clayton
Merry Clayton
Merry Clayton

Clayton was born in Gert Town, New Orleans, Louisiana. Clayton began her recording career in 1962 at the age of 14, singing "Who Can I Count On? (When I Can't Count on You)" as a duet with Bobby Darin on his album "You're the Reason I'm Living." In 1963 she recorded the first version of "The Shoop Shoop Song (It's in His Kiss)," the same year that Betty Everett's version reached the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. Early in her career Merry performed with Ray Charles (as one of the Raelettes), Pearl Bailey, Phil Ochs, Burt Bacharach, Tom Jones, Joe Cocker, Linda Ronstadt, Carole King, and on several tracks from Neil Young's debut album. Clayton is often credited as having recorded with Elvis Presley but her name does not appear in Elvis sessionographies.

Clayton is best known for her 1969 duet with Mick Jagger on the Rolling Stones song "Gimme Shelter," though on some releases her name is misspelled as "Mary." The Stones had asked Bonnie Bramlett to sing on the song, but Bramlett's husband, Delaney, refused to let her perform with the Stones. Clayton also sang backing vocals on Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama". In 1970, Clayton recorded her own version of "Gimme Shelter," and it became the title track of her debut solo album and peaked at #73, released that year. Her version would be the first of five singles under her name to crack the Billboard Hot 100. That same year she performed a live version of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" for the soundtrack for Robert Altman film Brewster McCloud and also contributed vocals to Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg's film Performance. In 1971 she co-wrote the song "Sho' Nuff" about her mother. She starred as the original Acid Queen in the first London production of The Who's Tommy in 1972. In 1973, she featured prominently on Ringo Starr's "Oh My My", which reached Billboard's Top 10 the following year.

In the mid 1970s, Clayton sang on The Blackbyrds' R&B hit "Rock Creek Park" and continued to release solo albums throughout the next decade, notching several minor R&B singles. Her soundtrack work continued into the 1980s, including "You're Always There When I Need You", the title track for the 1980 Get Smart film The Nude Bomb, and the song "Yes" from Dirty Dancing, which hit #45 on the Hot 100. In 1989 she recorded a cover of "Almost Paradise" with Eric Carmen. That same year Clayton co-starred with Ally Sheedy in the film Maid to Order and played Verna Dee Jordan in the final season of Cagney & Lacey'.' In 1994 Clayton recorded backing vocals for and sang the "Man with the Golden Gun" bridge on Tori Amos's hit, "Cornflake Girl". In 2006, Clayton provided background vocals for Sparta's album Threes on the songs "Atlas" and "Translation". In 2015, Coldplay announced that Clayton would feature on some of the tracks on their new album A Head Full Of Dreams. Clayton was married to jazz artist Curtis Amy from 1970 until his death in 2002. Clayton's brother is the Little Feat percussionist Sam Clayton. She had a miscarriage upon returning home from recording "Gimme Shelter", according to the LA Times. On June 16, 2014, Clayton was severely injured in a car accident in Los Angeles, California. Both of Clayton's legs were later amputated at the knees due to her suffering "profound trauma to her lower extremities" as a result of the accident.


Studio albums

  • 1969 Gimme Shelter Ode 
  • 1971 Celebration Ode 
  • 1971 Merry Clayton Ode
  • 1975 Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow Ode
  • 1979 Emotion Fontana 
  • 1994 Miracles A&M 
  • 2014 Sugar (G. Love & Special Sauce) Brushfire Records 


  • 1970 "Gimme Shelter" 73 — Gimme Shelter
  • 1972 "After All This Time" 71 — Merry Clayton
  • 1973 "Oh No Not My Baby" 72 30 — Non-album song
  • 1975 "Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow" 45 — Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow
  • 1988 "Yes" 45 79 70 Dirty Dancing (soundtrack)

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