RIP Francis Clay

Posted on: Friday, Jan 25, 2008

From: The Bob Corritore Blues Newsletter

Francis Clay – November 16, 1923 – January 23, 2008: Another legendary Chicago blues master has left us. J.D. and Laura Diamond report the passing last night of drummer Francis Clay. Born in Rock Island, IL, on November 16, 1923, Clay quickly found a love of music. He first picked up the guitar at age 5 and soon switched to drums. By age 14, he was playing professionally and found leanings towards jazz. He had an entrepreneurial spirit and dabbled in a music lessons, a booking agency and a recording studio. He worked with George ‘Harmonica’ Smith in late 1940’s, toured with jazz organ great Brother Jack McDuff in the early 1950’s and landed a 4 year stint with the acclaimed Muddy Waters band in 1957. It was his time in Muddy’s band that he is most famous for and great records such as ‘Got My Mojo Workin”, ‘She’s 19 Years Old’ and ‘Walkin’ Thru The Park’ would not have been the same with out his brisk, interactive beat. In 1962, he left Muddy to form a band with James Cotton and then worked with Otis Rush and Buddy Guy before rejoining Muddy’s band in 1965 for a two-year run. He would go on to work and record with Lightnin’ Hopkins, John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Reed, Otis Spann, Shakey Jake, Victoria Spivey, Sunnyland Slim, Big Mama Thornton, and many others. Some classic albums on which Francis Clay performed are Muddy Waters ‘Live At Newport’, Muddy Waters ‘Sings Big Bill Broonzy’, Otis Spann ‘The Blues Is Where It’s At’, James Cotton ‘Pure Cotton’ and John Lee Hooker ‘Live At Cafe Au-Go-Go’. He would retire from drums due to knee problems and crippling arthritis and settle in San Francisco, California where he was an honored elder statesman of the blues in his community. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Francis was a frequent guest of honor at Randy Chortkoff”s annual Little Walter Festival in Los Angeles, and was presented with the festival’s ‘Hall Of Fame Award’. His last recording, released in 2004, was a guest appearance on Johnny Dyer’s ‘Rolling Fork Revisited’ (produced by Mark Hummel), where he plays a cut backing Johnny with fellow Muddy alumni Paul Oscher. He was a kind and gracious man who was proud of great history in blues music. We will miss him greatly.

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