Doctor Peter Clayton 1935 – 1942
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Complete Recorded Works (1935 1942)
Featuring the recordings of:
Peter J. Clayton (Doctor Clayton), vocal; accompanied by Beatrice “Toots” Willis, piano. Peter Cleighton (Doctor Clayton), vocal; accompanied by Blind John Davis, piano; possibly Robert Lockwood or Big Bill Broonzy, guitar; probably Ransom Knowling, stand-up bass. Doctor Clayton, vocal; accompanied by Blind John Davis, piano Alfred Elkins, imitation bass. Doctor Clayton, vocal; accompanied by Blind John Davis, piano; Alfred Elkins, imitation bass Ransom Knowling, brass bass,
Genres: Blues, City Blues, Urban Blues, Georgia Blues, Early Chicago Blues, Blues Piano, Blues Guitar,
Abridged from this albums original booklet notes. Chicago during the mid-to-late 1930s featured numerous small blues venues and a steady stream of studio recording activity. Blues musicians in this milieu were freed from the “one-man band” format of the rural jukes and dances and could concentrate on a single instrument. In the cases of Bumble Bee Slim, Bill Gaither, Georgia White, Merline Johnson, Jimmie Gordon and others, the focus was on that most versatile of all musical instruments – the human voice. Peter “Doctor” Clayton’s initial Bluebird session of July, 1936 yielded two issued titles: Peter’s Blues and Yo Yo Jive, the latter a rather standard double entendre piece. Backed by the forgettable piano of the forgotten Beatrice Willis, Clayton rises above the situation by employing distinctive falsetto shrieks and whoops. Though it sounds as if Clayton is still experimenting with his voice, these effects at least cause the listener to take notice. Recording executives may not have noticed, as Clayton didn’t return to the studio for six years. He apparently spent the intervening time playing small clubs and touring, while refining his craft and his persons. He is remembered as an outgoing performer who sported a variety of hats and white-framed “hipster” eyeglasses, and travelled for a time in a bus with his likeness painted on the side. At any event, it was a polished and assured Doctor Clayton who returned to the studio in July, 1941 for OKeh. Clayton’s falsetto interjections are more controlled and carefully integrated into the performances. His talents as a writer and observer are also evident. Whether singing about then-current events (41 Blues), unfaithful women (Black Snake Blues) or his own appeal (Streamline Blues), Clayton seldom borrows from the standard pool of blues verses and phrases. He likely had more schooling than most bluesmen, and his lyrics reflect intelligence, education and awareness. Some compositions were boastful (Dr. Clayton Blues, e.g.) but the obvious “doctor-of-love” theme is not heavily pursued in his songs and the genesis of his nickname is unreported. The titles from his November, 1941 session show an improved sense of phrasing and further refinements in his vocal technique; in fact, Clayton’s falsetto is seldom heard at all. Clayton’s final pre-war session (March, 1942) again shows him in top form. Of note is Ramson Knowling‘s use of a tuba, rather than his usual upright bass fiddle, on most titles. This culminated a string of four studio dates in only nine months; remarkable for a virtually-new artist and testimony to his talent and popularity. One would have expected Doctor Clayton to resume his successful career after the war years. Sadly, two 1946 recording sessions yielded only four issued titles and Clayton died in January, 1947. With his undisputed talent and his warm and generous personality, he still could not overcome the devastating impact of the death of his wife and children in a 1937 fire. Clayton drank heavily in his later years and became unconcerned about his health. The proximate cause of death was alcoholism and pneumonia. Blind John Davis properly described Peter Clayton as “a brilliant fellow… a great, great artist… a beautiful person”, yet the lyrics to Cheating And Lying Blues, Got To Find My Baby and On The Killing Floor depict a man losing (or who had already lost) something vital in his life. Note: Though only ten people attended Peter Clayton’s funeral (according to Big Bill Broonzy), Clayton and his music remained sufficiently popular that the first recordings of the noted blues pianist Sunnyland Slim (Albert Luandrew) were issued as by “Dr. Clayton’s Buddy“. Clayton’s recordings helped shape the vocal stylings of B. B. King, the best- known post-war blues artist, who later recorded several Clayton songs. Professor Longhair (Roland Henry Byrd), another post-war giant, also echoes some elements of Clayton’s singing. Given the consistently-high quality of the performances on this disc, it is not surprising that the influence of Doctor Clayton extended well beyond his death.David M. Frost March, 1993 Copyright 1993: Document Records