Merry Clayton is best known for her gospelly backing vocals on the Stones’ anti-war anthem Gimme Shelter, wailing in harmony with Jagger. But there was much more to her than that.
This cry against social injustice, Poor White Hound Dog, was not only a civil rights anthem at an important time in America, but also featured in Nic Roeg’s film Performance.
You may remember the scene where Mick Jagger’s Turner is dancing with a light tube, with this song playing on the soundtrack. The bluesy slide guitar is played by Ry Cooder.
A preacher’s daughter from New Orleans, Merry’s music career began when the family moved to LA and she has been something of a Zelig, turning up in all sorts of places with a voice developed in church as a child.
She sings on Carole King’s mega-selling album Tapestry, Neil Young’s solo debut, the Stones’ Exile On Main Street, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Second Helping (including their signature song Sweet Home Alabama), with Tom Jones, Joe Cocker and Burt Bacharach, and, much later, on Tori Amos’s Cornflake Girl.
Back in 1963, the year after her debut on a duet with Bobby Darin – Who Can I Count On? – and a Jack Nitzsche-produced solo single called The Doorbell Rings, she recorded the original version of The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss) a year before it became a big hit for Betty Everett.
Merry was also a member of Ray Charles’s backing group, the The Raelettes, and appeared in the first London stage production of The Who’s Tommy (as the Acid Queen), and enjoyed several solo hit singles including a cover of the Goffin-King song Oh No Not My Baby – and a duet with Carole King herself – plus her own version of Gimme Shelter, and a song from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack called Yes.
She even carried on her career after losing both legs in a car crash in 2014, bouncing back seven years later with an album called Beautiful Scars.