Clayton in 2012. Photo: Elissa Klein/CaroleKing.com.
Merry Clayton, the Los Angeles-based session singer best known for her belting vocal on the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter" — Rape! Murder! It's just a shot away! — and her featured role in the Oscar-winning documentary 20 feet From Stardom, was seriously injured last year in a car accident on an LA freeway. Her manager disclosed last week that Clayton had both legs amputated below the knee, and she has now been fitted with prosthetics. Thursday night at the Apollo in New York, Clayton was given the Clark & Gwen Terry Award for Courage at the Jazz Foundation of America’s “A Great Night in Harlem” gala. Clayton could not travel but appeared by video.
Keith Richards came out and dedicated this performance of "Gimme Shelter" to Clayton. "Now you know how many friends you got, honey," Richards said. The Rolling Stones regular current backup singer Lisa Fischer stood in for Clayton's part.
Clayton was injured in June 2014, just a few months after "20 Feet From Stardom" won the Academy Award and she was enjoying a revived career. From the New York Times story last week:
“Oh my God, I was at the pinnacle — I was at the top of my game,” she said recently in her first interview since the accident. “I was overwhelmed at what had transpired with the film and then to just go out for a moment and in that moment your life is changed.”
More than a year later, Ms. Clayton, 66, is returning gradually to public view, having lost both her legs as a result of the accident....After five months in the hospital, Ms. Clayton has been undergoing what she called “intense therapy” in Los Angeles. “It’s been a lot of learning and a lot of adjusting,” she said by phone. “It was a rough one, but I’m from some strong, strong stock and from strong, strong believers.”
Raised as a gospel singer, she credited her faith — along with the support of her family; her manager, Alan Abrahams; and friends, like the record executive Lou Adler — with helping her recover. The Jazz Foundation and MusiCares, a charity affiliated with the Grammys for ailing musicians, also “came to the rescue immediately,” Ms. Clayton said, for instance, helping to add a stair lift to her house.
“It’s not an easy task, but I am just so determined,” Ms. Clayton said of her rehabilitation. “If I was determined enough to make it out of that hospital alive and better, I can certainly forge straight ahead.”
Bonus: Here's the clip from "20 Feet From Stardom" — directed by Morgan Neville — when Clayton returns to the Hollywood studio where she was summoned, while pregnant, late one night in November 1969.
The trailer for "20 Feet From Stardom."
The original or close to it, with 16 million listens on YouTube. Clayton's voice famously cracks right about 3:02.
Previously on LA Observed:
Rose Bowl to roll out backup singer royalty for New Year's
Gil Friesen, the 'ampersand' in A&M Records was 75