Life after Blood Sweat and Tears (published in Forever Young)
Clayton-Thomas has left the jazz-rock band he helped propel to
legendary status behind as he moves into a new phase of his musical
By Ellen Ashton-Haiste
knows there will never be a time when he won't be performing the
well-loved Blood Sweat and Tears classics. And he's perfectly content
"I've long since accepted the fact that I will be singing God Bless the Child and You've Made Me So Very Happy for the rest
of my life -- and happily so," Clayton-Thomas says. "They're wonderful
songs. They have great historic value as far as the audience is
concerned. And, when you see the audience light up when you go into the
opening bars of Spinning Wheel, you have to be happy to do that
But the singer-songwriter, whose partnership with the
faltering Blood Sweat and Tears in 1968 took the band and its jazz-rock
sound to the top of the charts, is excited to be launching a new phase
of his career, at age 65.
After decades of touring with various
Blood Sweat and Tears incarnations -- fronting what he describes as "pretty much a revolving door of studio musicians" -- he finally packed
it in 2004 to pursue a solo career that would allow him to write and
perform new material and explore new musical influences.
performer and as a songwriter, you can't just rest on what you did 30
years ago," he says. "It's very important that you keep moving ahead,
Some of that new material, along with a satisfying
helping of classic songs, are combined on a new album David
Clayton-Thomas In Concert -- A Musical Biography, recorded live at Toronto's Opera House.
For Clayton-Thomas, one of the
most satisfying things about the CD -- which includes such BS&T
chart toppers as And When I Die, Lucretia MacEvil, Spinning
Wheel, You've Made Me So Very Happy, Go Down Gamblin' and God
Bless the Child -- is getting those songs finally recorded under his
"All my early songs are recorded under the name of Blood
Sweat and Tears, so in order to work we had to book as Blood Sweat and
Tears, even though there hasn't been a Blood Sweat and Tears for 25
years -- today it's just a tribute band with no original members left,"
he says. "I've wanted for a long time to put all my songs together, on
one album, under my own name."
With that goal now a reality,
Clayton-Thomas and his 12-piece Toronto band -- primarily comprised of
musicians he's known and played with "for most of my musical life" --
are taking the material on tour.
concert at the Montreal Jazz Festival will also be filmed for a
DVD and a television special. Clayton-Thomas is no stranger to jazz
festivals but says Montreal is one he has wanted to play for many
"It's the premiere jazz festival. To be able to do it, and film it too, is a dream come true for me."
of the current tour dates are also performances at jazz and blues
festivals, such as the international blues festivals in both London and
Windsor this summer. But while Clayton-Thomas admits that his roots are
in the blues -- "my initial band, way back when in Toronto in the
sixties was hard core blues" -- he's reluctant to tie himself to any
"I don't like to limit myself by saying I'm just a
blues artist or just a jazz singer. I think music is much more eclectic
than that and you have to stay open to all influences."
material on the Biography CD, as well as that on his 2005 studio
release Aurora, aptly illustrate his signature ability to cross the
lines from jazz to blues to rock 'n' roll, to fuse those genres, and to
detour into totally new terrain. A prime example is Me and Amaretto
on the latest album, written with Bruce Cassidy, former BS&T
bandmate from the eighties and musical director of his new band.
spent the last 20 years in Africa and when he came back to join me in
Toronto, he brought with him all sorts of uniquely African influences,"
Clayton-Thomas says. "Me and Amaretto is a pure African township
rhythm. That's the excitement of doing new music -- you're always
absorbing stuff (that finds its way into the material)."
bonus of this new phase of his career for the Toronto native, who's
spent the past three-plus decades in New York and California, is coming
"I always knew that someday, when I was through with Blood
Sweat & Tears, that I was going to return to and live permanently in
Toronto," he says. "There's a creative community here, second to none.
The musicians and creative people in this town are really cutting edge
and forward thinking. I've got a 12-piece band full of guys who didn't
just join me to play Spinning Wheel. They joined me because I want
creative influences and we want to push the envelope."
And, that's just what Clayton-Thomas intends to do.
still have years ahead of me in this business and a lot of songs I want
to write, a lot of things I want to do musically and this is the
perfect place to do it."
Massey Hall: It's made him so
David Clayton-Thomas is realizing
a lifelong dream this month as he joins the Toronto Symphony Orchestra at
Massey Hall to revive symphonic versions of iconic BS&T hit classics
By Ellen Ashton-Haiste
(published in Forever Young)
Lincoln Centre, Madison Square Gardens, Royal Albert, Carnegie. All the
great concert halls of the world. David Clayton-Thomas has played them. With
one notable exception. And it's playing that hall, this month, that has the
singer-songwriter, whose name is synonymous with Blood Sweat & Tears,
realizing a lifelong dream.
On Feb. 12 and 13, he'll join the Toronto Symphony Orchestra on the
historic stage of Massey Hall.
"It's a wonderful hall to play. I've heard it called Toronto's
Carnegie Hall," says Clayton-Thomas, describing it as "one of the
acoustic wonders of the world. "And, for a hometown boy (he grew up in Willowdale),
I've seen my idols at Massey Hall over the years and I've always wanted to play
"Going back to my Yonge Street days, when we played the
bars, sitting at the top of Yonge Street was this kind of cathedral of music.
It's where Oscar Peterson played, where Jascha Heifetz played, and Dave
Brubeck. It's where all the giants played while we were flogging it out five
shows a night in the bars and you looked up to that (and thought) maybe someday
I'll play Massey Hall. It took me 45 years but here we are."
The symphony concert will feature classic BS&T hits --
like Spinning Wheel, You've Made Me So Very Happy, And When I Die and his
distinctive rendition of Billie Holiday's God Bless The Child -- as well as
several songs from his new album The Evergreens, a compilation of 13 brand new
songs ranging from blues to hard rock and jazz to samba.
Clayton-Thomas is no stranger to symphonic stages. He's
played with orchestras around the world, including the Berlin Symphony
Orchestra and the Buffalo Philharmonic and -- "one of the greatest experiences
I ever had" -- the Baton Rouge Symphony in New Orleans. "Half the
guys in that symphony were playing jazz in the French Quarter at night. They
swung. That orchestra really rocked. And culturally that orchestra understood
In fact, he says, the BS&T songbook is particularly
suited to orchestral renderings, largely because of the talented musicians who
originally played, and "brought a tremendous amount of
sophistication," to his songs, many written while he was still playing the
Says Clayton-Thomas: "I think what made that band stand
out is that they were all conservatory graduates and that music had its roots
in Duke Ellington and Count Basie. The guys who played in Blood Sweat &
Tears also played in the New World Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic. The
guys who were writing those arrangements were masters graduates in
And many of the pieces were written as symphony scores by
Steve Guttman, a trumpeter and musical director for a reformed Blood Sweat
& Tears, led by Clayton-Thomas in the eighties and that brought the music
storming back to concert stages, jazz festivals, and symphony halls.
"Now I've brought that symphony book back to
life," he says. "We pulled out thousands and thousands of pages of
music, spread them all over my condo and took several weeks reorganizing them
and (we) wrote a couple of new scores."
He says there's a certain thrill to fronting a full symphony
orchestra -- TSO has 66 musicians. "When I hear eight string basses start
to go into the opening of God Bless The Child, well it makes my hair stand on
end -- to be surrounded by that kind of power. All those woodwinds and tympanis
and percussionists, that just adds a whole other dimension to the music."
While the symphony book has been played by around the world,
this is the first time for a Canadian orchestra. "So this is wonderful and
is actually going to open doors," Clayton-Thomas says.
He's already booked to play with the Ottawa Symphony in
April and the Edmonton Symphony early in 2011. And there are offers on the
table from a couple of American symphonies.
Aside from those engagements and some summer concerts across
Canada and the northern U.S., Clayton-Thomas is sticking pretty close to his
Toronto home these days, saying the appeal of touring has dimmed.
"I'm not really interested in doing that anymore. If I
perform now, I want it to be something special. I think at this point in my
life (he's 69), I've earned the right that if I want to do a concert it's going
to be something special, something I really want to do. And, of course, Massey
Hall and the TSO, that fall right into that category."