Otis Clay

Band members                             Related acts

- Otis Clay (RIP 2016) -- vocals


  backing band (1989)

- Thomas Bingham -- guitars

- Stephpanie Bread -- backing vocals

- Van Brad -- backing vocals

- Charlie Chalmers -- sax

- Angelo Earl -- guitars

- Lawrence Harper -- backing vocals, drum programming,


- Jimmi Kinnard -- bass

- Archie Mitchell -- drum programming

- Ebony Smith -- guitars

- Tony Thomas -- keyboards, synthesizers


   backing band

- Dedrick Blanchard -- keyboards

- Henry Ford -- sax

- Howard Grimes -- drums, percussion 

- Charles Hodges -- organ

- Leroy Hodges -- bass

- Mabon "Teenie" Hodges -- lead guitar

- Paul Howard -- trumpet

- Bill McFarland -- trombone




- The Christian Travelers

- The Famous Blue Jay Singers

- The Golden Jubilaires

- The Gospel Songbirds

- The Holy Wonders

- Cash McCall

- The Pilgrim Harmonizers

- The Sensational Nightingales

- Voices of Hope




Genre: soul

Rating: 4 stars ****

Title:  I Can't Take It

Company: Hi

Catalog: HL 6003

Country/State: Waxham, Mississippi

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: --

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 3051

Price: $20.00


Otis Clay released his first album in 1972 - the Willie Mitchell produced "Trying To Live My Life Without You".  Even though that album generated strong sales and favorable reviews, there were apparently personality and business issues between the principles and it was five years before Mitchell and Hi got around to releasing a follow-up set.  Interestingly, most of the songs on 1977's "I Can't Take It" appear to be leftovers from the initial recording sessions.  In spite of that fact , all I can say is the second album was long overdue, but well worth the wait.   With support from the Hi house band, musically it was pretty easy to tag this as a Mitchell produced collection.  Tracks like 'House Ain't a Home (Without a Woman) ', 'Keep On Loving Me', and 'Born To Be with You' aptly reworking that special Hi sound around Clay's rugged, soulful voice.  Anyone into prime Al Green was likely to find this album appealing.  Clay had a far gruffer, Gospel-tinged voice than Green but he exhibited the same sexy charm that made Green a star.  Highlights included the pounding 'Pussy Footing Around', a remake if his earlier ' I've Got To Find a Way (To Get You Back)', and the Beach Music groover 'Slow and Easy'.  Nice place to start exploring Clay's catalog.


"I Can't Take It" track listing

(side 1)

1.) Pussy Footing Around  (Mack Rice) - 2:57   rating: **** stars

'Pussy Footing Around' opened up with some of the bounciest horns I've ever heard.  Add to that one of Clay's rawest vocals (it sounded like he'd been gargling with ground glass after overdosing on testosterone), and you had one of his most impressive performances.  Just don't let this man near your daughters ...

2.) Too Much Mystery   (Betty Crutcher - Homer Banks - Ronald Jackson) - 2:21   rating: **** stars

Maybe because it was written by some of Stax's most prolific composers, 'Too Much Mystery' nailed that unique Stax sound.  Coupled with a killer chorus/hook, you had to wonder why this one wasn't a hit.  The only downside were the saccharine strings.

3.) I Can't Take It   (Don Bryant) - 4:03   rating: *** stars

'I Can't Take It' demonstrated Clay could easily handle hardcore, blues numbers as well as more up-tempo, commercial soul moves.

4.) Home Is Where the Heart Is  (Betty Crutcher) - 2:50   rating: **** stars

'Home Is Where the Heart Is' had previously seen the light of day as Clay's 1971 debut on Hi.  As far as I can tell, this was the same version.  Penned by Betty Crutcher, I've always wondered about the lyric - I've taken it to be a tale of under-aged love (older guy, very young woman).  Sweet melody, if a somewhat disturbing lyric.

- 1971's 'Home Is Where the Heart Is' b/w 'Brand New Thing' (Hi catalog number 45-2206)

5.) I've Got To Find a Way (To Get You Back)    (J. Jones) - 2:50   rating: **** stars

'I've Got To Find a Way (To Get You Back was another oldie, first having appeared as the 'B' side to his 1967 single 'A Last Love' (One-derful catalog number 4580).  As good as the original had been, the re-recorded version was seriously commercial.  You had to wonder how this dance floor stomper escaped top-40 success.


(side 2)

1.) Slow and Easy   (Earl Randle) - 3:18   rating: **** stars

The chirping female backing singers have always irritated me, but elsewhere 'Slow and Easy' was simply a killer track that found Clay dipping his toe into a track that was almost Beach Music in nature.

2.) House Ain't a Home (Without a Woman)   (Earl Randle) - 4:17   rating: **** stars

'House Ain't a Home (Without a Woman)' found Clay diving back into prime Al Green territory.  Like the best of Green's performances, the result was a slow, sweet, pain filled ballad kicked along by church organ and tasteful strings.

3.) Keep On Loving Me  (D. Cater - Don Bryant) - 3:22   rating: *** stars

Easy to imagine Al Green smoothing this one out for a hit single.   That said, I actually love Clay's rougher take on the Hi sound.

4.) Born To Be with You   (D. Carter) - 3:18   rating: *** stars

Clay sounded fine, but 'Born To Be with You' was best described as a competent, but somewhat bland ballad.  Shame the album ended on this also-ran performance.






Genre: soul

Rating: 4 stars ****

Title:  Soul Man Live In Japan

Company: Rooster Blues

Catalog: R7609

Country/State: Waxham, Mississippi

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: double LP

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 8840

Price: $25.00


Best time to play: snuggle time


By the mid-'80s American soul artists were an endangered species, all but abandoned by domestic audiences who'd move on to disco and other musical genres.  Like many soul acts, Chicago's Otis Clay made a couple of attempts to adapt to changing public tastes, but by and large he stayed true to his Southern soul roots, simply turning his attention to overseas markets, including Europe and Japan.


Recorded in October 1983 at a concert in Tokyo's Yubin Chokin Hall, the album was originally released  by the Japanese Yupitera label under the title "Live Again"  


(Yupitera catalog number YR 38-8802). 


Repackaged for the US market by Rooster Blues, "Soul Man Live In Japan" was an eleven track, double concert set pulling together a mixture of Clay's own hits, misses, and several classic cover tunes (Al Green, The Spinners, O.V Wright).   Then 41, Clay was in prime form throughout the set, showcasing one of soul's most overlooked voices.  The fact he was backed by a crack band featuring drummer Howard Grimes and the Hodges Brothers certainly didn't hurt the results - this was one tight outfit.  So where to start ?   Hard to do it when virtually every one of these songs was worth hearing.  If pushed in a corner, I guess my top three choices would be 1.) 'Hard Working Woman', 2.) 'Nickel and a Nail', and 3.) 'Precious Precious' ...   The set would have been even better had Clay avoided the concert plague of stretching songs to the breaking point.  At least half of the selections clocked in at over eight minutes.  As much as I love a song like 'Trying To Love My Life without You', there simply wasn't a need for more than ten minutes of it.   The album would have been far stronger had those extended vamps been curtailed in favor of adding more songs with shorter running times.  The eleven selections were great, but left lots of Clay's classic material missing in action ...  where were such classics as 'I Didn't Know The Meaning Of Pain', 'Home Is Where the Heart Is', 'I'm Qualified', or 'It's Easier Said Than Done' ?


"Soul Man Live In Japan" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Hard Working Woman   (Len J. Welch) - 6:01

Listening to the blazing opener 'Hard Working Woman' you just have to wonder how it is American audiences abandoned classic soulsters like Otis Clay for the likes of today's crop of largely talent less poseurs.   Clay is the real thing ...   This man could single handedly literally out-sing the entirety of today's top-40 roster.  This is also one of those rare examples where an extended live rendition of a song beats the shorter, tighter studio version.    rating: ***** stars

2.) Here I Am (Come and Get Me)   (Al Green - Mabon Hodges) - 6:22

While it won't make you forget Al Green's original, Clay's cover of 'Here I Am (Come and Get Me)' was quite good - perhaps a bit too deferential to the original and probably three minutes too long (though you got to hear the Hodges stretch out - Mabon "Tennie" was particularly impressive),  but still a blast to hear.   rating: **** stars

3.) Love Don't Love Nobody   (C. Simmons - Jerry Jefferson) - 8:00

The first mild disappointment, 'Love Don't Love Nobody' was a beautiful bluesy ballad, that served to showcase Clay's dynamic voice, but stretched out to eight minutes was more than enough of a good thing.   rating: *** stars


(side 2)
1.) A Nickel and a Nail   (Vernon Morrison - Deadrick Malone) - 4:58

O.V. Wright cut the definitive version of the song, but Clay's cover of 'A Nickel and a Nail' was pretty impressive with Henry Ford, Paul Howard, and  Bill McFarland turning in some killer horns.   rating: **** stars

2.) Precious Precious   (David Crawford - Jackie Moore) - 13:27

'Precious Precious' was one of the best songs in Clay's repertoire and as much as I love the live version, pushing it to over 13 minutes simply was a mistake, especially since the last six minutes was turned over to the band for a series of extended solos.   Yeah, the Hodges were great, but they weren't the featured artist.   rating: *** stars

3.) Holding On To A Dying Love    (George Jackson - James Dotson - Ronald Townsend) - 5:09

One of my favorite performances off his debut LP, the live performance of 'Holding On To A Dying Love' was simply killer; perhaps even better than the studio version.   Be sure to check out Leroy Hodges' dazzling bass line.     rating: **** stars


(side 3)
1.) His Precious Love   (Leroy Crumb)  - 6:26

With an extensive background in Gospel music, it was nice to see Clay touching his roots with an enthusiastic cover of 'His Precious Love'.  Great backing vocals from the horn section ...   rating: ***** stars

2.) Love and Happiness / Soul Man   (Al Green - Mabon Hodges / Isaac Hayes - David Porter) - 13:17

A paean to his Memphis influences, the extended 'Love and Happiness / Soul Man' suite got off to a slow start, but when the track actually kicked in it was amazing.  All Green and Sam and Dave would have approved of the performance.   rating: **** / ****


(side 4)
1.) Ellie   (Kesuke Kuwata) - 11:14

The album's one outright mistake, 'Ellie' was a forgettable ballad made worse by an extended Clay vamp.  I'm guessing Clay included the song since it was written by Japanese performer Kesuke Kuwata.   rating: ** stars

2.) Trying To Love My Life without You   (Eugene Williams) - 10:32

Luckily the album closed out with a romping version of 'Trying To Love My Life without You'.   Hearing the Japanese audience participate in the call and response section was sheer joy.   rating: **** stars


In spite of a couple of flaws, this remains one of the best live albums I've ever heard.   A must own for any true soul aficionado.






Genre: soul

Rating: 4 stars ****

Title:  The Only Way Is Up

Company: Blues R&B Recording

Catalog: BRB 3062

Country/State: Waxham, Mississippi

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: --

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 3450

Price: $55.00


"The Only Way Is Up" was originally released in Japan in 1982 on the Victor label.  Three years later the collection saw an American release on the Chicago-based Blues R&B label.  The album offered up a mixture of previously released tracks and a couple of unreleased tracks.  As far as I can tell, the oldest material was taken from a little known 1975 single for the Chicago Elka label ('Turn Back the Hands of Time'), followed by a pair of 1976 efforts released as a one-shot single for the Miami-based Glades imprint ('Special Kind of Love' and 'All I Need Is You').   The title track, 'Special Kind of Love', and 'Messin' with My Mind' had all appeared as early-'80s singles for the Chicago Echo label.  For a compilation the results were quite good, with the vast majority of the album showcasing Clay's classic old-school soul voice and performances.  Highlights included a great cover of 'Cheatin' In the Next Room', the mid-tempo ballad 'f I Could Open My Heart', 'Special Kind of Love', and the bluesy ballad ' I'm Gonna Hate Myself In the Morning'.    Well worth looking for.


"The Only Way Is Up" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) The Only Way Is Up  (George Jackson - Johnny Henderson) - 4:38    rating: **** stars

An upbeat, bouncy, horn powered, dance ready tune, the title track had previously seen the light of day as a 1980 single on the small Chicago-based Echo label.  The sad thing about this one is the fact most people know the song via a simply horrible 1988 cover by the Jasmin Evans and the band Yazz and the Plastic Population.   

- 1981 'The Only Way Is Up' b/w 'Special Kind of Love' (Echo catalog number 2003 A/B)

2.) Cheatin' In the Next Room   (George Jackson - Robert Altan Miller) - 4:17    rating: **** stars

Silk smooth ...  Cheatin' songs have seldom sounded as good as this one.  That said, the gruffer, blusier ZZ Hill version might have the edge.  Think it's on Hill's "Down Home Blues" album.

3.) Check It Out   (Otis Clay - Rosco Robinson) - 4:27   rating: *** stars

The only Clay original on the album, 'Check It Out' was an okay mid-tempo track that gave the man a chance to stretch out a bit.  Unfortunately those vocals weren't surrounded by a particularly memorable melody.

4.) Turn Back the Hands of Time   (Jack. Daniels - Bonnie Thompson) - 2:53   rating: *** stars

Another track that had previously been released as a single (a 1975 45 on the small California-based Elka label ...  It was certain a great choice as a cover tune, but couldn't come close to the Tyrone Davis hit.  YouTube has an interesting 2014 performance of the tune with Clay and Johnny Rawls sharing the stage on this tune.  The 72, Clay was a bit tentative at first, but quickly found his groove: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oW7PC5M3sb0 

- 1975's 'Turn Back the Hands of Time' b/w 'Good Lovin'' (Elks catalog number 301)

5.) If I Could Open My Heart   (George Jackson - William Charles Washington) - 4:52   rating: **** stars

Sweet, mid-tempo ballad that's always reminded me a bit of something out of the Philly International catalog.  Love the backing vocals on the song's chorus ...


(side 2)

1.) Messin' with My Mind   (George Jackson - Robert Altan Miller) - 4:19   rating: **** stars

Yeah, the arrangement had a touch of '80s production in the groove,, but for the most part 'Messing with My Mind' sounded like a good Stax track.  Another  previously released single:

- 1980's 'Messin' with My Mind' b/w 'Check It Out' (Echo catalog number 2002-A/B)

2.) Special Kind of Love   (J. Shamwell - Eddie Floyd - Steve Cropper) - 3:18  rating: **** stars

Originally released as a 1976 single by the T.K. associated Glades label, I can remember having pretty low expectations for 'Special Kind of Love'.  In spite of a bit of mid-'70s disco influences, the overall feel was surprisingly enjoyable with Clay managing to Benjamin Wright's pedestrian disco moves at bay for most of the three minutes.

- 1976's 'Special Kind of Love' b/w 'All I Need Is You' (Glades catalog number 1738)

3.) All I Need Is You   (B. Turner - M. Jones) - 3:13   rating: ** stars

The flip side of his 1976 'Special Kind of Love' single for Glades, 'All I Need Is You' simply skated too close to disco territory for Clay's own good.  Okay, technically it wasn't a disc song, reflecting more of a bluesy vibe, but the T.K. production sounds were all there - bubbly synthesizers, chirping female singers.  Pass on this one. 

4.) Victim of Circumstance   (J. Moore - M. Griffin ) - 2:18  rating: **** stars

Always loved the none-too-subtle economic message on this funky track.  Not sure if matters where you fall on the economic spectrum, but the lyrics cut a little too close to the bone for me.  

5.) I'm Gonna Hate Myself In the Morning  (Frederick Knight - Sam Dees - Betty Crutcher) - 7:03  rating: **** stars

There are more than a few versions of this one - The Fiestas; Ted Taylor, Betty Wright ...  And once you got over Clay's spoken word intro, this one was pretty good.





Genre: soul

Rating: 3 stars ***

Title:  Watch Me Now

Company: Waylo

Catalog: W 13008

Country/State: Waxham, Mississippi

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: --

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 3400

Price: $30.00


Reunited with producer Willie Mitchell, 1989's "Watch Me Now" was an enjoyable, if inconsistent mid-career effort.  To be honest, anyone buying an Otis Clay album knew what to expect and this collection wasn't a major departure from his patented soul catalog.  Yeah, Mitchell and Clay seemed a little desperate to find a marketing niche for the singer, letting his classic soul sound be updated by dreaded late-'80s production effects including syndrums, cheesy synthesizers, and chirping backing singers.  Throughout the album Clay's voice remained strong and recognizable, but on a couple of tracks he was all but overwhelmed by the production effects ('Nobody's On the Phone'). The good news was tracks like 'Two Wrongs (Don't Make a Right)', the ballad 'I Don't Understand It', and 'I Know I'm Over You' showed Clay still had classic soul running through his veins.

For some reason, when reissued in the mid-1990s by the German MMS label, the album was re-titled "You Are My Life"  Different cover, same track listing.


"Watch me Now" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Two Wrongs (Don't Make a Right)    (Billy Always) - 4:15   rating: **** stars

This one's been recorded by a slew of acts - Z.Z. Hill, David Peaston, Mary Wells), but Clay's version remains my favorite.  Yeah, it sounded bit like he was channeling Robert Cray and the synthesizers sounded a bit cheesy, dating the song, but otherwise, 'Two Wrongs (Don't Make It Right)' was simply a killer slice of cheatin'-hearts, old-school soul.  Would have made a tasty single.

2.) Soap Opera Blues    (Erma L. Clanton - Lawrence E. Harper) - 3:25   rating: ** stars

Great song title ...  Shame the rest of the song wasn't up to par.   I guess stringing together the titles of various soap operas into a semi-coherent lyric sounded cute, but the execution was a different story.  Darn if this one didn't sound like Robert Cray to me.

3.) I Don't Understand It   (Billy Always) - 4:06   rating: **** stars

The first couple of spins 'I Don't Understand It' didn't do much for me.  It was a nice enough old-school ballad, but so what ?   And then the tune started to worm its way into my head.  Clay's restrained delivery was simply stunning.   Ah, the way he channels pain is simply killer.

4.) Feeling Single Seeing Double   (John Ward - Larry Chambers - 3:37   rating: *** stars

Having heard the Emmylou Harris version, Clay's reggae tinged version was an unexpected delight.  for some reason I can picture Jimmy Buffet taking a crack at this one..

5.) I Know I'm Over You   (Willie Mitchell - Yvonne Mitchell - Julius Bradley) - 3:39   rating: **** stars

For a 47 year old, Clay sounded darned good on the ballad ' I Know I'm Over You'.  Another track that reflected more than a touch of Robert Cray.  The quality isn't great, but YouTube has a clip of Clay performing at the 2014 Lucerne Blues Festival: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dm63aJYZx5U 


(side 2)

1.) I Do Don't You   (Willie Mitchell - Andrew Jackson) - 3:58   rating: *** stars

Yeah, the '80s arrangement (syn drums, cheesy synthesizers) didn't do Clay any favors, but it's hard to blame the man for trying to update his sound for audiences.  Against that backdrop, the Willie Mitchell penned 'I Do Don't You' wasn't totally horrible - the refrain was actually quite catchy.  Surprising it wasn't tapped as a single.

2.) You Are My Life   (Calvin Blue) - 4:06   rating: *** stars   

Yeah, 'You Are My Life'  sounded kind of dated, but I'll readily admit a weakness for Jimmi Kinnard's fat bass.  Great tune for showing off Clay's heartfelt voice.   

3.) All I Wanna Do   (Lawrence Harper) - 3:50   rating: *** stars

'You Are My Life' was the album's most radio-friendly and commercial tune, but Jimmi Kinnard's bass stole the show.    

4.) Nobody's On the Phone   (Lawrence Harold Lee) - 3:35   rating: *** stars

Songs opening with sound effects (ringing phone) are usually to be avoided and 'Nobody's on the Phone' came close to that fate. Another tune that was clearly intended to update his sound, this one was simply too cutesy for Clay's own good.