Francis Clay - November 16, 1923 - January 23, 2008: Another legendary Chicago blues master has left us. J.D. and Laura Diamond report the passing last night of drummer Francis Clay. Born in Rock Island, IL, on November 16, 1923, Clay quickly found a love of music. He first picked up the guitar at age 5 and soon switched to drums. By age 14, he was playing professionally and found leanings towards jazz. He had an entrepreneurial spirit and dabbled in a music lessons, a booking agency and a recording studio. He worked with George "Harmonica" Smith in late 1940's, toured with jazz organ great Brother Jack McDuff in the early 1950's and landed a 4 year stint with the acclaimed Muddy Waters band in 1957. It was his time in Muddy's band that he is most famous for and great records such as "Got My Mojo Workin'", "She's 19 Years Old" and "Walkin' Thru The Park" would not have been the same with out his brisk, interactive beat. In 1962, he left Muddy to form a band with James Cotton and then worked with Otis Rush and Buddy Guy before rejoining Muddy's band in 1965 for a two-year run. He would go on to work and record with Lightnin' Hopkins, John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Reed, Otis Spann, Shakey Jake, Victoria Spivey, Sunnyland Slim, Big Mama Thornton, and many others. Some classic albums on which Francis Clay performed are Muddy Waters "Live At Newport", Muddy Waters "Sings Big Bill Broonzy", Otis Spann "The Blues Is Where It's At", James Cotton "Pure Cotton" and John Lee Hooker "Live At Cafe Au-Go-Go". He would retire from drums due to knee problems and crippling arthritis and settle in San Francisco, California where he was an honored elder statesman of the blues in his community. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Francis was a frequent guest of honor at Randy Chortkoff''s annual Little Walter Festival in Los Angeles, and was presented with the festival's "Hall Of Fame Award". His last recording, released in 2004, was a guest appearance on Johnny Dyer's "Rolling Fork Revisited" (produced by Mark Hummel), where he plays a cut backing Johnny with fellow Muddy alumni Paul Oscher. He was a kind and gracious man who was proud of great history in blues music. We will miss him greatly.
From: Michael "Hawkeye" Herman www.HawkeyeHerman.com
Francis Clay Born 11/16/23, Rock Island, IL - Died. 1/22/08, San Francisco, CA
Blues legend Francis Clay, former long-time Muddy Waters drummer, played with a who's who of Jazz and R&B icons, including Charlie Parker, Jay McShann, Billy Holiday, Little Walter, Lightnin Hopkins, John Lee Hooker, Sonny Boy Williamson, Otis Spann, Big Mama Thornton, and James Cotton (who started the original James Cotton Blues Band with Clay in 1966). Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones raved about watching Francis play back in the 1960s with Muddy, saying, "Clay was one of the most exciting drummers he'd ever seen and heard."
Francis Clay was a kind, intelligent, gentle man, super musician, extraordinary poet/writer ... and a longtime friend ... to many. I was honored to have been in the wide circle of people who knew and loved Francis Clay. Although from different eras, Francis and I are 'homeboys' ... we were both raised up in the same town on the Mississippi River in Western Illinois, Rock Island ... those decades in age between us didn't separate us as good friends ... and I was honored to have presented the River Road Lifetime Achievement Award to Francis at the Mississippi Valley Blues Festival a few years ago ... in our home area ... and the icing on the cake was being asked by Francis a few weeks before the presentation ... if I would please put together a seven-piece blues band featuring Midwest/regional 'all-stars' to perform with him at the festival. It was a grand day. The crowd was huge, and included many of Francis's hometown relatives ... he was most gracious as we acknowledged his contributions to the blues and the Universe with the award presentation. The mayor of Davenport, IA presented him with the key to the city. Francis smiled broadly as we played our short set ... that included the jazz instrumental, "Caravan," ... yes, with Francis taking a superb extended drum solo. Francis was very happy.
That is how I will remember him. R.I.P. Francis Clay
In Fond Memory,
Michael "Hawkeye" Herman - www.HawkeyeHerman.com