Just before Christmas I brought you a fantastic cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” by Thelma Houston and this week I return to yet another brilliant soul cover of one of the Stones’ greatest songs, Gimme Shelter.
Merry Clayton was born in New Orleans in 1948 and her first foray into the world of music came as a 14 year old when she sang a duet with Bobby Darin entitled “Who Can I Count On (When I Can’t Count On You?)”. Her first solo record was released a year later and was the original version of “The Shoop, Shoop Song” which became a hit for Betty Everett and less memorably years later for Cher. Unfortunately Clayton was to taste little success as a solo artist but instead became well- known as a backing singer for many artists in the late 60s/early 70s including Ray Charles (she was actually a member of the Raelettes), Tom Jones, Joe Cocker, Neil Young & Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Her most famous role however was as the female vocalist on the Stones’ original version of Gimme Shelter, released on the “Let It Bleed” album in ’69 as a response to the Vietnam War. Clayton’s vocals on the record was an example of a more soulful side of the band which was to be further enhanced by their recording of the follow up LP “Sticky Fingers” at the legendary Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama.
Clayton explains her role on the record and her subsequent cover version in the excellent docu-film “Twenty Feet From Stardom” about the secret life of the backing singers who performed vocals on some of the 20th century’s most memorable songs. If you haven’t seen the film as yet, you should definitely check it out.
There’s little more needs to be said about this track other than in my humble opinion it’s an even better version than the original and believe me, that is high praise indeed!