Santa Barbara
69° F
Clear
Clear
Santa Maria
51° F
Clear
Clear
San Luis Obispo
53° F
Clear
Clear
Ventura
59° F
Clear
Clear

Clayton, fellow backup singers finally get due with '20 Feet from Stardom'

Published On: Jul 05 2013 08:19:58 PM CDT
Updated On: Jul 05 2013 08:35:13 PM CDT
Merry Clayton in '20 Feet from Stardom'

RADiUS/TWC

Merry Clayton in "20 Feet from Stardom."

There's really no other film like the stunning new music documentary, "20 Feet from Stardom," director Morgan Neville's chronicle of the most notable backup singers in music history, and the triumphs and heartaches that met the unsung heroes as they navigated their way in the business, trying to forge careers of their own.

Expanding into more theaters Friday, the Special Jury Prize-winner in the documentary feature category at this year's Sundance Film Festival concentrates on classic backup singers Merry Clayton, Darlene Love, Tata Vega, Claudia Lennear and Lisa Fischer. The film also features Judith Hill, a contestant on this season's TV reality competition "The Voice," following various backup singer gigs including a spot on the Michael Jackson's ill-fated "This is It" tour in 2009.

In addition to telling the stories of the singers, Neville scored interviews for the film with the likes of Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder and Sting. It wasn't an easy task securing time with the superstars, Neville admitted, but once the talent found out what sorts of stories the director wanted from them, it provided for some very unique conversations.

"I've been doing music documentaries for a long time, so it took a lot of Rolodex work to get it done and getting in the door," Neville, accompanied by Clayton, told me in a recent interview. "But once we got in, we found out how much they loved talking about the subject because they've never talked about backup singers before to anybody. They, more than anybody know, how backup singers make them sound good. So, in a way, by talking about them was a way of giving back."

While Clayton, 64, rose to prominence with her haunting vocals that accompanied Mick Jagger on the Rolling Stones classic "Gimme Shelter," she considered herself long blessed before making that specific contribution to music history. In fact, she knew late legendary singer-songwriter Billy Preston growing up, and because of Preston, Clayton got her first big break as a backup singer for the late, great Ray Charles.

"We were always known as 'Billy and Baby Sister.' Where ever Billy was, I was. So for him to call me about Ray, it only made sense because I was always around him," Clayton recalled for me. "I loved Ray Charles because all of my life. Growing up he was the only artist my father allowed to go and see. So after seeing him, I always knew in my heart that I could do that. I could sing what those girls could sing. I would stand and watch them be quiet and listen. It was a bout the only time in my life I would stay quiet. I knew I could do it because the harmonies he used were the same harmonies we used in our church choir."

Of course, "Gimme Shelter" was a monumental occasion in Clayton's life and career, and she said reminders of the song -- the opening track of the Stones' 1969 album "Let it Bleed" -- are all abound, even to this day.

After the song was released, Clayton said, hearing the song was like an out-of-body experience.

"There was a time where I would listen to it and really couldn't believe it was me," Clayton recalled. "When Morgan invited me into the studio to interview me, he played that song without telling me first, just to get my reaction on camera. He scaled it down to just the vocal without the music, and I went, 'Oh, my God, I was singing for the blood, wasn't I? That was really straight from the throne of heaven.' I can't believe what came out of me when I sang it."

Neville pulled the same surprise on Jagger for the film, too, and the look on the iconic singer's face when he hears Clayton for the first time is priceless.

"You can still see Mick's enthusiasm for it. There's still no better performance in history that I know of than in that song," Neville said.

Ironically, Fischer has been performing the song on live dates with the Stones since 1989, but Clayton holds no ill will against her fellow back-up singer for performing "Gimme Shelter" now -- in fact she embraces her.

"We call ourselves the sisterhood, and Lisa is part of the sisterhood. I absolutely love and adore Lisa," Clayton enthused. "The first time that we met was when the film debuted at Sundance, and we just fell into each other's arms and hugged each other. I said, 'Hey, I'm so thrilled to meet you,' and she said, 'I'm thrilled to meet you and my God, am I doing OK? Am I doing the song OK?' We just loved being around each other the whole festival. With all the singers -- Lisa, Darlene, Tata and Judith -- it was like a love fest at Sundance."

Comments

The views expressed are not those of this company or its affiliated companies. Please note by clicking on "Post" you acknowledge that you have read the Terms Of Service and the comment you are posting is in compliance with such terms. 
blog comments powered by Disqus
  • fatal_accident_investigation

    Extensive Investigation into Triple Fatal Accident

    An extensive investigation is underway to determine the cause of death in a triple fatal rollover accident Monday morning in Santa Barbara.

  • Triple Fatal Auto Accident on Highway

    3 Dead In Early Morning Accident, Driver Arrested For DUI

    The 101 southbound through Santa Barbara reopened just before 12:30 Monday afternoon as authorities investigate what they say was a deadly two car DUI accident.

  • fuzion_store_business_santa_barbara

    UCSB Group Boycotts Business For Promoting Deltopia

    A UCSB student group is boycotting a local business for creating the Deltopia Facebook page, which they said brought in thousands of outsiders to the small college town.

  • girl_child_coughing_sick_whooping_cough

    Contagious Diseases Making a Comeback in California

    Deadly diseases that were a thing of the past are making a comeback in California.

  • Witnesses to Fatal Crash

    Eyewitnesses See Triple Fatal Crash from Roadside Camp

    A homeless couple watching the freeway from their campsite in Santa Barbara this morning, witnessed the triple fatal accident that took the lives of two teens and a young man.

  • Triple Fatal Auto Accident on Highway

    DUI Driver in Fatal Early Morning Accident Ordered to Detox Program in 1995

    The Santa Barbara woman arrested for DUI in the early morning accident that left three people dead early Monday morning has a lengthy court record out of Ventura County. Kimberly Kreis, 52, was ordered to serve 30 days in a detox program as far back as 1995.

    The car that Kreis was driving crashed into a disabled Mazda near the Castillo off-ramp of the southbound 101 freeway in Santa Barbara. Two 17 year old North Torrance High School students were killed in the accident- Jessica Leffew and Danielle Murillo. 20 year old Brian Lopez also died in the wreck. The driver of the Mazda, Eric August, is hospitalized in critical condition.

    A NewsChannel 3 investigation found records out of Ventrua County that appear to show that Greis has at least one prior conviction involving drugs and or alcohol, and in 1995 she was ordered to serve 30 days in a Cottage Hospital detox program.

    CHP investigators are still trying to piece together why the Mazda veered right into a guardrail, causing it to flip onto it's roof before coming to rest in the middle of the southbound freeway, which set into motion the deadly accident.

    CHP Officer Jonathan Guiterrez, said "A lot of things could have happened, He could have fallen asleep. We just don't know at this point."

  • Parents of Mallory Dies Sue Congresswoman, Her Former Aide, and U.S. Government

    The parents of a young Santa Barbara woman killed in a high profile, DUI case are suing Congresswoman Lois Capps, her former aide Raymond Morua, and the U-S government in federal court.

  • Larry Lee Cal Poly Coach

    Cal Poly Baseball Earns No. 1 National Ranking

    The Mustangs achieved the school's second No. 1 national ranking in Division I as Collegiate Baseball Newspaper has placed Cal Poly atop its Top 30.

  • Lupita Nyong'o

    REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

    People's 'World's Most Beautiful' list 2014

    People magazine recently named Lupita Nyong'o its "World's Most Beautiful" for 2014. See which other ladies earned a coveted spot on the annual list.

  • Slideshow: Extensive Investigation into Triple Fatal Accident

    An extensive investigation is underway to determine the cause of death in a triple fatal rollover accident Monday morning in Santa Barbara.