Even if you like Soul music you may never have heard 0f Otis Clay. Born in Mississippi in 1942 he began singing with Gospel groups. After moves that took him to Indiana, Nashville and Chicago his first hit came in 1967 with That’s How It Is (When You’re In Love) reaching No.37 on the R&B charts. Powerful emotional singing and a lively production, it was followed up by more of the same with A Lasting Love reaching No.47 in the same year. But by 1968 the label, One-derful records was gone and he signed to Atlanic’s subsidiary, Cotillon Records. Clay recorded a version of the Sir Douglas Quintet song, She’s About A Mover in 1969. A classic good time sixties cross over Soul Pop 12 bar, it was his biggest hit reaching No.47 R&B and No.97 on the Billborad charts. Hard Working Woman and Is It Over didn’t follow up on the success of the previous single and this is why you’ve never heard of him – he never became a big name like Marvin Gaye or Otis Redding or Sam Cooke.
By the seventies he was signed to Willie Mitchell’s Hi Records and became label mates with Al Green where he recorded my favourite music by him. Trying To Live My Life Without You reached No.102 0n the Billboard chart, (it became a No.5 hit for Bob Seger in 1981). Clay’s follow up If I Could Reach Out made No.24 on the R&B chart. Interestingly both these songs have the Heroes bass line which adds a whole new perspective to Bowie’s masterpiece. After Hi Records All Because Of Your Love on Kayvette Records was Clay’s last hit reaching No.44 on the R&B chart.
Although Clay had some classic sixties singles and made many records in the eighties and the nineties onwards, he only made two albums for Hi Records in the seventies, Trying To Live My Life Without You (1972) and I Can’t Take It (1977). A five year gap might have meant he lost momentum and this is the time that he should have been making his biggest impact as an album artist because for me this is where he was at at his strongest with that warm seventies Soul music, singing his heart out and sounding somewhere between Al Green, Otis Redding and a raw Errol Brown. Sadly missed even though the world didn’t really know he was there. RIP Otis Clay. Condolences to friends and family.