At first glance, you may not recognize the name Merry Clayton, but if I were to mention a very popular song where her vocals are heard on, you’d immediately recognize her voice. It’s her name that doesn’t ring a bell with millions of listeners despite her making one particular song insanely famous. What song am I referring to? Gimme Shelter by The Rolling Stones.
Merry Clayton has said in several documentaries that she’s often referred to as “the lady with the killer voice” who sung with The Rolling Stones, but many don’t know her name. On some of The Rolling Stones records for Gimme Shelter her name is misspelled as ‘Mary’ instead of Merry, even still The Rolling Stones have largely credited her with the song’s huge success. According to Mick Jagger, he thought it would be a great idea to have a woman sing on the chorus, so Merry was called in the middle of the night to see if she would be willing to do it. With “curlers” in her hair, Merry sung her verses in a few takes which blew Mick and his group away. Sad to say, she suffered a miscarriage shortly after which you can read more about it here.
Mick would later state that he found it to be “pretty amazing” how quickly Merry did her verses because her delivery was raw and from deep within her soul. Mick said he loved it when her voice cracked because it made the hair on his neck stand up. If you’ve ever listened to Gimme Shelter, you know exactly what he is talking about. Mick and the rest of The Rolling Stones are quick to point out that without Merry’s vocals on Gimme Shelter, the song wouldn’t have reached it’s level of popularity. Millions also agree.
I was a little surprised to learn from her documentary that she also did background vocals on the famous Lynyrd Skynyrd song Sweet Home Alabama. Tragically in 2014, Merry Clayton had to have both of her legs amputated below her knees due to a very bad car accident, but her spirit of resilience is stronger than ever. Merry Clayton was more than just a background singer, she was also a successful soul singer in her own right. Click here for one of my favorite Merry Clayton songs and of course you know you have to click here for Gimme Shelter.
Until next time..