David Clayton-Thomas: a true rock bio

David Clayton-Thomas, the long-time voice of the seminal rock/jazz ban Blood, Sweat & Tears, has penned his life story, Blood, Sweat and Tears, and it’s a worthy  addition to the canon of hard livin’ rock ‘n roll biographies.

Thanks to its ubiquity on the airwaves, Blood, Sweat & Tears may be regarded by a younger audience as just another  oldies bands that had a lot of hits. But as Clayton-Thomas lays out in his book, which is as much a bio of the band as it is of the singer, BS&T was a groundbreaking outfit, the first to marry classically trained musicians playing complex arrangements with a rock/blues sensibility. They created the template for many bands to follow, and their music remains remarkably fresh today.

Clayton-Thomas himself is a good Canadian boy who spend a lot of his early years being a very bad Canadian boy. His early life was so miserable, he really should have become a country singer. His father was aloof and unloving, so cold that even upon his death, Clayton-Thomas didn’t shed a tear. Clayton-Thomas spent years in and out of juvenile and adult prisons, a miserable existence he vividly details. On the plus side, it was in prison that he learned that he could sing, and that people would gather around to listen to him.

Once out of prison (a time of his life that would haunt him for years), Clayton-Thomas set out to make a name for himself in Toronto, and later New York. He hit it big in 1968 — yes, it was that long ago — when he joined BS&T as lead singer and sometime songwriter.

And boy, were they big. At their peak, BS&T was a true supergroup — Mammoth record sales, Grammy Awards, the approbation of the counterculture media, an appearance at Woodstock (which, thanks to their manager at the time, was not filmed).  But all of the usual rock n’ roll clichés come into play — scandals, money squabbles, management problems, drugs, accidental deaths, groupies, divorces, brushes with bankruptcy … they’re all there. Hey, even Sammy Davis Jr. makes an appearance!  And it’s all good.

Clayton-Thomas is a natural storyteller, and at its best Blood, Sweat and Tears is a true page-turner. It’s a good read, a true rock n’ roll survivor story. It’s from Viking Canada ($32).

Also on the Recommended Reading front, this month’s Alberta Views has two articles any concerned Albertan should read. Ian Urquhart wonders if Alberta has become a petrostate (answer: not in the accepted definition, but pretty close), and Sheila Pratt reviews the Stelmach governments penchant of shooting the messenger. There’s nothing new in the story, but it’s a good summary of a government that does not take kindly to criticism. And check out Report on Business magazine’s look at how the mighty Tim Hortons company has taken over the country. Their definition of ‘fresh’ may be different from yours.

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