Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Clayton-Thomas memoir shows brilliance amid self-absorption

  • Print

Blood, Sweat and Tears

By David Clayton-Thomas

Viking Canada, 336 pages, $32

It's normally praise to describe a book as fast-paced. But sometimes a book can be too fast-moving.

Singer David Clayton-Thomas's memoir of his life before, during and after superstardom fronting the iconic 1960s-'70s jazz-rock band Blood Sweat & Tears is such a book.

The early chapters and his early years -- documenting his growing up an abused child at the hands of a dark and drunken father in Willowdale, Ont., incarceration in a juvenile reformatory, a stint in prison for assault, scuffling around the streets of Toronto in the early 1960s -- have the ring of authenticity.

But after that it gets skeletal in the telling.

Time and again you wish Clayton-Thomas would have stepped back, slowed down and expanded on a place, time, event or even thought.

The memoir often reads like a breakneck-speed confessional. And gracing his narrative with more description, dialogue and reflection would also have diminished his chronic recourse to the almighty "I" to begin sentences and paragraphs.

He readily proffers opinions about and praise for the various musicians, virtually all Americans save for him, who played under the brass-heavy BS&T moniker.

But, curiously, he's deathly silent about the other seminal rock acts he crossed paths with in close to two decades of touring.

Other artists and bands perennially get only passing mention in his recountings. Casting his memory eye in a broader ambit would have given the book a bit more historico-cultural reference, colour and import.

The net result is a thinner book than need be, and a sense that he's a brilliant but self-absorbed musician.

The sole, and odd, exception occurs in the mid-1970s. And it's no rocker, but Vegas song-and-dance man Sammy Davis Jr., who gets a star turn. Clayton-Thomas, now 68, devotes more pages to the Rat Pack alumnus than all the other rock, folk, blues and jazz performers he met or played with combined.

The book's later chapters have a lot of interesting, but far too desultory, insights and comments on the commercial end of the music biz -- managers, tour logistics, studio costs and royalty rates.

It's no secret locally that former provincial Progressive Conservative party leader, and current president of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, Stuart Murray, did a three-year stint as BS&T tour manager.

Clayton-Thomas calls Murray "a class act," but badly screws up his political track record, stating: "He would later go on to become a member of Parliament in Canada."

More revelatory is his regard for Murray's then wife-to-be Ashleigh Everett -- so much so that he named his second child after her.

"Jen [Clayton-Thomas's pregnant second wife] and I thought the world of Stu and Ashleigh," he writes. "They were smart and classy people. We both loved the name and the traditional British spelling, so Ashleigh it was."

Clayton-Thomas wasn't just the singer for BS&T. He was also the guy who wrote the lyrics for the band's megahits Spinning Wheel and Lucretia MacEvil.

However, he offers no glimpses of the songwriting process, or the inspiration behind his songs. People are always curious about the nuts and bolts of how it's done. But he's not telling.

What's critical for an autobiography is, first of all, a good story. And Clayton-Thomas has one, for sure.

But his telling of it is more industrious than inspiring, more workmanlike than winning.

Douglas J. Johnston is a Winnipeg lawyer and writer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 18, 2010 H8

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Gary Lawless & Ed Tait try not to bleeping cry over the woesome Jets

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A nesting goose sits on the roof of GoodLife Fitness at 143 Nature Way near Kenaston as the morning sun comes up Wednesday morning- See Bryksa’s Goose a Day Photo- Day 07- Web crop-May 09, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • Susan and Gary Harrisonwalk their dog Emma on a peaceful foggy morning in Assiniboine Park – Standup photo– November 27, 2011   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Should Premier Greg Selinger resign?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google