The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #79933   Message #1452389
Posted By: GUEST,Bob Coltman
05-Apr-05 - 04:38 AM
Thread Name: Wanted: Memories of Paul Clayton
Subject: Wanted: Memories of Paul Clayton
Several of us would like to pull together the folk community's scattered memories of Paul Clayton (Worthington), the New Bedford scholar-folksinger who made such a splash on the scene in the 1950s and early 60s, only to fall prey to his own demons and die a suicide in March 1967.

He deserves a book-length biography, but that's probably not possible for me to tackle. Anyone out there want to? In the meantime, let's construct his life in a thread as best we can.

First, I've gone through the Paul Clayton-related threads on DT, so let's take those as given. For reference, the most important thread, from 1998-2002, was:

RE: info about Paul Clayton

There are others, on Sea Shanties, "Done Laid Around," Murder Ballads etc. I have searched on his name and learned from them all. I have also googled Paul Clayton and found the standard biographical references. Now I'm looking for more than that: stuff that's not on the web yet.

What I think we'd all like to see is YOUR personal memories of the man, the singer, etc. Also any personal stories you may have heard about him.

To assist your memory, here's an outline of Paul's life (I have somewhat more detail than this, but this is already very long for a message):


Born in New Bedford MA March 3, 1931 (not '33 as elsewhere reported), Paul as a boy heard sea shanties and whaling songs from his grandfather, his parents also both being musicians. His family moved to various parts of the country, NH, FL, but were back in New Bedford by the time he attended high school.

Played the guitar starting at age 11, produced and performed his own folk music radio program during high school at New Bedford High, starting April 1948. (Anybody remember hearing any of these broadcasts?)

Studied folklore under Arthur Kyle Davis at the U. of Virginia, Charlottesville. While there met rising bluegrass singer-guitarist Bill Clifton (Bill Marburg); the two made an LP and did radio shows together.

Started collecting songs in the Appalachians. On one trip he accompanied Liam Clancy.

Mid-50s began his recording career on Folkways. His recordings would appear on five other folk labels, in the Library of Congress Archive of American Folk Song, the Flanders Ballad Collection at Middlebury College, VT and the BBC archive.

In many concerts and festivals he won critical attention. Gained an international reputation as a rising young folksinger.

Between engagements he stayed in a small rebuilt log cabin in Brown's Cove, Virginia, where Marybird McAllister and others visited and sang.

During the folk revival he became part of the Greenwich Village scene, performing at Gerde's hoots, etc.

Wrote two songs that became national hits. One was "Gotta Travel On." The other, "Who'll Buy You Ribbons When I'm Gone," based on the Appalachian "Who'll Buy Your Chickens…" was used by Bob Dylan as the basis for "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right." Various accounts as to whether he ever got any royalties; some ill feeling was caused, but Clayton always remained loyal to Dylan.

Clayton and Dylan began with strong mutual liking and admiration. Dylan was struck by Clayton's visions according to his "11 Outlined Epitaphs" liner notes to The Times They Are A-Changin'. For Dylan it would be a passing thing, moving on as he did from everyone. For Clayton perhaps something more serious.

Dylan took Clayton with him on his cross-country tour in 1964 on which he met Carl Sandburg and heard the Beatles for the first time ("I Wanna Hold Your Hand"). This was the beginning of the end for the Dylan-Clayton relationship, as well as for the Dylan-Suze Rotolo relationship.

Dylan took to staying with promoter Albert Grossman at Bearsville NY. Clayton visited, but increasingly was being shut out of Dylan's inner circle.

Clayton had a history of problems with pills, in a milieu in which his friends and fellow singers were usually flying on some substance or other. He was gay, which at that time virtually dictated secrecy, and despondent. He died of an overdose of medication March 30, 1967.

Subsequently stories sprang up that he had (a) suicided by taking an electric heater into a bath with him, or, even more spectacularly, (b) walked out of an upper floor window and fallen to his death while on LSD (some said at a party where Dylan was present) under he impression that he could fly. Neither of these allegations was true.

Clayton's reputation fell by the wayside as his mild, unstressed vocal style and simple guitar fell out of fashion in the authenticity-conscious folk-rock late 60s and 70s. Yet there are many who love his work to this day, and his beloved whaling and sea songs remain available on CD, as do a few of his other albums which have become perennial reissues. And of course his Folkways records can still be obtained from Smithsonian Folkways.

Now, in 2005—about a half century after he began his breakout public career--maybe it's time for a reassessment of Paul Clayton, who in a few short years, with fantastic energy and dedication, produced a large body of work, mostly from authentic tradition, together with two bona fide hit songs—not to mention leaving behind a lot of curiosity about a man so driven, so prolific, and so witty, ferociously intelligent yet with a real popular touch.

What can you tell us about Paul? Anecdotes, memories of concerts, meetings-in-passing, etc. all welcome.

Thanks, Bob