To Thread - Forum Home

The Mudcat Café TM
32 messages

Wanted: Memories of Paul Clayton

05 Apr 05 - 04:38 AM (#1452389)
Subject: Wanted: Memories of Paul Clayton
From: GUEST,Bob Coltman

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

05 Apr 05 - 07:56 AM (#1452482)
Subject: RE: Wanted: Memories of Paul Clayton
From: alanabit

I can't help you at all, but I wish you luck with your quest. It might be a good idea to become a member here, as you would also have the access to Mudcat's PM facility, through which some Mudcatters might prefer to reply. I hope lots of people help you here - as I am sure they will. I look forward to reading the replies.

05 Apr 05 - 10:26 AM (#1452588)
Subject: RE: Wanted: Memories of Paul Clayton
From: dick greenhaus

I understand that you're going to be at NEFFA. I'll be manning (personing?) the CAMSCO Music booth, next to Sandy Paton at the Folk-Legacy booth. I knew Paul somewhat; Sandy knew him a great deal better.

05 Apr 05 - 02:08 PM (#1452827)
Subject: RE: Wanted: Memories of Paul Clayton
From: GUEST,Art Thieme

I met him one night at the Gate Of Horn in Chicago. I think I mentioned that in another thread. That's about if for actual contact with Paul.


05 Apr 05 - 06:38 PM (#1453066)
Subject: RE: Wanted: Memories of Paul Clayton
From: Sandy Paton

Bob: Call me (we're listed in the phone book) or e-mail me at . I find that I don't have your e-mail address. Go to our web site and get the 800 number to use for the call, if you wish.

05 Apr 05 - 06:55 PM (#1453084)
Subject: RE: Wanted: Memories of Paul Clayton
From: Deckman

Bob ... Thank you for starting this thread. I can't help you much as I never met him personally, but I certainly listened to his early record.

I suspect that we are of somewhat the same vintage, but I am not accusing you of being as old as I. I do think that it's so very important that those of us that have survived the earlier years of the fourties and fiftes and sixties, re-visit those earlier times and attempt to "fill in the cracks", if you will will. Best wishes on your project, Bob Nelson

06 Apr 05 - 04:20 AM (#1453374)
Subject: RE: Wanted: Memories of Paul Clayton
From: Big Tim

There are some references in Liam Clancy's "Memoirs of an Irish Troubadour", to the period around 1956-7.

07 Apr 05 - 07:46 AM (#1454272)
Subject: RE: Wanted: Memories of Paul Clayton
From: GUEST,Bob Coltman

Thanks all for your responses. To reply:

alanabit: I tend to shun membership in just about everything but the human race, a quirk of mine. Please forgive it. Any of you may e-mail me at

Dick: I won't be at NEFFA, never intended to go. not sure how that arose.

Art: thanks, and I did pick up your reminiscence from the other thread. Wish you knew more!

Sandy: I'll call today if I can.

Big Time, I think I know where I can pick up a copy of Liam's book, and

Bob Nelson, thanks, you feel exactly as I do...that those days, which once seemed so present as to be overwhelming, now really are slipping from memory.

And yeah, I'm probably as old as you are, b. 1937 and thus only six years younger than Paul. And so many things about his career, though it went much further than mine, remind me of my own starting-out and experiences along the way.

08 Apr 05 - 01:38 AM (#1455079)
Subject: RE: Wanted: Memories of Paul Clayton
From: georgeward


Paul was an early performer at Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs. I believe the late Joe Alper photographed him there. I'll email you a bit more, but I thought I'd mention the Lena connection here in case it might jog someone else's memory.


09 Apr 05 - 02:58 PM (#1456413)
Subject: RE: Wanted: Memories of Paul Clayton
From: GUEST,Bob Coltman

In addition to the appeal above, I'd like to ask assistance from those who have Paul Clayton LPs...I have none in my collection.

As a way of getting inside Paul's mind and evaluating his scholarship and sources, it would help enormously to see Paul's LP notes. Would you be willing to scan and transmit the notes? Or failing that, send xeroxes?

Either way, you can communicate with me via this thread or at

Needless to say, I'm still looking for any and all stories about Paul Clayton: did you see him in concert, at a club, at a festival?

Specific info that would be very helpful:

His parents' (the Worthingtons') first names and occupations.

Any siblings?

Did he try to have girlfriends before becoming reconciled to his gayness?

How obvious was his gayness? How much overt behavior day to day? Usually suppressed?

Did he have many gay relationships? Few?

Memories (as noted above) of his live performances? Radio and TV appearances? Interviews?

How did he connect with the Helen Flanders ballad collection at Middlebury? With the BBC and Library of Congress archivs?

Who was Marybird McAllister who was a visitor and singer at his cabin near Charlottesville?

Those are just a few of the mysteries I have no answers for as yet.

Thanks!!! and good hunting...   Bob

09 Apr 05 - 03:08 PM (#1456427)
Subject: RE: Wanted: Memories of Paul Clayton
From: GUEST,Bob Coltman

One question in the above list is answered. I've found info on Marybird McAllister, who was a traditional singer from Brown's Cove, VA where Paul lived in his nearly inaccessible cabin. Even found some midis of her singing.


09 Apr 05 - 11:15 PM (#1456761)
Subject: RE: Wanted: Memories of Paul Clayton
From: Stewie

Bob, in case you are not aware of it, there is an extensive discography for Clayton on Stefan Wirz's site: CLICK HERE. Good luck with your project. Unfortunately, I have no Clayton LPs in my collection.


19 Apr 05 - 04:50 PM (#1465723)
Subject: RE: Wanted: Memories of Paul Clayton
From: GUEST,Bob Coltman

Thanks for the ref to Wirz's discography, Stewie. Apart from that, as you can see from replies above, new information is scant to nonexistent.

One item that would be of tremendous help: does anyone have access to Paul Clayton (Worthington)'s obituary? That should provide some much-needed basic information.

According to my information he died in Charlottesville VA--probably at his Brown's Cove cabin. I have tried searching New York and Charlottesville papers on the web without success. I'm now turning to his home town, New Bedford, but without much hope of success via the net.

Mostly I suspect 1967 obits are too early to be digitized.

Can anyone find the obit and post it here?

19 Apr 05 - 05:38 PM (#1465781)
Subject: RE: Wanted: Memories of Paul Clayton
From: Peace

Link you may wanna check.

19 Apr 05 - 05:40 PM (#1465783)
Subject: RE: Wanted: Memories of Paul Clayton
From: Peace


I had an interesting conversation with him at Gerdes Folk City in 1966 (?). Message me and I will send the gist.

20 Apr 05 - 01:45 PM (#1466446)
Subject: RE: Wanted: Memories of Paul Clayton
From: WFDU - Ron Olesko

Bob, have you tried genealogy searches?

21 Apr 05 - 08:44 AM (#1466931)
Subject: RE: Wanted: Memories of Paul Clayton
From: GUEST,Bob Coltman

21 Apr 05 - 08:50 AM (#1466941)
Subject: RE: Wanted: Memories of Paul Clayton
From: GUEST,Bob Coltman


Very interested to hear of your Paul Clayton conversation and would greatly appreciate as much detail as you're willing to provide.

As I'm not a member I can't message you but you may email me at:

Many thanks! You are the first to offer really substantive information---it's rare and hard to come by and I am grateful. Please let me know how I may reference you as a bibliographic source, or leave you anonymous, whichever you prefer.


21 Apr 05 - 10:18 AM (#1466993)
Subject: RE: Wanted: Memories of Paul Clayton
From: GUEST,brucie


I will get an e-mail off to you later today or early tomorrow.


19 Nov 06 - 02:00 PM (#1888378)
Subject: RE: Wanted: Memories of Paul Clayton
From: GUEST,margaret corlett kennedy

It was with great sadness that I found that Paul had committed suicide. I met Paul in Paris in 1951 I think. He was staying at a youth hostel that had been an SS headquarters during WW 2. he was against the war that the US was involved in at the time. We became very close and he showed me his Paris. We sneaked into the Sorbonne for lunch and after lights out at the youth hostel he would play his guitar for all of us with his arm around me. He collected newspapers and sold them to make enough to buy food and one day presented me with a jar of jam which I knew was worth more than any gift i would ever get. He took me to Napoleon's tomb. It was April and one of the best times of my life. I was travelling with two other girls and Paul and i arranged to meet in Madrid at the train station a few weeks later. I waited but Paul didnt show up. I found there were two train stations. We lost contact and I ended up in Casablance. Later I heard that he was trying to find me in Spain. We were all hitchhiking. Years later I contacted Paul through the newspaper in New Bedford. He sent me his new record and told me that Burl Ives was going to record his song Lenora let your hair hang down. I heard Burl Ives doing it on tv. but we didnt keep in touch because I was married. He was a lovely person. The first American I had ever met, I was British. Please let me know what is happening with your book. Margaret Kennedy

20 Nov 06 - 08:24 AM (#1888863)
Subject: RE: Wanted: Memories of Paul Clayton

I've only just found this thread via yesterday's posting from Margaret Kennedy, so I don;t know what progress had been made.
I like Paul Clayton's work, probably for the very reasons you mention that he fell out of favour!
I don't know if you have received this or not but I have his LP 'Whaling Songs & Ballads' on Stinson, with his liner notes. If you would like a copy, please let me know via the Mudcat and I will e-mail them to you
Good luck with the project

20 Nov 06 - 08:33 AM (#1888871)
Subject: RE: Wanted: Memories of Paul Clayton
From: GUEST,Bob Coltman

Hello Margaret,

Many thanks for your reminiscence. Very little information is available on Paul's travels in Europe, so anything further you can recall will be most helpful.

For your and everyone's information, the book (working title GOTTA TRAVEL ON: PAUL CLAYTON AND THE FOLK REVIVAL) is to be published in 2007 by Scarecrow Press. It's a substantial biography of Paul, with much new information from friends, family and fellow musicians that has never seen the light of day before.

Margaret's information reached me just in time to be included, but the production process will begin within the next month or so. So --- anyone who has memories of Paul to contribute, don't wait!

IMPORTANT: If e-mailing, note that mine as cited above has changed. It is now

With gratitude to all,


20 Nov 06 - 08:38 AM (#1888873)
Subject: RE: Wanted: Memories of Paul Clayton
From: GUEST,Bob Coltman


I would be most grateful for a copy of the Stinson liner notes.

See my email in the message just above.

Many thanks!


20 Nov 06 - 09:46 PM (#1889538)
Subject: RE: Wanted: Memories of Paul Clayton
From: Charley Noble


I would think that Paul Clayton might have had some contact with Fletcher and Marguerite Collins and their Oak Grove festivals in Staunton, Virginia. It's probably too late to follow up this lead for the biography but I could do that if you're interested.

I do remember meeting you at Bill Bonyun's 80th birthday party on Westport Island.

Charley Noble

21 Nov 06 - 05:47 AM (#1889717)
Subject: RE: Wanted: Memories of Paul Clayton
From: GUEST,Bob Coltman

Hello again Charley,

Thanks very much for your offer! Yes, Paul was a frequent feature at Oak Grove as a singer and dulcimer player, though not as an actor. I've spoken to Margaret (sp?) Collins and also to a few musicians such as Mike Seeger and Bob Yellin who sat in on musical sessions after the Oak Grove performances. So this is, if not thoroughly covered, at least tapped into.

Yes, I miss Bill greatly. He was my mentor when I was eleven years old and had just gotten a guitar and was trying to figure out how to play it. He kindly took a whole afternoon, showed me chords, made chord charts for me, suggestions about strings, etc., not to mention fascinating stories about folksongs and singers, and followed up by mail thereafter. After such a start, what could I do but learn to be a picker and singer too? Only thirty years later did I learn he lived some 20 miles from my mother-in-law and her husband. Good ol' long arm of coincidence enabled me to renew the acquaintance for the latter years of his life.

Again, thanks,


21 Nov 06 - 08:26 AM (#1889803)
Subject: RE: Wanted: Memories of Paul Clayton
From: Charley Noble


You are correct, it's "Margaret" Collins. She and Fletcher were also old friends of my parents in the 1930's when my father was working with them at the Arthurdale project in West Virginia.

I'll certainly look forward to reading this book.

Charley Noble

22 Nov 06 - 11:40 AM (#1890797)
Subject: RE: Wanted: Memories of Paul Clayton
From: GUEST,maggie may

Hi I knew Paul in Paris in 1951 I have tried to contact Bob Colton and have written on a couple of threads. What a coincidence that yesterday i felt I had to type his name in Google. Paul was keeping out of the Korean war and living in a youth hostel that had been an SS headquarters. I have written this on a couple of threads. He wasnt gay to my knowledge. He was very loving and very generous. We had wonderful time in Paris. I had promised my two friends that I would not leave them though Paul wanted me to stay in Paris with him. he said he would follow us and we arranged to meet in the Madrid railway station a few weeks later. We were all backpacking. I waited for hours but he didnt come. Then i learned there were two stations in Madrid. When I was in Casablanca i kept expecting him to arrive and heard that he had got to Morroco but authorities had turned him in because he had no money. His passport was taken off him and he was sent back to US. i got in touch with him years later through the new bedford newspaper who sent me clippings. He sent me two of his records (45s) and told me Burl Ives would be singing his son Lenora let your hair hang down on tv. i watched for it and saw him. I was married by this time and didnt keep up the correspondence unfortunately.

22 Nov 06 - 06:02 PM (#1891156)
Subject: RE: Wanted: Memories of Paul Clayton
From: GUEST,Doreen

I'm looking for a copy of Paul's song 'Who's ganna buy you ribbens when I'm gone'.

24 Nov 06 - 11:26 AM (#1892518)
Subject: RE: Wanted: Memories of Paul Clayton
From: GUEST,Margaret Kennedy

Hi Bob I tried to send you a long letter re Paul Clayton and also a very unflattering photo of the two of us in Paris but it was blocked by comcast security. You can contact me at if you would like to. Maggie

28 Nov 06 - 09:03 AM (#1894561)
Subject: RE: Wanted: Memories of Paul Clayton
From: GUEST,Bob Coltman

Hi Margaret,

The other day I sent you an email at the address above, but after quite a while in limbo, it got returned. I tried again just now, but haven't much hope it will go through.

You can try me at if you wish, perhaps it will work better that way.


27 Feb 11 - 04:49 PM (#3103822)
Subject: RE: Wanted: Memories of Paul Clayton
From: GUEST,Tage Blytmann, Poulsbo, WA


I lived on 190 Spring Street in NYC in 1956-57. In 1958 I was Roger Abrahms' roommate on Prince Street, also in the the Village. I knew Paul Clayton from 1956 through about 1960.

If you are interested, please let me know. I am on Facebook.

Tage Blytmann

31 Aug 11 - 01:17 PM (#3215993)
Subject: RE: Wanted: Memories of Paul Clayton

Hi Bob I tried to reach you but my email didnt get through and was returned. My husband was very ill and died so I didnt try again. I knew Paul in Paris in 1951. He was a conscientious objector and didnt want to be in the korean war. He collected newspapers to raise enough money to eat. We lived in a youth hostel that had been a gestapo headquarters and still had swaztikas on the doors. After lights out we would all gather in the kitchen and listen to Paul playing and singing. Gotta travel on was a real favourite. He would have his arm around me and his guitar would be on my knee as he played it. If he was gay I didnt know it. He took me everywhere in Paris. There were very few cars. We sneaked into the cafeteria at the Sorbonne - we stood at Napoleon's tomb and he knew all about that. He was a wonderful guide and an expert on Paris. He was a sweet, sensitive and very kind young man. I remember us standing inside the bell at Notre dame. They are some of the happiest memories of my life. I am glad you wrote your book. I hope people know what a wonderful man he was. Marg Kennedy