Every time I hear Gimme Shelter by the Rolling Stones I wait for the part when Mick Jagger takes a back seat and Merry Clayton belts out her solo, each time I hear it I am in awe of her voice. That song was released in 1969, I've been listening to it since the beginning but it was just recently that I made up my mind to learn the name of that back-up singer and find out what else, if anything, she has done professionally.
Merry Clayton - It's Just A Shot Away
Back-up singers of rock and roll, 20 feet from stardom. They are nameless but their voices are heard around the world. Merry Clayton, the Diva of Gimme Shelter....
Above photo from 'Let It Bleed' CD provided by and available at Amazon.
Meet the Diva of Gimme Shelter
20 Feet From Stardom
An award-winning documentary by director Morgan Neville introduces us to those background singers who seem to be anonymous to most of us. Sure, we know they're in the studio recording with the band but who are they. They're on stage for every concert but they remain nameless.
20 Feet From Stardom takes us behind the scenes with interviews that include Mick Jagger, Bruce Springteen, Sting, Bette Midler and others.
A clip from 20 Feet From Stardom shows the interviews with Merry Clayton and Mick Jagger discussing the Gimme Shelter solo. You'll also hear the original studio isolated version of Merry Clayton's famous line: Rape. Murder. It's just a shot away. Her voice cracks and goes out of tune on the word 'murder' and Mick loved it!
20 Feet From Stardom Movie Clip
The Rolling Stones On Stage
In my opinion, this is the best live version of Gimme Shelter that I've found on the internet. This one features another one of those back-up singers who are 20 Feet From Stardom, Lisa Fischer.
Cagney & Lacey
Merry Clayton was added to the cast of the television series, Cagney & Lacey in it's final season 1987-88 as Detective Verna Dee Jordan. She appeared in 15 episodes.
A made for TV reunion movie, Cagney & Lacey: The Return released in 1994 featured Merry Clayton in her role as Det. Verna Dee Jordan.
The short version
Merry Clayton was born on Christmas Day, 1948 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Her singing career began in 1962 at the age of fourteen when she sang “Who Can I Count On?” as a duet with Bobby Darin on his album 'You're the Reason I'm Living'.
She recorded the first version of The Shoop Shoop Song (It's In His Kiss), but her version didn't reach the Top 10. Betty Everett's version reached the Top 10.
June 16, 2014 Ms. Clayton's legs were severely injured in an automobile accident in Los Angeles, California.