CLYDIE KING, NOW 70: A CAREER PRE-DATING BOB DYLAN'S
Today (August 21, 2013) is Clydie King's 70th birthday. Here's her long entry in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia:
King, Clydie [1943 - ]
Clydie Mae Crittendon (daughter of a Curtis Crittendon and a Lula Mae King) was born in Dallas, Texas, on August 21, 1943. She is generally thought a backing singer, but in fact has made many records of her own, some of them a surprisingly long time ago. She made her first, ‘A Casual Look’ c/w ‘Oh Me’, in the mid-1950s in Memphis, for the Bihari Brothers’ label RPM, billed as by Little Clydie King & the Teens. Soon afterwards, credited as Clydie King, she made two singles on Speciality, ‘Our Romance’ c/w ‘Written on the Wall’ (1956-57) and ‘I’m Invited to Your Party’ c/w ‘Young Fool In Love’ (1957).
She made two further singles for Philips in the early 1960s (as Clydie King & the Sweet Things) plus one as by Mel Carter & Clydie King; three more in 1965 for Imperial, a 1968 duet with Jimmy Holiday and four more 1968-69 solo singles, all on Minit. In 1972 or 1976 came a shoddily packaged solo album on Lizard, Direct Me. One more single, a version of Sly & the Family Stone’s ‘Dance to the Music’, credited to Clydie King & Brown Sugar, came out on Chelsea Records in 1973, as did the album Brown Sugar Featuring Clydie King (with a heavy reliance on songs penned by Donna Weiss). As one of the vocal group the Blackberries she also made a mysteriously never-released album for Motown at the end of the ‘60s, followed by several Blackberries singles in 1973 & 1974.
Her prodigious back-up singing career included being a one-time member of Ray Charles’ Raelettes, singing on many of Phil Spector’s girl-group records of the very early 1960s, being among Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen, singing on Jesse Ed Davis’ second solo album, on Steppenwolf’s hit ‘Born to be Wild’, on the 1973 Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee album Sonny & Brownie, tracks by Lynyrd Skynyrd and Tim Rose and, while romantically linked to Mick Jagger, on the Rolling Stones’ album Exile on Main Street.
In 1972, backed by a 31-piece Quincy Jones orchestra, Clydie followed the double-act of Carole King & James Taylor and preceded Barbra Streisand at a lavish, star-packed ‘Four For McGovern’ fundraiser at the LA Forum, the nature of which is indicated by the fact that Warren Beatty and Goldie Hawn acted as ushers. Four years later King worked with Streisand again, as one of the Oreos in her movie with Kris Kristofferson, A Star Is Born. In 1977 she sang behind another diva, Better Midler, on her Broken Blossom album.
Clydie King first joined the Dylan world in 1970, when at a session of overdubbing held in LA under producer Bob Johnston’s supervision, Clydie King and fellow Blackberries Venetta Fields and Genger Blake Schackne (plus Johnston himself) sang backup vocals on a session with various musicians. Dylan himself wasn’t there. It isn’t known what tracks were worked on but the date (overnight on March 26) falls in the middle of sessions for New Morning. It was another decade before Clydie King and Dylan actually worked together. A committed Christian, she seems to have arrived in the picture in February 1980, and is thought to have become a valued singer, a moral support and a girlfriend, first working on most of the Saved sessions at Muscle Shoals in Sheffield, Alabama and then joining the backing singers on the second 1980 gospel tour, starting in Toronto that April 17 and finishing in Dayton Ohio on May 21. In general, she sang a solo number, ‘Calvary’, in the middle of alternate shows. (The backing singers also began most concerts with several jointly-sung gospel numbers before Bob Dylan came onstage, so that King was in the group singing five songs, sometimes as many as seven, most evenings.)
In October 1980, she was among those in the studio with Dylan in Santa Monica for a long session, at which 13 tracks were cut, though only six have circulated, among them a fascinating ‘Caribbean Wind’ and that great unreleased number ‘Yonder Comes Sin’. On the semi-gospel fall tour (the ‘Musical Retrospective Tour’) that followed, from November 9 in San Francisco to December 4 in Portland Oregon, Clydie was there again. A few of these concerts also began with several songs from the backing singers, King included, but this time she and Dylan also sang vocal duets on two numbers - ‘Abraham Martin and John’ (with Dylan on piano) and ‘Rise Again’. From November 19, both were being performed in the same concert. King was thus afforded a rare prominence on this tour, and the mutual respect and affection between her and Dylan was obvious.
From late March to early May of 1981 Clydie King pitched into almost all of the sessions for Shot of Love, though one of the few she missed was the last one, on May 15 in LA, at which ‘Heart of Mine’ was recorded.
The 1981 tour - sometimes called the ‘Shot Of Love Tour’ - comprised four warm-up shows in the US in June, a leg in Europe in June-July and another in North America in October-November. Concerts during the first two legs were structured much like the previous one, starting with four songs by the backing singers plus Terry Young on piano; Dylan and the band would then perform 10 to 12 numbers, followed by one song from a backing singer (with the band) and then came a further 10 to 14 songs by Bob Dylan and the band and an encore of one or two more songs with the band and one or two more by Dylan alone. The fall concerts omitted the backing-singer section at the start, and ended with the encores reversed so that Dylan’s solo songs came before one or two final numbers with the group. Within all this, Clydie King took no solo slots on the US warm-up dates, but duetted with Dylan on ‘Abraham Martin and John’ or ‘Rise Again’ each night, and, on the last concert (Columbia Maryland, June 14), on ‘Dead Man, Dead Man’ also.
For some reason, King missed the first European concert, in Toulouse, France, on June 21, but she was there for the rest, and on her first night, in Colombe on June 23, she and Dylan débuted their duet of the old Everly Brothers song ‘Let It Be Me’, sung now as if a devotional song addressed to God, yet not without a frisson of something between the two singers. This proved a one-off, and on subsequent nights in London it was back to ‘Abraham, Martin and John’, then the Jim Webb song ‘Let’s Begin’, then no duet at all, then ‘Let’s Begin’, ‘Abraham’ and ‘Let’s Begin’. In Birmingham there was no duet either night, and after that it settled down to a routine nightly ‘Let’s Begin’, all the way through from Stockholm on July 8 to Avignon on the 25th.
On the fall tour of North America, though the backing singers didn’t start the show they did perform one number in the middle each night; Clydie and Bob started the tour by continuing to sing ‘Let’s Begin’ but soon introduced the old Tommy Edwards hit ‘It’s All in the Game’ (débuted in Merrillville, Indiana, October 19, 1981), in turn replacing this with ‘I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight’ in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania on October 25, throwing in an extra ‘Let’s Begin’ at the concert after that and then reintroducing ‘Let It Be Me’ in Toronto on October 29, retaining it in Montreal and then, dropping both this and the ‘I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight’ duet, returned to ‘It’s All In The Game’ in Kitchener, Ontario on Hallowe’en. After that it was mostly back to ‘I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight’, though there was no duet in Atlanta on November 15.
There was no 1982 tour, but at Dylan’s Rundown Studios in Santa Monica, on June 1 that year, Dylan and Clydie King recorded a series of duets together, with Dylan on organ, guitar and bass and Jimmie Haskell on piano. None has circulated, though four songs are known to be extant: ‘Standing In The Light’, three takes of ‘Average People’, ‘In The Heat Of The Night’ and ‘Dream A Little Dream Of Me’. Some years later Dylan said in an interview: ‘I’ve also got a record with just me and Clydie King singing together and it’s great, but it doesn’t fall into any category that the record company knows how to deal with.’ The nearest they came to any such Dylan-King release was with the studio version of their duet on ‘Let It Be Me’, recorded at a Shot Of Love session on May 1, 1981, which was released, though in Europe only and billed as solely by Bob Dylan, on the B-side of ‘Heart of Mine’, in September 1981.
Clydie King reappeared on the promo video for the Infidels single ‘Sweetheart Like You’ and contributed to the album sessions of April 27 and 29 and May 2, this last yielding the ‘Death Is Not the End’ released on the 1988 album Down In The Groove. Her last day of action in Dylan’s professional life seems to have been at Dylan’s home studio in the garage at the Malibu house in March 1984, when she sometimes joined Bob and The Plugz at their rehearsal sessions for the ‘Late Night with David Letterman’ TV show that month, though she didn’t take part in the show itself.
Howard Alk filmed King, Dylan and the band both backstage and onstage on the fall 1981 tour, and also took copious pictures of Clydie and Bob together in 1980-81, several of which are published in the large-format booklet with the 5-LP box set Biograph in 1985, one of which, reproduced full page, has a quiet air of intimacy about it, at least on Ms King’s part. Howard Sounes’ Down The Highway: A Life of Bob Dylan, published in 2001, claimed that at some point Bob Dylan even bought her a house. Perhaps she’s still in that house today.
[Clydie King: ‘Our Romance’ c/w ‘Writing on the Wall’, Specialty 605, (78 rpm), US, 1956-7, reissued on the 5-CD box set The Specialty Story, Specialty 4412, US, 1994; ‘I’m Invited To Your Party’ c/w ‘Young Fool In Love’, Specialty 642, US, 1957; Direct Me, Lizard Ampex A-20104, US, 1972/76. Clydie King & Brown Sugar, ‘Dance to the Music’, Chelsea 0239, US, 1973. Brown Sugar Featuring Clydie King, Chelsea BCL1-0368, US, 1973. Little Clydie King & the Teens: ‘A Casual Look’ c/w ‘Oh Me’, RPM RPM 462, mid-1950s, reissued on Modern Vocal Groups Volume 4, Ace, CDCHD 764, UK, nia.]