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gepubliceerd op woensdag 13 mei 2009

Exclusive Interview with Clay Drayton of Soul Excitement

40 Years ago, the sixties were nearing their end. It later proved to be the end of an era that had produced great music and the first of what came to be known as 'pop' music. One of these popular genres - now defined as 'funk' - brought us the names of James Brown, The Meters, Sly & The Family Stone and many others.

Soul Excitement Photo courtesy of Mr. Clay Drayton
The end of this era was the beginning of a new one. One in which black music became the true driving force. And like the sixties, the seventies brought a lot of new musical genres that conquered, and indeed ruled!, the world. These genres - like soul, disco and R&B - were predominantly 'black'. Their 'common denominator' was - still - funk with its roots in the previous decade. Funk became the calling card of illustrious bands and artists such as Parliament, Funkadelic, Mother's Finest, Bootsy's Rubber Band, Johny Guitar Watson, Cameo and The Bar-Kays.

Of course, these well-known acts were not the only ones that made great funk music. There may have been hundreds of other bands out there that rode the waves of the popular new music genre. Some were more succesful than others. And while some have not been able to escape from the abyss of time, others have survived - albeit just barely - and some of those were even re-released by such labels as Kay-Dee Records, Motown and Stax.

Soul Excitement

Label of the 45RPM re-release of 'Stay Together' by Soul Excitement Label of the 45RPM re-release of 'Stay Together' by Soul Excitement
Those that were less succesful were not always less in terms of quality. Like today, back then there were many ways for new young bands to shine brightly one week and implode the next, like red dwarfs dying in the galaxy. One of these bright new bands was called Soul Excitement. Its front man was Clay Drayton. I stumbled upon the band's name one night reading about the song "Stay Together" that was re-released by Kay-Dee Records and ordered this 'new' 45RPM vinyl re-release single.

Hearing it for the first time I became instantly interested. My interest was triggered not because "Stay Together" still sounds hot, new and funky though, which it does!, but actually because of the 'wild' intro the song starts-off with. It has the rythm of a Viennese Waltz and sounds exactly like a traditional Dutch children's song, that is sung on December 5th, celebrating the birthday of Saint Nicolas, who is believed to be a great children's friend. This waltz was originally written by a a seventeenth century bagpipe player from plague-ridden Vienna; see the article "Popmuziek is schatplichtig aan zeventiende eeuwse doedelzakspeler" (DutchEnglish: Pop music pays tribute to seventeenth century bagpipe player).

My 'quest' into the origins of the intro to Soul Excitement's only single eventually brought me in touch with Clay Drayton. Clay was the singer, bass player and frontman of Soul Excitement. As it turns out, Clay is still working with music. He was friendly enough to answer a few questions for this article.

Clay is the main author of the song "Stay Together", on which he cooperated with the other band members A.C. Drummer Jr. (Guitar), Roland Washington (Saxophone), Paul Cutner (Drums) and Paul Settle (Trumpet).
About the 'wild' intro to the song Clay remembers it was inspired by Sly and the Family Stone's intro to "Sing a Simple Song". He was not aware of the origins of the intro on "Stay Together" as described in the above mentioned article. However, he says, "I wrote it from an American children's song 'The more we get together, the happier we'll be'".

The origins of a psychedelic funk band

Soul Excitement only existed for a short number of years. On how the band was formed, Clay remembers: "I met AC when we were in a band called Cecil Garrett and the FascinationsCecil Garrett and the Fascinations: Cecil Garrett and the Fascinations were part of the sixties' Pittsburg sound. "Bearcat" is one of their better known records., I wanted to start a band of my own and AC came with me. We found the other band members.
AC's mother knew a couple who wanted to start their own record label. They liked us and paid for studio time and record pressing on their label 'Pink Dolphin Records'. We played at night clubs every weekend for four years."

At the "Rare Funk and Soul Forum" Roland Washington, the band's saxophone player, also remembers the exciting times with Soul Excitement:
"Soul Excitement was a psychedelic funk band out of Newark, New Jersey. The band was originally formed by Clarence (Clay) Drayton, who was the leader and bass player, along with AC Drummer, guitarist, and Paul Cutner, drummer in the year 1968. During the summer of that year they took on a young tenor saxophone player, Roland Washington.
The band concentrated primarily on performing songs of the current popular artists of that time with a deep, funky, driving spin on such songs as Stevie Wonder's "I Was Made To Love Her", Parliament Funkadelic's "Good Old Funky Music" and "I Just Want to Testify", the Temptations' "Runaway Child". Their repertoire was an endless chain of funky songs. Clay on bass and Paul on drums would always put the band right in the pocket of the groove. AC Drummer would fill the rest with some of the funkiest guitar strokes accented by fuzz and wah-wah.

Dee Dee Warwick Dee Dee Warwick
The band enjoyed performing as regulars at such places as "The Cheetah" and "Trudy Heller's" in Manhattan. They were well loved wherever they performed. Soul Excitement also performed as backup band for Dee Dee Warwick and Linda Jones, two oustanding recording artists of that time. They performed on shows opposite the Delfonics, Unifics, Manhattans, Sam and Dave, Joe Tex and many other well known celebrities of that era.

Ellis Haizlip, host of the Channel 13 show 'Soul!' Ellis Haizlip, host of the Channel 13 show 'Soul!, 13 Dec. 1972'
The band was later joined by Bernard "Captain Hook" Cutner as lead vocalist. His energy and dance moves created an atmosphere that totally captivated audiences. In the fall of 1968, the Soul Excitement appeared live, along with the "Grand Prix Machine" singing group, on Channel 13's "Soul", hosted by Ellis Haizlip. Haizlip later commented that until that time, no other performers had ever stirred the audience so much that they began dancing up and down the studio aisles.
After Captain Hook left the band, Tamy Smith joined as lead vocalist and eventually Paul Settle came aboard on trumpet. Tamy Smith and Clay Drayton are the voices heard singing the lead vocals on "Stay Together". Tamy is also the lead singer on "Smile".

The "Stay Together" and "Smile" 45RPM, unfortunately, was the only recording produced by Soul Excitement. The band dissolved sometime around January or February of 1970."

Soon after the recording of "Stay Together" and its B-side "Smile", AC Drummer and Clay Drayton began playing full-time for Dee Dee Warwick (sister of Dionne Warwick), which meant the end of the band and the end of Clay's brush with funk music.


However, it was just the beginning of an era that turned out to be even more exciting for Clay Drayton than Soul Excitement had already been.

Marvin Gaye Marvin Gaye
Clay Drayton remembers: "I was playing in Las Vegas with Dee Dee Warwick for six weeks and after three weeks we got a week off and went to Beverly Hills to see Dionne. When I set foot in Hollywood, I knew that I wanted to live there. As soon as the six weeks was over everyone else went back to New Jersey and I moved to Hollywood.
That very day I found an apartment on a side street off of Hollywood Boulevard. As I walked out of the door and started down the street a van drove up and the driver shouted "Clay!".
I looked and it was Mark Davis, the keyboard player we met one year prior at a gig in Chicago.
He asked "Are you living here now?" and I said "Yeah, I just got an apartment".
He asked again "Are you still writing songs?"
"Of course", I answered.
"Well I’m producing Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross, would you like to write for Motown?", he asked."

It's the stuff dreams are made of or, in the words of Clay Drayton, "It was a DIVINE appointment".

Jackson 5

Clay continues: "A short time after that I was on the writing staff at Motown Records, working with some of the best producers in the world. Hal DavisHal Davis: African American songwriter and record producer. One of the key figures in the latter part of The Jackson 5's Motown career. Co-writer and producer of the Jackson 5 hit "I'll Be There", among others would come into the room asking "Anyone got anything for my boys?" (i.e. The Jackson 5). I said "Yeah, I have a few songs", he listened and liked what I had."
As a bass player Mr. Drayton played on many of the Jacksons' sings: "Being a bass player, Joe JacksonJoe Jackson: father and manager of the Jackson 5 and family patriarch asked me to do some things with Jermaine. I also wrote and produced some things on Randy and Janet when they were young. Unfortunately," he says "these things were not released."

Mr. Drayton was also the arranger on "Love Hangover" for Diana Ross. He earned five gold records to his credits on albums from Diana Ross, The Jackson 5, High Inergy and Lenny Williams.
Motown time capsule featuring the song "Love Hangover" by Diana Ross, arranged by Clay Drayton. Year: 1976

20th Century Fox Music

After Motown, Clay Drayton signed with 20th Century Fox Music. He has been president of his own music publishing companies, ClayTam Publishing (with his wife Tami) and Troytiaco Publishing.

Clay is also a member of the Screen Actors GuildScreen Actors Guild (S.A.G.): American labor union representing over 120,000 film and television principal performers and background performers worldwide. According to SAG's Mission Statement, the Guild seeks to: negotiate and enforce collective bargaining agreements that establish equitable levels of compensation, benefits, and working conditions for its performers; collect compensation for exploitation of recorded performances by its members, and provide protection against unauthorized use of those performances; and preserve and expand work opportunities for its members. and has appeared in several commercials, movies and television shows. He has produced Opening Night Productions for several World Conferences, which includes special guests such as M.C. Hammer and Martha Reeves (of Martha and the Vandellas).


Today, Clay Drayton has even ventured into inventing. Clay explains: "As a bass player, many drummers would ask me to stand in front of their bass drum to keep it from sliding. There was no device to stop the drums from sliding. Drummers used all kinds of crazy things to keep the drum in place. Basically drummers have resolved the problem to using heavy carpets or rugs. Then one night I saw this thing floating in a dream. I jumped out of bed and grabbed a piece of paper and started folding it like origami. And there it was."
Clay continues: "I called someone to create a prototype." After the product was fine-tuned and completed it was tried out by Kenny Elliott who at that time was the drummer for Lou Rawls. Clay: "Kenny loved it: "Man this is amazing!" One of the other drummers he had it tried by was Dean Castronovo of Journey. Dean was blown away."
Today, the Phatfoot Drum Harness is made of glass filled Nylon but only weighs less than 2 oz, making it lightweight and durable.

Roland Washington later performed with Larry Young Jr. (jazz organist) and Chris White (bassist). He founded the Bell Telefunk Company band, which after he departed later evolved into The Dazz Band. Roland Washington currently is a producer and co-host at KPOO FM 89.5.
Clay Drayton (right) and his wife Tami Clay Drayton (right) and his wife Tami
A.C. Drummer Jr. has continued to play the guitar. He mainly plays jazz, soul-jazz and jazz-funk and has recorded with Willis Jackson, Lou Donaldson (Jazz Sax) and other artists. He currently lives in North Carolina with his family.
To this day Clay Drayton still plays the bass and can be heard on recordings and during concerts by Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis, Jr. (ex-5th Dimension). Like Billy and Marilyn, Clay and Tami Drayton have lived the title of Soul Excitement's one and only recording and still Stay Together.

Thanks go to Clay Drayton and Roland Washington!


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