Otis Clay, at age 71 still a powerful singer pulling together the traditions of gospel, blues, and soul, has not forgotten where he came from. One eye on the tough realities in the community, the other on a vision  of how things can be,  he keeps on pushing. 

Clay’s soul-singing career began in the mid-1960s with George Leaner’s One-derful label in Chicago, around Harold Burrage and other talented West Side blues and soul musicians and producers.  He followed with a series of hit singles including “Trying to Live My Life without You”, produced for Hi Records by Willie Mitchell in Memphis. Otis just kept going over the last 40 years, singing around the world and recording for Cotillion, Kayvette, Elka and Rounder records. 

He issued his recent disc, “Truth Is,” on his own label, Echo, aiming to present classic R&B for new audiences with help from an all-star team of Chicago soul veterans: arranger Thomas “Tom Tom” Washington and saxophonists Gene Barge and Willie Henderson. 

At the same time, Otis is active in a nonprofit community service group, People for a New Direction, contributing to education of children on the West Side.  The group of business and religious leaders provides scholarships and offers youth alternatives to life on the streets.

“I travel all over the world, and there are some children who never leave their neighborhoods,” Clay said. “So we send them to museums. We want to expose them to a lot of things that keep them away from getting into trouble.”

“When you can do something to make a difference, you do it. What does it take? Time? Well, God gave you the time; you’re going to be here — do it,” he told the Chicago Tribune in a New Year’s interview:


“There’s not a generations gap. There’s a communications gap. And we’re out to change it,” he added in a longer interview in the on-line magazine Blues Blast:


Bonni McKeown

"Barrelhouse Bonni" McKeown, the author of "West Side Blues Blog," has played piano and written about blues music for over 15 years. www.barrelhousebonni.com  She has led classes for young and old on...