Otis Clay, “Trying to Live My Life Without You” soul singer and Blues Hall of Fame inductee, passed away Friday in Chicago following a heart attack. Clay was 73. His management confirmed Clay’s death on his official site, asking fans to “please keep the Clay family in your prayers.”
Clay’s longtime collaborator Billy Price told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Saturday following the singer’s passing, “After the shock of this wore off a little, I was left with a feeling of gratitude to have known him. I had the opportunity to sing with him and to learn from one of the true masters of the genre I work in. We first sang together in 1983, and I have so many memories of the great shows we did together over the years.” Clay and Price released their This Time for Real in 2015.
The Mississippi-born Clay ventured into the music world with gospel vocal groups before branching out to secular music in the mid-Sixties. After signing with Chicago label One-derful! Records, Clay nabbed R&B hits with 1967’s “That’s How It Is (When You’re In Love)” and “A Lasting Love.” Following a move to Atlantic Records’ Cauldron subsidiary, Clay recorded a version of the Sir Douglas Quintet’s “She’s About a Mover” at Muscle Shoals, Alabama’s FAME Studios.
Clay next teamed with Al Green producer Willie Mitchell at Memphis-based Hi Records in 1971, resulting in Clay’s biggest hit, “Trying to Live My Life Without You”; nearly a decade later, Bob Seger would climb the Hot 100 with his own version of the single. Similarly, Clay’s 1980 single “The Only Way Is Up” would be the inspiration for Yazz’s U.K. chart-topping cover in 1988.
“My life always has been a combination of things musically,” Clay told the Chicago Tribune in 2013. “Every Saturday night I listened to the Grand Ole Opry. During the day, later on, you listened to (radio) coming out of Memphis. During the noonday, at 12 o’clock, we listened to Sonny Boy Williamson, coming out of Helena, Arkansas, and I’m listening to Vaughn Monroe and Rosemary Clooney and listening to Hank Williams and Roy Acuff.”
Clay continued to record and perform live in the ensuing decades, including contributing a cover of “Wild Horses” to the Rolling Stones tribute comp Paint it Blue in 1997 and scoring a 2008 Grammy nomination in the Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance category for “Walk a Mile in My Shoes.” In 2014, Clay appeared in the Memphis-centric music documentary Take Me to the River. Clay was a 2013 inductee into the Blues Hall of Fame.