Q

Legendary backup singer Merry Clayton makes her comeback after life-altering car accident

Merry Clayton joined Q’s Tom Power to discuss her first solo album in more than 25 years, Beautiful Scars, which she made in the aftermath of a near-fatal car accident in 2014 that took both her legs.

‘I'm just over the moon about this record,' says Clayton about her latest release, Beautiful Scars

Merry Clayton joined Q’s Tom Power to discuss her first solo album in more than 25 years, Beautiful Scars, which she made in the aftermath of a near-fatal car accident in 2014 that took both her legs. (Mathieu Bitton)

Merry Clayton has worked with so many legends that she's become a legend herself.

In 2013, the backup singer's story was featured in the Oscar-winning documentary 20 Feet from Stardom, about the music industry's unsung heroes. A year later, Clayton survived a devastating car accident that resulted in the amputation of her legs below the knees.

After a long period of rehab, she's now released her first solo record in more than 25 years, Beautiful Scars. In a recent interview on CBC Radio's Q, Clayton told host Tom Power she feels "incredibly blessed and favoured."

"I'm just over the moon about this record and very happy that I can give the people my testament as to how I came through, and that they can really come through too," said the singer.

'I always knew that God was in control'

On the day of the accident, Clayton said she had gone out for a meeting. She would return home five months later in a wheelchair.

The singer remembers waking up in the hospital surrounded by her family and friends, when a group of doctors came in to deliver the crushing news.

I said, 'Well, if nothing happened to my voice then I'm sure I'll be fine.'- Merry Clayton

"[One doctor said], 'In order to save your life, we had to amputate from the knee down,'" she recalled. "I said, 'Well, if nothing happened to my voice then I'm sure I'll be fine.' Now, where that came from, I don't know. And then I started to sing [I Can Still Shine]."

Clayton, who grew up singing in church, credits her faith in God for her endlessly positive spirit

"In going through that, I always knew that God was in control," she told Power. "I always knew that He would bring me through. I didn't know how, I didn't know when, I didn't know why, but I knew that He would bring me through it."

Beautiful Scars

Clayton was reluctant to start singing again professionally until she was approached by her longtime friend, famed record producer Lou Adler, who encouraged her to use her voice.

"What he was doing was preparing me for something to look forward to," she explained. "So finally, you know, after I was home for seven months, that's when I got the call from Chris Martin from Coldplay."

Martin wanted to know if Clayton would consider providing backup vocals on the band's 2015 album, A Head Full of Dreams. They gushed over her voice, saying it was as clear as a bell. That, combined with Adler's support, gave Clayton the confidence to create Beautiful Scars.

The gospel album features classic covers plus new songs written by the Coldplay frontman, songwriter Diane Warren and more.

But no matter what Clayton sings — whether it's Gimme Shelter by the Rolling Stones or Lynyrd Skynyrd's Sweet Home Alabama — she said her music has "always been gospel."

LISTEN | Merry Clayton on Southern Man and Sweet Home Alabama:

Legendary singer Merry Clayton talks about her cover of Neil Young’s protest song Southern Man, which decries racism in the American South. She also sang backup vocals on Lynyrd Skynyrd's Sweet Home Alabama — a song written in response to Young’s track. 6:17

"It comes out gospel — it just comes out gospel!" she said. "You know, if you play any of my records, you gonna hear some church in that record."

Clayton's faith and resilience can be heard on Beautiful Scars, which is available everywhere now.


Hear Tom Power's full interview with Merry Clayton near the top of this page.

Written by Vivian Rashotte. Interview produced by Jane van Koeverden.

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