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On the Record: Who is the female singer on the Rolling Stones' 'Gimme Shelter'?

On the Record: Who is the female singer on the Rolling Stones' 'Gimme Shelter'?

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Bradford Brady and John Maron

Bradford Brady and John Maron write the weekly On The Record column.

Q: I have always wondered about the man on the cover of John Mellencamp’s album “The Lonesome Jubilee.” Who is he?

A: When the time came to take the photo that would grace the cover of “The Lonesome Jubilee,” photographer Skeeter Hagler found the perfect location in the Midway Tavern in Elnora, Indiana. The only thing missing was a local working-class man to sit beside Mellencamp. The bartender suggested Woody Baker. Baker, a welder and metal fabricator, was brought to the photo site straight from work. Before the photoshoot, Mellencamp asked Baker if he knew who he was, and Baker replied, “I don’t have a clue who you are.” “The Lonesome Jubilee” became a Top Ten hit in 1987, sold millions of copies and made Baker a local celebrity. He died in March 2009 at the age of 94.

Q: Whatever happened to the female singer on the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter”? Did she ever succeed on her own?

A: The distinctive voice you hear on one of the Stones’ best songs is American singer Merry Clayton. Born on Christmas day in 1948 (notice the seasonal spelling of her first name), Clayton made her recording debut at the age of 14 when she sang a duet with Bobby Darin in 1962. She soon established herself as one of the best backup singer in the business. She was a member of Ray Charles’ Raelettes in the early ’60s and also sang backup vocals throughout the ’60s and ’70s on songs by Elvis Presley, Neil Young, Joe Cocker and Tom Jones. In a 2013 interview on National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air,” Clayton recalls getting a late-night phone call from producer Jack Nitzsche asking her to come into the studio to record the backing vocals for the Stones. Despite being heavily pregnant at the time, she did. Unfortunately, not long after she recorded her vocals, she lost her baby due to a miscarriage. She said it was many years before she could listen to the song. She did release a solo album titled “Gimme Shelter,” which included her version of the song. Although she did not have any major hits, she managed to have a few minor R&B hits in the early ’70s. Besides “Gimme Shelter,” her most memorable sessions as a backup singer include appearing on Carole King’s classic album “Tapestry” and singing on Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.” In 1972, Clayton was the first person to play the role of the Acid Queen in a production of The Who’s “Tommy.” Many years later, she acted in the 1987 movie “Maid to Order” and had a recurring role in the final season of “Cagney & Lacey.” In the ’90s, she returned to singing, primarily as a gospel singer, though in recent years she has continued to provide vocals to such artists as G. Love & Special Sauce, Coldplay and Tori Amos, among others.

Q: Is the Mike Patton who released a classical music album the same Mike Patton who was the singer for Faith No More?

A: Believe it or not, he is the same person. Patton lived in Italy in the ’90s and developed a love for Italian pop music of the ’50s and ’60s. His fascination with the music led to a series of concerts with a large orchestra. Fluent in Italian, Patton sang all the songs in their native language.

What’s the name of that song? Where are they now? What does that lyric mean? Send your questions about songs, albums and the musicians who make them to Bradford Brady and John Maron are freelance music writers based in Raleigh, North Carolina.

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