Blood Sweat and Tears
By David Clayton-Thomas
Bruce Ward, The Ottawa Citizen
Sept. 5, 2010
As a singer, David Clayton-Thomas made his rep in the bars on Yonge Street back when Ronnie Hawkins and his band ruled Toronto’s downtown strip. The top bars — Le Coq d’Or and Friar’s Tavern — were tough joints where Hamilton steelworkers would start fights on Saturday night at the slightest provocation, real or imagined. Clayton-Thomas was as tough as any of them.
David had spent the bulk of his teenage years in jail, mostly for the crime of being poor and having nowhere to go. He left his home in Willowdale at 15, after enduring years of horrific beatings at the hands of his violently alcoholic father.
After serving two years in a Guelph reformatory, David soon graduated to penitentiary. At 17, David was sentenced to four years in the notorious Burwash Industrial Farm. The prison was located in northern Ontario’s bush country, “thirty miles from Sudbury and a thousand miles from nowhere,” as Clayton-Thomas writes in his autobiography Blood Sweat and Tears, a remarkable story of redemption.
Clayton-Thomas writes with wry humour and grace in a straightforward style that’s as subtle as a split lip. The reader
always feels he’s getting the straight goods. Remarkably, there’s no bitterness in the book, and not a single whining note despite everything Clayton-Thomas has endured — in his personal life, and in the record biz.
This wouldn’t be a proper rock star story unless the band had a life-changing encounter with drugs and the singer was cheated by his lawyer. Both happened to Clayton-Thomas. He gave up drugs after a band member died in Amsterdam. And he had to start his career again after learning that his fortune had vanished, thanks to a crooked lawyer who lived like a rock star on Clayton-Thomas’s money.
He was married four times. When it came to a choice between love and career, Clayton-Thomas always chose career. “In my mind it was the only thing standing between me and where I came from, and I wasn’t going back.”
His book is honest and unflinching. It reveals a man who is tough and cynical, funny as hell, but also vulnerable and insecure. Haunted by his violent childhood, Clayton-Thomas turned himself into a music legend.
That’s worth much more than a standing ovation.
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