Remembering Clay Otis
How often do you catch yourself thinking about the massive number of people creating new content? It’s no secret that we live in a time where the ability to share your passion with strangers is more accessible than it has ever been. It seems like everyone and their cousin is a photographer, musician, rapper, blogger and so on. At the very least we’re all out here sharing, creating or becoming memes.
I think a lot about immortality. Not in the physical sense but the immortality of ideas and art. Good art deserves to be passed around and shared. Unfortunately even the best art often gets lost in the static and noise of everything begging for our attention. For the artist I believe this just means keeping your head down and doing your thing. Eventually people will notice or if they don’t then you still got to spend your life doing something you care about. But when a great artist passes before having an opportunity to make a large impact outside of their community it becomes the responsibility of the people who love their work to bring it to others. In this way the beauty they created can continue. And that is where Clay Otis comes in.
The music scene in Memphis is an ever evolving cast of characters. It’s a tight knit group of people grinding it out and all too often flying below the radar. Of all the different bands and people making music in this city, Clay Otis was one of the most enigmatic and talented. He had a way about him that was immediately accessible even to the most cynical. Within seconds of meeting he could effortlessly pull you into a discussion about your interests and provide you with encouragement and a genuine belief in why you should pursue your dreams whatever they may be. Below the surface there was also a man in touch with the deprecation and self doubt that plagues almost all creative types.
In addition to being kind and supportive Clay was also a brilliant lyricist and a captivating performer. Some nights, if you were lucky you’d find him with his band the ADDults stomping around the Buccaneer passionately singing and screaming into a mic while banging his head until he knocked his hat off, stopping only occasionally between songs to put the hat back on or to tell the crowd that the next song was by his writing partner, Luke White.
Clay passed away in late October leaving behind a number of friends as well as several musical and artistic partnerships that will continue to carry his spirit of enthusiasm to the world. His death has been felt deeply in Memphis even to those who knew him only as a talented performer. In a celebration of his life a number of the musicians Clay knew and loved are getting together tonight at the Hi-Tone in Memphis to perform many of his songs.
The records made by Clay Otis stand out against the static in an ocean of creators. I don’t want to see the talent he brought into this world limited only to those who knew him or got to see him perform. So I want to share him with anyone who will listen and if you grow to love his work as much as I do, I hope you will do the same. I have confidence that in time his name will be one that is pointed to as influential by people who may have never had the privilege of meeting him.
If you haven’t heard an album of his yet then his most recent release “Addults” is a great starting place. Recorded with his longtime collaborators Toby Vest and Pete Matthews at High/Low Recording with an incredible stable of Memphis talent backing him up “Addults” is a record that immediately captures a sense and feeling of emotions ranging from compassion to anger before concluding with empathy for the stark differences that can exist between family members. It is essential listening for anyone who is interested in the current climate of the Memphis music scene.
Give "Addults" a listen and maybe Clay will be able to encourage you through his music the same way he has encouraged so many people through his life.
Photo: Daniel Clarke