Folk troubadour Roy Ruiz Clayton was raised in the steel-mill town of Fontana, California, before moving on his own to San Diego at age 16.
“I started writing songs while playing guitar at an early age because I really couldn’t pull off singing other people’s songs,” says Clayton. “So, I concentrated on writing powerful lyrics and worked on crafting my own sound.”
In his teens in the early ’70s, Clayton began performing on “hoot night” at the Heritage Coffeehouse in Mission Beach, where future famous neighbor Tom Waits was the doorman.
“One night, in a back room of the Heritage, Waits played me a Ramblin’ Jack Elliott record, and its sound would change my life. I found I could sound like Elliott, so I just kind of turned into him for a while. Which made me very unpopular in school. I figured out it was weird to walk around being Ramblin’ Jack, so I dropped that part and just kept writing songs styled for my own voice.” Clayton first came to local attention back in the ’80s, playing an acoustic-themed nightclub in Leucadia called the Old Time Café.
Now a seasoned vet of San Diego’s folk and blues scene, his current album New Army of Ragged Angels, released in September, was produced by local Grammy Award–winning knob-twister Chris Goldsmith (of Karl Denson, Charlie Musselwhite, the Blind Boys of Alabama). Featuring guest players Marc Ford (the Black Crowes) and Jason Yates (Ben Harper’s Innocent Criminals), the album’s cover art was painted by Clayton himself.
“If I hadn’t become a musician,” says Clayton, “I’d be an even more poorly paid painter.”
WHAT’S IN YOUR CD PLAYER?
1) “The kid next door borrowed my CD player a while back, and he jammed it up with a Fudgesicle, so that’s what’s in there now.”
2) “There’s actually a Bruce Springsteen and a Sting CD the kid put in there, too. I can deal with the Fudgesicle, but the Boss and Sting? I think the overabundance of CDs they’ve released is the cause of all the problems in the world. If we can get them to stop releasing so many albums, the world will finally begin healing itself.”
BEST LOCAL CONCERT?
“The Rolling Stones at Petco Park, because my neighbor is the head groundskeeper there. After my sister Nikki passed away, I scattered some of her ashes in centerfield. The only thing Nikki ever listened to was the Rolling Stones. So, when they played there, the stage was right on top of her ashes.”
“It was a funeral where nobody seemed to mind much that the guy was dead. The dead guy’s wife danced very suggestively at the reception! Actually, that might be my best gig.”
YOUR CINEMATIC GOLDEN TURKEY AWARD GOES TO?
“Good Will Hunting. There’s no way Ben Affleck and what’s-his-name [Matt Damon] wrote that movie script.”
WHAT’S ON YOUR BUCKET LIST TO DO BEFORE YOU DIE?
“To arm-wrestle Leonard Cohen.”
WHAT SONG BEST DESCRIBES YOUR LIFE?
“‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.’ It was written for Nina Simone, and I hear Elvis Costello also did a version, but I always hear it in my head as done by Eric Burdon & the Animals. ‘Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood’ is a line I relate to and love so much. But I don’t understand why.”
POOREST YOU’VE EVER BEEN?
“In high school, I lived in a laundry room in a house with some college guys. They didn’t have a washer and dryer, so it wasn’t as crowded in that room as one might think.”
THREE THINGS WE DON’T KNOW ABOUT YOU?
1) “I can bilocate. There are stories about other people who could appear in two places at once. I used the concept in my song ‘Collar to the Wind.’”
2) “I started my own holy order, Sanctified Soldiers for the Transfiguration of Light, which anyone can join. Except this one guy I know.”
3) “Having a stroke made me give up the art of juggling.” ■