Singer-songwriter Roy Ruiz Clayton says he’s the “onetime King of Jurupa Hills Elementary School in Fontana, California...my best gig was as a drummer in the fourth grade, for the band Albert and the Exterminators. Everyone else in the group was in the sixth grade. On Fridays, we got to go around to the other classes and play. Once, we played for the high school. My teacher was a beatnik who picked me to do a lot of stuff, and what she told me about painting is a profound secret that I still use today.”
“[I] peaked at 12. Went on to become potter in residence at Mission San Diego de Alcalá and voted greatest singer-songwriter on earth by the Sanctified Soldiers for the Transfiguration of Light Brotherhood. I am also a painter that the same three people voted best on earth!”
Clayton moved on his own to San Diego at age 16. “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.”
As for his musical evolution from grade school drummer, he says “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, he says some songs seem to sum up his own life. Such as “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.”
His album New Army of Ragged Angels was released in September 2010, featuring guest players Marc Ford (Black Crowes), Jason Yates (Ben Harper’s Innocent Criminals), and Grammy Award winner Chris Goldsmith.
“I knew Chris when he was a kid, and he waited ‘til he grew up to make my album,” says Clayton. “T Bone Burnette said my song ‘Everyone’s a Detective’ is one of the best songs ever written, but I went with Chris instead and he put together this band in Los Angeles. Jason played with us in the tracking session at Stagg Street Studio in LA. Marc Ford came in a few days later and slathered his rock and roll guitar leads on a couple of tracks for us, so I painted his record cover for him.”
His own album’s cover art was painted by Clayton himself. “If I hadn’t become a musician, I’d be an even more poorly paid painter.”
Peter Bolland says: “Watch this loud. If you don’t know Roy Ruiz Clayton, prepare to be swept up in a delirious whirlwind of driving Americana mastery. Part Kerouac, part Guthrie, laid over a smoldering bed of country rock blues. Ain’t no one quite like Roy Ruiz Clayton.”