The Story Behind the Making of ‘Gimme Shelter’
I'm a huge Rolling Stones fan and one of my absolute favorite songs from the band is 'Gimme Shelter' off 1969's "Let it Bleed" album. The haunting, foreboding nature of the track is reflected in both the band's performance and the vocals of Mick Jagger and.... well, who is that female vocalist?
For many years I didn't have an answer to that question, even after numerous conversations with high school and college friends (and more in the years since then). Thanks to a Tweet from Monday night I have a name: Merry Clayton. It turns out the story behind the recording is even more interesting.
First, take a listen to the isolated vocals of Clayton. Powerful stuff:
A post at OpenCulture describes the circumstances of the why, how, and when of Clayton's performance. On that night:
Clayton sang with such emotional force that her voice cracked. (“I was just grateful that the crack was in tune,” she told Gross.) In the isolated vocal track above, you can hear the others in the studio shouting in amazement. Despite giving what would become the most famous performance of her career, it turned out to be a tragic night for Clayton. Shortly after leaving the studio, she lost her baby in a miscarriage.
The Los Angeles Times caught up with Clayton back in 1986 to find out more on her story. She told the paper:
“That was a dark, dark period for me, but God gave me the strength to overcome it. I turned it around. I took it as life, love and energy and directed it in another direction, so it doesn’t really bother me to sing ‘Gimme Shelter’ now."
An amazing song with, as it turns out, an amazing back story.