Clydie King, a backup singer for Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, the Rolling Stones, and many others, died in Los Angeles on Jan. 7. She was 75.
King’s friend, Rudy Calvo, confirmed the singer’s death to Rolling Stone, following several days of social media posts that lacked confirmation. The cause of death was not available.
During her time, King was one of the most in-demand backup session singers, reported Rolling Stone. “I don’t remember all the people who I sung for,” she said in a 1971 interview. She estimated that by then she’d sung on 300 records.
Clydie King, the unsung backup singer who sang on dozens of classic songs and who Bob Dylan called his "ultimate singing partner," has died at age 75 https://t.co/QC0d2Gu2RS pic.twitter.com/RvWRjXTkKl
— Rolling Stone (@RollingStone) January 10, 2019
Born in Dallas, Texas, on Aug. 21, 1943, King learned how to sing in her church choir. Her family moved to Los Angeles, where she began singing professionally in her teens. She made her first single, “A Casual Look”/”Oh Me,” for the RPM label in 1954, under the name Little Clydie King and the Teens, according to Best Classical Bands.
Over the next decade, she regularly put out singles under her own name. She also spent three years as one of Ray Charles’s Raelettes, singing with fellow session singer Merry Clayton on such songs as “In the Heat of the Night,” Somebody Ought to Write a Book About It” and “Eleanor Rigby.”
“We thought we knew how to sing, but he [Ray Charles] taught us both how to do it in a group,” Clayton told Rolling Stone. “We learned to do what we do and how to be a beautiful woman and how to stand and sit.”
After three years, King left Charles to travel less and spend more time with her children. In the late 1960s and throughout the next decade, she became one of the go-to voices.
In 1974, Clayton got a call from King about a last-minute session. It would be Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.” At first, Clayton refused to do the song. “I said, ‘I’m not singing about Alabama! I remember those poor little girls killed by racists!'” but King talked her into it. After the session, King told Clayton, “We did our part and this song will live in infamy, Merry. And we’ll continually get paid.”
King also sang on albums by Steely Dan, Humble Pie, Joe Walsh, Phil Oachs, Carly Simon, Neil Diamond, Ringo Starr, as well as Rolling Stones’ “Exile on Main Street.” She also sang in the soundtrack to Barbra Streisand’s “A Star is Born,” where she also made an appearance in the film as one of the Oreos alongside Venetta Fields.
Singing with Bob Dylan
She also recorded with Bob Dylan in his born-again years. “She was my ultimate singing partner,” Dylan told Rolling Stone. “No one ever came close. We were two soulmates.”
She first worked with Dylan on the 1970 album “New Morning,” with other members of the Blackberries, but that session remained a one-off at the time, reported Best Classical Bands. It wasn’t until 1980 that King became a regular member of Dylan’s crew, during his Christian-music period. King took part in one of Dylan’s tours and then contributed to several studio tracks that fall.
Her years on the road, which can be seen and heard in the 2017 “Trouble No More” boxed set, cemented her reputation as a session singer. She can also be heard in the last two records of Dylan’s gospel trilogy, “Saved” and “Shot of Love.” Dylan would often perform duets during the shows; their renditions of “Heart of Mine” and Jimmy Webb’s “Let’s Begin” was a highlight of that era, reported Rolling Stone. King later recorded with Dylan for the “Infidel” album and continued to work with him in the studio through March 1984.
— bobdylan.com (@bobdylan) November 2, 2017
In recent years, King stopped recording to deal with unspecified health issues. Clayton remembers her as sweet, but tough. “She knew how to put you in your place, but she was so sweet you didn’t know you were there until a week later,” Clayton said.
While King never became a household name, her versatile vocals contributed to the advancement of classic rock, R&B, blues, and pop. Her voice lives on in all the albums she sang on.