The opening night film at this year’s Florida Film Festival is the backup singers documentary, “Twenty Feet from Stardom,” and I caught up with filmmaker Morgan Neville and one of his stars, Merry Clayton, before they were off to be feted at the fest.
That’s Merry (right) posing with Darlene Love, another of the semi-anonymous voices who lent studio and onstage support to everyone from Diana Ross to Mick Jagger, Joe Cocker to Tina Turner.
Merry Clayton is a gregarious, prayerful singer and actress, 64, best known for backing up “Some Day, We’ll Be Together” for Ms. Ross, and for that killer solo break in The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.”
She talked about the “community” of singers — pros — who gathered in LA in the ’60s and worked until backup singers of their repute went out of fashion in the late 1980s. Neville, a music buff, marveled at her place within that small world, and complained that he had so many anecdotes and so much footage that he needed to do another film just to give them all their due. Clayton started with Ray Charles as “a Baby Raelette,” and sang on Joe Cocker’s “Feelin’ Alright,” Carole King’s “Tapestry” album (cutting tracks, she said, on her way out to dinner) and many a legendary recording of that era.
She worked with “my protege,” Tori Amos, and took the stage as the original Acid Queen in “Tommy.”
She sang “Yes” in “Dirty Dancing,” and her solo records will be re-released when the movie comes out to take advantage of its “coattails.”
The movie opens in June, but if you get the chance, catch them opening night here. She’s a hoot.