Sonny Clay

William Rogers Campbell "Sonny" Clay (May 15, 1899, Chapel Hill, Texas - April 13, 1973, Los Angeles) was an American jazz pianist, drummer, and bandleader, who had an unusual impact on the development of Australian jazz.

Clay's family moved to Phoenix when he was eight years old; he played drums and xylophone early in life. From 1915 he studied piano, playing with Charlie Green and Jelly Roll Morton in Mexico around 1920. He drummer for Reb Spikes in California in 1921, and had his first recording experience backing Camille Allen in 1922. Later that year he played with Kid Ory at the Hiawatha Dancing Academy in Los Angeles.

In 1923 he formed his own band, the Eccentric Harmony Six; this ensemble recorded on Vocalion Records as the California Poppies in 1923 and the Stompin' Six in 1925. He also performed under the band names Plantation Orchestra and Hartford Ballroom Orchestra. His band scored a regular gig broadcasting on radio stations KNX in 1925 and KFI in 1926.

In 1928 Clay took his band (billed as Sonny Clay's Colored Idea) on a tour of Australia, with Ivie Anderson (later a vocalist with Duke Ellington) as one of the singers accompanying the orchestra. The group played in Sydney and Melbourne to great success, but problems with unions and with venue changes (their initial bookings were on vaudeville stages, but additional dates in dance halls led them into race-related trouble with local authorities) resulted in their gaining some notoriety. As rumors of drug use and miscegenation between the black band members and white women flew, the group was subject to a police raid which became a national press sensation. As a result, Clay and his band were deported and the Australian government resolved to bar the entry of all black musicians into the country, a ban which kept Louis Armstrong from touring the country until 1954.

Upon Clay's return, he held a residency at the Vernon County Club in Los Angeles, then broke up this band and formed a new one, which counted Teddy Buckner and Les Hite among its members. Clay played solo and led bands until 1941, at which time he led a band as a member of the Special Services Division. He retired from music in the 1940s but returned around 1960 to record solo and play in clubs.

Birth and Death Data: Born May 15th, 1899 (Texas), Died April 13th, 1973

Date Range of DAHR Recordings: 1925 - 1927

Roles Represented in DAHR: leader, composer, songwriter, piano

Recordings

Company Matrix No. Size First Recording Date Title Primary Performer Description Role Audio
Brunswick 15699 10-in. May 1925 Roamin’ around Cinderella Roof Orchestra ; Herb Wiedoeft Jazz/dance band composer  
Brunswick E16653-E16656 10-in. 10/12/1925 Why was it you Cinderella Roof Orchestra ; Herb Wiedoeft Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo songwriter  
Brunswick E16657-E16659 10-in. 10/12/1925 Honolulu dreams Cinderella Roof Orchestra ; Herb Wiedoeft Jazz/dance band songwriter  
Brunswick LAE5 10-in. Dec. 1927 Ghost of the Black Bottom Sonny Clay Orchestra Jazz/dance band composer, leader  
Brunswick LAE6 10-in. Dec. 1927 St. Louis blues Sonny Clay Orchestra Jazz/dance band leader  
Brunswick LAE8 10-in. Dec. 1927 Devil’s serenade Sonny Clay Orchestra Jazz/dance band composer, leader  
Brunswick LAE10 10-in. Dec. 1927 In my dreams (I’m jealous of you) Sonny Clay Orchestra Jazz/dance band leader  
Brunswick LAE11 10-in. Dec. 1927 Australian stomp Sonny Clay Orchestra Jazz/dance band leader, composer  
Brunswick LAE13 10-in. Dec. 1927 Darktown shuffle Sonny Clay Orchestra Jazz/dance band leader  
Brunswick LA13-LA15 10-in. May 1925 Roamin’ around Cinderella Roof Orchestra ; Herb Wiedoeft Jazz/dance band composer  
Brunswick LA49-LA52 10-in. May 1925 Honolulu dreams Cinderella Roof Orchestra ; Herb Wiedoeft Jazz/dance band songwriter  
Brunswick LA57-LA60 10-in. May 1925 Why was it you Cinderella Roof Orchestra ; Herb Wiedoeft Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo songwriter  
Brunswick LA89-LA91 10-in. Jan. 1926 Plantation blues Sonny Clay’s Plantation Orchestra Jazz/dance band composer, leader  
Brunswick LA92-LA94 10-in. Jan. 1926 Chicago breakdown Sonny Clay’s Plantation Orchestra Jazz/dance band leader  
Brunswick LA112-LA114 10-in. Aug. 1926 Slow motion blues Sonny Clay’s Plantation Orchestra Jazz/dance band composer, leader  
Brunswick LA119-LA121 10-in. Aug. 1926 California stomp Sonny Clay’s Plantation Orchestra Jazz/dance band leader  
Brunswick 999W 10-in. May 1925 Jambled blues Sonny Clay’s Plantation Orchestra Jazz/dance band leader  
Brunswick 1000W 10-in. May 1925 Bogaloosa blues Sonny Clay’s Plantation Orchestra Jazz/dance band leader  

Citation

Discography of American Historical Recordings, s.v. "Clay, Sonny," accessed November 27, 2021, https://adp.library.ucsb.edu/names/105981.

Clay, Sonny. (2021). In Discography of American Historical Recordings. Retrieved November 27, 2021, from https://adp.library.ucsb.edu/names/105981.

"Clay, Sonny." Discography of American Historical Recordings. UC Santa Barbara Library, 2021. Web. 27 November 2021.

DAHR Persistent Identifier

URI: https://adp.library.ucsb.edu/names/105981

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