Jimmy Clanton

Jimmy Clanton had a number of top forty pop hits in the late 50's and early 60's. He originally came from Baton Rouge and worked with many of the better Louisiana musicians of the era.

Clanton was born in Baton Rouge in 1940. In the mid-50's he was attending Baton Rouge High School and playing with various bands, including one called the Dixie Cats. He met pianist Dick Holler and joined Holler's group, the Night Trainers, which included Grady Caldwell on bass, Bobby Loveless on tenor sax, and Junior Bergeron on drums. (A decade later Holler would write the hit song Abraham, Martin And John). They made their way to Cosimo Matassa's recording studio in New Orleans, and one day while recording a demo there Matassa brought in recording executive Johnny Vincent. Vincent had recently founded Ace Records in Jackson, Mississippi, was looking for fresh talent, and liked what he saw in Jimmy Clanton. Clanton was signed to Ace Records as a solo act with Matassa as his manager.

Clanton had written a song titled Just A Dream. He recorded it on the Ace label as Jimmy Clanton and His Rockets, with such notables as Mac Rebennack and Allen Toussaint in the session group. The song became a huge hit, selling over a million copies and soaring into the top five nationally in the summer of 1958. Clanton worked with another notable group at Ace, Huey (Piano) Smith and the Clowns, who had a hit of their own earlier that year with Don't You Just Know It as well as with other prominent session musicians such as guitarist Earl King and tenor sax player Lee Allen. The swamp pop singer had a double-sided top forty hit later in 1958 with A Letter To An Angel/A Part Of Me. The following year he recorded My Own True Love, with music taken from Tara's Theme from Gone With The Wind. Clanton appeared on Dick Clark's American Bandstand and performed with Clark's Caravan Of Stars for a time.

Still in his teens, Clanton had hit his stride while recording for Ace Records. Hollywood came calling, and Clanton secured a starring role playing teen idol "Johnny Melody" in the film Go, Johnny, Go!, which also featured Chuck Berry and Alan Freed along with appearances by a number of other prominent recording stars of the day. By January, 1960 Clanton had his second top ten record with the title song from the film, changed slightly to Go, Jimmy, Go. That was followed by Another Sleepless Night, written by Neil Sedaka, the only song recorded by Clanton to meet with mild success in Great Britain.

Jimmy Clanton was signed to appear as the star of his second (and last) movie, once again portraying a teen idol, "Bobby Chalmers." This time his character had a substantial inheritance, and thus the film's title Teen-age Millionaire. Again a number of other current pop stars appeared in the film, but this one was not as good as the first and did not fare as well. He continued recording until he was drafted into the United States Army in 1961, where he served for two years. During that time Ace continued to release his records. One of these was another one written by Sedaka that was to become Clanton's final top forty hit, and final top ten hit. It was Venus In Blue Jeans in the fall of 1962.

Jimmy married his wife Roxanne in 1962. He finished his Army hitch in 1963, and before he could crank up his music career again, the British Invasion swamped the pop music industry. Stars with the appeal of a Jimmy Clanton were no longer de rigueur. He continued working as a singer and toured, and audiences were genuinely glad to see him on his return from the service.

With a growing family, Clanton moved to Pennsylvania. He worked as a disk jockey at WHEX in Lancaster in the 70's. The family moved to Houston and Jimmy made some recordings of spiritual songs in the 80's. He has toured with oldies shows and has continued performing into the twenty-first century.

Jimmy Clanton was one of the big recording stars of the day as pop music was transitioning in the late 50's and early 60's. He maintains a web site at www.jimmyclanton.com. Today his best remembered songs are Just A Dream, Go, Jimmy, Go and Venus In Blue Jeans.

Most Recent Update: June 1, 2009

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Send email to the author, Tom Simon tsimon@tsimon.com.