Francis Clay was the definite blues drummer who played drums in the Muddy Waters band during its heyday in the late 1950s, then rejoined Waters in 1965 for a stint of almost two years, thus solidifying his enduring contribution to the Blues.
Clay was born in Rock Island, a riverside town on the Mississippi in northwest Illinois. His father, a waiter, was also a keen amateur musician. Attracted to the drums by seeing an uncle's set, he began to teach himself on a homemade kit, and by the age of 15 was playing professionally with a jazz band.
After further apprenticeship in orchestras and a brief stint as a booking agent, he moved in 1947 to Chicago, where he worked with trumpeter King Kolax and saxophonist Gene Ammons. For a few months he fronted a band of his own, an experience that, he said, deterred him from bandleading for the rest of his life.
In 1957, his friend Marcus Johnson, who played saxophone with Waters, tipped him off that his leader needed a drummer for an engagement in Cleveland, Ohio. With no time to rehearse, Clay found the band's routines baffling. Within a couple of nights, however, he was at home with the music, and he remained the band's drummer for four years. The spell included an appearance at the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival, which proved a momentous occasion for the future of the blues, since the resulting album, “Muddy Waters at Newport,” containing songs such as “Got My Mojo Working” and “I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man,” became a primary resource for the nascent British rhythm & blues movement, and a huge influence on a whole generation of musicians which followed.