Cass Clayton grew up in Nebraska where she learned about music through her father who she says was obsessed with it, particularly blues and jazz. She remembers that he had a wall lined with records.
“That played in the house a lot,” Clayton says. “The initial stuff I listened to was old blues and not just any type of blues. My dad liked Chicago blues and hill country blues and Mississippi stuff.”
It was a unique musical education, particularly in a state where the radio stations stuck primarily to country music in the 1980s.
“My dad would take us to a lot of shows before I was of drinking age,” she says. “He would say, ‘She just wants to see the show.’ I saw Albert Collins when he came through Nebraska. I saw BB King for my 13th birthday. I saw Stevie Ray Vaughn before I was 20.”
Clayton has lived in Lafayette for many years and recently bought a home in the country southeast of Longmont.
Clayton currently sings in the Cass Clayton Band and got her start as a frontwoman about eight years ago when a friend’s band lost its lead singer. Prior to that, her main performance experience was singing in the school choir. The friend had a show coming up and needed someone to fill in. He thought she was talented and bugged her to try out.
“He said, ‘You should audition for our band,’” she recalls. “I’m like, ‘Dude, I don’t sing in front of people.’”
Eventually, she was coaxed into giving it a try and it worked out. That gig led to the Cass Clayton Band a few years later. She’s since picked up the slide guitar and spent thousands of hours learning it.
She’s currently joined by Taylor Scott, Dann Burke, Lorne Phillips, Steve Saviano and Andras Csapo.
“You find the people you love to play with and you get each other,” she says. “It’s evolved into kind of a permanent band. There are versions of that. Everyone has nine projects because of COVID. They are trying to make a living and a lot of my band members play in other bands.”
According to her website, the band’s new album, “Play Nice,” was the No. 1 R&B album in the U.S. for 11 weeks in 2019 and 2020 (Roots Music Report). Their previous self-titled album (released May, 2018) won Album of the Year (Colorado Blues Society Members’ Choice Awards). Clayton has also been voted as one of the top three vocalists and top three slide guitar players in Colorado. CCB has been featured on radio stations and magazines worldwide.
Clayton says the band has a thread running through its sound of blues, funk, soul and rock with a little bit of old gospel thrown in. She doesn’t follow any set formula, and says her music can veer into the singer/songwriter territory and even have a little bit of country vibes sometimes. She likes to think of her sound as “non-denominational.” She says that approach allows her and her bandmates to stay true to themselves.
“A non-denominational church follows the spiritual aspect of it rather than having to look like a certain religion,” she says. “To me, the music is following the spiritual aspect of it. … I’ve never had to say, ‘We can’t do this song because the manager won’t like it,’ or, ‘We have have to stay on the rock thing and write a rock song for this album.’”
The band’s upcoming single, “We Are All Going Down,” tackles the authority people hand over to organized religion and how people in positions of power in those institutions hide their own bad habits and vices. Clayton, taking inspiration from her own life, wrote the lyrics and fellow musician Taylor Scott composed the music.
Clayton says, as a child, she often went to a “hellfire and brimstone” Baptist church with her grandmother. Her father didn’t care for church and was a drinker and party guy, judged harshly by the church. She recalls noticing that the pastor at the church wasn’t a very nice guy. His wife was afraid of him, and she began to question why the pastor had the right to be so judgemental of everyone else.
“The entire point of the Bible talks about not judging,” she says. “You cannot possibly know what’s going on with someone else. My dad happened to be an extremely amazing human being with a drinking problem. I just started to realize we’ve all got something that we are hiding.”
One of the first places many people learn to follow an authority figure is church, and Clayton adds that as she wrote, she also thought about authority and how it can be harmful to humanity in general. She’s always tried to do her own thing and not just follow any authority figure blindly, whether that be the government, a teacher, a pastor. She tried to impart this wisdom to her daughter as well. She adds that the song is not anti-religion, but she is bashing the church. It comes from a place of being “anti-false authority.”
“I really struggle with how many people are saying yes to things that may not serve humanity just because they’ve been told, ‘Hey, this is the right thing to do,” she says. “You can’t just go around rebelling, but if it feels wrong, always say no. That’s what that song is about.”
She adds that she likes to write about topics that white women from the suburbs aren’t supposed to touch – the propensity of the world to try to stuff women into categories that don’t reflect them as a whole person. It helps her work through her own drama and she generally feels better afterward.
“There are so many things that politely you’re not supposed to say, but in art, then it’s perfectly OK because it’s art,” she says. “I think a lot of artists, whether they are visual artists or musicians, are saying something they wouldn’t otherwise get to talk about.”