Willie Clayton, Charles Wilson performing LIVE at Orpheum on Saturday

Duo headlining Mother's Day Southern Soul Festival

Tony Jones | 5/6/2016, 1:35 p.m.
Duo headlining Mother's Day Southern Soul Festival.
Willie Clayton and Charles Wilson headline the Mother's Day Southern Soul Festival Saturday night, May 7, at the Orpheum.

Southern soul artist Willie Clayton, headliner for the Mother’s Day Southern Soul Festival this Saturday at the Orpheum, says that his fans and fans of “real” soul music won’t want to miss this concert.

“This is really going to be a special night for me because Memphis has always supported me,” Clayton said in a phone interview from his Chicago home. “It’s been so long since I have actually played a show in Memphis that I cannot wait to get there and show my appreciation to the fans there and for everything Memphis has meant to me, my music and my career.”

When I spoke to him, he said he was just wrapping up his daily 3.5 mile walk to keep his voice in shape. He said he was tired, but the more he started talking about what Memphis means to him personally, the more his energy rose and the stories just came pouring out.

“People have driven 60, 70, even a 100 miles to see me,” he continued. “We’ve been near Memphis, close to Memphis, or just right outside of Memphis, but it’s been a long time since I’ve actually played in Memphis. This is really personal for me. If you’ve ever liked Willie Clayton you don’t want to miss this one.”

Though lesser known in popular R & B, Clayton is a legend in Southern Soul, with a string of hits dating back to the 1980s. His work with Willie Mitchell at Hi Records yielded his first major chart action. Over the decades, he eventually built a large catalogue he goes to for his crowd-pleasing live shows. He says fans should expect the unexpected at his Orpheum performance.

“Thank God I have a strong list of hit records,” he said. “You might think I’m about to hit you with I Love Me Some You, but then I might just jump into Boom, Boom, Boom. You might think I’m going to hit you with My Baby’s Cheating On Me, or Shake Your Money Maker, and then I’ll come at you with Wiggle In The Middle or Party Like We Used To, or…”

The list continued, and Clayton even named off the one that got him started, recorded at Hi

There’s Three People Sleeping In My Bed. “That’s the difference that makes real soul music,” he smiled. “We play music. My band can do it all.”

Clayton has been wowing audiences for decades. He seemed especially excited about performing at The Orpheum.

“It’s such a beautiful place,” Clayton said. “They’re such beautiful rooms that it brings something extra to a show. I’m always ready to bring my A-game, but they bring out the A plus-plus for the performers and the audience.”

Delving into the Memphis connection opens up the discussion about a growing image associated with Clayton —“the last man standing.” Since the 1970s, Clayton has worked with the likes of Ron Isley, Bobby Womack and Marvin Gaye. Now he stands nearly alone, facing a new generation.

“I’m telling you,” he said, “this is going to be a real one at the Orpheum for Mother’s Day. We’re going to leave some real memories on that stage that night.”