A native of Houston, Clay Melton is a singer, songwriter, and guitarist.
Photo: Trish Badger
Clay Melton remembers the exact moment he wanted to play the guitar. He was 10 years old and drove his father’s truck in Northwest Houston. His father played Jimi Hendrix’s version on “All Along the Watchtower”. The kid was immediately drawn to, but in the middle of the song something else happened.
“The solo blew me away,” says Melton. “That slide guitar part that didn’t sound like a guitar. ‘What is that?’ I just wanted to make that sound.
Early efforts to produce this sound were primitive, in part because of Melton’s Toys’ R Us three-string guitar. But he continued to play the song and work on the sound and eventually he came into possession of a suitable instrument. At 13, Melton was playing crayfish boils in nearby neighborhoods. By age 15, he had found his place in the blues jams at Dosey Doe in The Woodlands. (He returns to Dosey Doe for a performance on Jan.6.)
“I learned to play, but more importantly, I learned not to play,” he says. “When to shut up and listen to the people you’re playing with.”
When: 8:30 p.m. Jan. 6
Or: Dosey Doe the Big Barn, 25911 I-45
Details: $ 10- $ 15; 281-367-3774, doseydotickets.com
Now 26, Melton has over a decade of professional experience to his name. His new EP, “Back to Blue” also suggests that he has found his own space triangulated by rock, blues and soul. Melton managed to tour the recording last year. And he’ll be playing those new songs and more this week at Dosey Doe, a performance he plans to record.
Melton refers to “Say That You Love Me” – which he recorded during the pandemic in an empty White Oak Music Hall – as a crucial cut to the EP. “I really wanted to go back to a more guitar-oriented style,” he says. “I wanted to write songs that sounded like what happens when I just take a guitar home and start playing. The things that are close to my heart.
The songs move smoothly: some emphasize his blues licks, others a touching restraint. “I never wanted to gravitate around a sound or a style,” he says. The title song talks about it. Melton sets off a brooding tone at the start of “Back to Blue,” but the song manages to make a darker, more gritty bend in less than five minutes.
Melton’s closing the EP with ZZ Top’s “Jesus Just Left Chicago” clearly speaks to the direction of his compass.
“You can’t grow up in Texas without hearing ZZ Top,” he says. “Hearing Billy Gibbons play guitar was a huge influence. So I hope people will recognize it as a tribute and hear the joy of it. “
As befitting a Gibbons tribute, Melton encountered a painstaking process to find the right guitar tone for the cover. His decade of guitar study and a bit of serendipity worked together.
“We searched for tones for a long time,” he says. “So I looked at what Fender was doing with guitars when I was born in 1994. There was this Japanese Foto Flame Stratocaster, it was pretty loud with a different pickup setup. The last thing I needed was an excuse to buy a new guitar. But the next day, I went to get some strings, and hanging on the wall of used guitars, there was a Japanese Foto Flame Stratocaster. It was cheap and a bit run down, but it played well. It screamed. And it was good for that overworked, crisp sound that I needed. I thought I could always return it. But we plugged it in and it worked great.
“And I didn’t have the heart to take it back.”