Yesterday, the Memphis music community was dealt a stunning and heartbreaking blow when word broke on social media that the beloved Clay Hardee had unexpectedly died in his sleep. He was 35 years old.
Hardee, who was probably better known to some by his stage name, Clay Otis, was a budding filmmaker/screenwriter when he moved to Memphis in 2006. But after a few years kicking around town and going to shows (LOTS of shows), he decided to give rock ‘n’ roll a go. With a crew of supportive collaborators that would read like a who’s-who of local players, Hardee created some of the freshest, most original, and most personal music Memphis has heard.
In only 5 years of activity, the wildly prolific Clay Otis project released at least as many albums, plus a few singles. Each time out, the mood and accompaniment was new, but Hardee’s exuberance and self-deprecating honesty and humor were always in the forefront, always inviting you in.
“Even though he wasn't born here, he was a true Memphis original and a true believer in the mystical power of this city to transform people,” says Toby Vest, a longtime friend, producer, and bandmate of Hardee's. “The music he leaves behind is a testament to that. He was a musical pied piper. He convinced so many of us to follow him down musical paths we might not have taken on our own by simple force of will and his unbridled enthusiasm for the talents of the people around him.”
As for me, I got to know Clay as a casual friend through hanging out at the old Hi-Tone, where we had a few good times together, but also as a journalist covering Memphis music. No one I have ever interviewed in this town has ever opened up so freely or generously when it came time to promote an album.
He was a joy to talk to about music, art, and creativity, and had tremendous gratitude for even the tiniest blurb in the paper or on this blog. I will miss him, if only because I know that I’ll probably never get to write about him again. Rest in peace.
Details on funeral services for Clay Hardee are not available at this time, but are expected to take place in Florida.