Western Singer Patty Clayton Is Making Music A Full-time Career

“PRAIRIE PASSAGES,” A SONG WRITTEN AND RECORDED by Edgewater resident Patty Clayton, is a 2023 Best Western Song finalist for a Western Writers of America Spur Award. PHOTO COURTESY PATTY CLAYTON

“The very first song I ever performed was Gene Autry’s version of ‘Buttons and Bows,’ in third or fourth grade,” says Edgewater’s Western award-winning singer and songwriter Patty Clayton. “I wrote my first song in 1976 – can’t remember the name of the song, but it was about riding a horse on a beach, trying to catch the end of a rainbow.” 

Since those times, Clayton has won the International Western Music Association’s award for Western Swing Album of the Year (“Dancin’ In Denver”) and the Academy of Western Artists award for Female Vocalist of the Year. 

Edgewater has been Clayton’s home since 1989, but she was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, in Tacoma, Wash. When 3, her family moved to Portland, Ore., where she attended David Douglas High School, Portland Community College and the University of Oregon Medical School, for training in X-ray radiography. She purchased a house in Lincoln City, Ore., where she lived and worked at a hospital for 15 years before moving to Edgewater.

Clayton’s first instrument of choice would have been the accordion.

“I went to school with these twins who played accordion, and I was so mesmerized by it that I told my dad I wanted to play the accordion, and he was like, ‘No way.’ For Christmas, a year later, in second grade, he said I could take either piano lessons or guitar lessons. I chose guitar. 

“The lessons were with Barney Alexander, my dad’s barber. I did not know until at least thirty years later that he was also a fiddle player. Had I known that, I would’ve wanted to take fiddle lessons. 

“I never learned to read music; I was taught to play the guitar by ear or by tablature (a diagram depicting where to place fingers on a guitar fretboard). I listened to records and played and sang along with those. Peter Paul and Mary was my go-to. My dad would hear me doing that in my bedroom and he’d pound on the door and say, ‘I’m not paying to have you sing to your records. Turn that crap off!’ But that’s how I learned to play and sing.”

In high school, she played guitar and sang in a five-piece folk group.

“Two gals in it were named Barbara, so we called ourselves Barbed Wire.” But Clayton got the Bluegrass bug in 1974 and from 1975 to 1980 was with The Back Porch String Band in Lincoln City, performing at fairs, farmers’ markets, bluegrass festivals in Salem and Corvallis, occasional weekend gigs; and for two years played at the finish line of Newport’s Annual Celebration Run.

“I made my first recording with that band. That was the start of my professional music career.” 

In 1989, Clayton, who is negatively affected by the cloudy, rainy, gray skies of the Portland area, moved to Colorado on the advice of her brother.

“I fell into a group of gals, none of whom had been in a band before, and we formed Ladies’ Choice, playing bluegrass for about five years.”

Clayton worked for 15 years at Kaiser’s Lakewood facility on West Alameda Avenue.

“Then I left Kaiser and found contract work in Hawaii and Alaska, performing my music whenever I could. I worked per diem in Hawaii for 10 years at the fetal diagnostic center for Hawaii Pacific Health. My job was to perform ultrasound exams on high-risk pregnancies. At that point I became laser focused on getting to a point where I could retire. I was being paid very well and working my butt off. When I wasn’t on contract in Hawaii or Alaska, I was home, in Edgewater.”

A full-time music career “has been a little rough booting up,” Clayton says. “I was 68 when I retired, and I thought, I’ve still got my health, lots of energy, my motorhome, and I’m going to get in my rig and start traveling and just play music all the time. 

“I got home from Hawaii in 2020, and of course everything was shut down because of COVID. I ended up making 150 pairs of beaded earrings, instead of music.” 

In 2022, her music career took on a brighter outlook. By the end of that year, she had booked a five-week tour in New Mexico and Arizona. That tour, however, was interrupted when her mother passed away on New Year’s Eve, and she needed to go to Portland for three weeks. 

“I’ve been working on putting together an Oregon Trail tour, because my last album, “The Real West,” is all songs about the pioneers traveling the Oregon, Santa Fe and California trails. I want to go to all the Oregon Trail stops and museums, to play. But some of the museums are still shut due to renovations.”

Clayton has recorded a couple of songs on her albums (there are six CDs) using the banjo flailing style.

“I also play an upright bass – for a while I played with a group out of Texas called Joe Jones and the Lone Star Corral. I played with Liz Masterson and Sean Blackburn for a bit. Recently, I played bass with a group out of Boulder – the Orchard Creek Band.”

Having been able to weave a part-time music career with a profession of medical sonographer until her retirement, Clayton now devotes her attention to fostering a full-time music career. Beginning in July, she is booked in every month through November, from Woodland Park, Colo., to Las Vegas, N.M. – still chasing the end of that rainbow.

For Clayton’s gig details visit: pattyclayton.com

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