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Guitar Prodigy

At 13 years old, musician John Clayton White is making a name for himself in north Mississippi and beyond.



Written by Leslie Criss | Photographed by Joe Worthem


John Clayton White is having the time of his life. He started The 662 Band in 2021 and has played to standing room-only crowds in local Tupelo restaurants like Blue Canoe and Amsterdam Deli. With a mini amp attached to his Fender, he can sit on a living room sofa and wow listeners with ZZ Top and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Oh, and he’s written songs of his own, too.


Last October, he shared the stage with B.B. King’s band and Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks at the reopening of the historic Club Ebony in Indianola. In October, he’s booked as a performer on the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise, with Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, Paul Thorn, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and many more. Though he’s likely not too familiar with having the blues, he can beseech a busload of blues out of his beloved Fender. And just wait until you hear him sing.


John Clayton White is quite the musician. And he’s only 13.


The Tupelo Christian Preparatory School seventh grader also plays baseball and football, and he claims he is as addicted to hunting and fishing as he is music.


“I’m just thinking of music in my head all the time,” he said.


The minute he gets home from school, he plugs up his electric guitar and plays. Music is his passion.


“I’ve loved it my whole life,” he said. “When I was 1 or 2 years old, I was playing pots and pans. Then I got a Mickey Mouse guitar and a drum set.”


At 4 and 5, he was introduced to the banjo and violin, but those didn’t stick.


“I guess I went through a lot of instruments till I found what I really liked,” he said. “I was always strumming on that little Mickey guitar, making up my own songs.”



John Clayton’s mom, Allison, who owns Wellness MD in Collierville, serves as her blue-eyed boy’s manager. She remembers when her son first fell in love with the guitar. Her husband, John White, a physician, was playing his acoustic Martin guitar when John Clayton was just beginning to walk.


“John Clayton was never still for two seconds, but my husband started to strum, and John Clayton moved closer and watched John play,” she said. “He was mesmerized with the guitar from then on.”


The guitar was his best friend during the COVID pandemic, when the world seemed to shut down.


“I was happy to be out of school,” he said. “I played guitar every single day and learned a new song that my mom recorded and shared on Facebook. The comments from Facebook friends really encouraged me to keep posting my music.”


John Clayton plays guitar at least an hour every day.


“I’m kind of addicted to it,” he said. “I love it so much.”


His passion is paying off. John Clayton was selected by the Mississippi Delta Blues Society to be a featured artist in the youth showcase at the International Blues Challenge that took place in January in Memphis. Sadly, the icy conditions in northeast Mississippi and in Memphis kept the family from making the trip. John Clayton would have appeared as a solo artist, without his band. He was disappointed, but the invitation already has been extended to him to participate next January.


It’s not easy for him to claim a favorite genre of music. He likes it all — classic rock, country and, more recently, the blues. He gave it a listen and liked it. Then when he visited and played at Club Ebony, the blues bug bit bad.


“I just suddenly thought, ‘hey, I might be good at this,’” he said.


He was right. Ask about his favorite blues musicians and he answers easily.


“Stevie Ray Vaughan, B.B. King and my most favorite is Kingfish from Clarksdale,” he said.


John Clayton has a ways to go before it’s time to pick a profession, but it’s as clear to him as a Delta blue sky how he wants to spend his life.


“I want to do music professionally, as my full-time job,” he said. “I want my music to influence others. I want to make people happy with my music. I don’t have a Plan B.”

Fortunately, his manager mama is quite fine with that. So is his dad. In the short time their son’s been playing music and sharing it with others, opportunities for future gigs just seem to present themselves serendipitously.


“A Corinth Coliseum board member heard John Clayton play at the Blue Canoe recently,” Allison White said. “After the show, she approached me and said they wanted him to play in Corinth, in the 1,200-seat coliseum.”


Later, as John Clayton wrapped up Vaughan’s “Texas Flood,” for visitors, his mom received a text.


“You must have been visualizing Texas,” she told her boy. “That was someone in Fort Worth asking if you would come to Texas to play.”


One important bit of advice she shares with John Clayton — as his manager and his mama — is fashion-related. With a history in print ads, White is confident telling her son what looks good on stage.


“It is usually not an easy battle,” she said, smiling. “Being his manager is certainly a privilege, but it also can be a little unnerving, trying to know how to guide him to the right possibilities.”


Before breaking into another song, this time an original titled “It Ain’t Right,” the young bluesman talks about songwriting. He’s written five or six, maybe more. He has an ear for music and it comes naturally, but he struggles a bit with lyrics. Still, one Saturday in February, John Clayton and The 662 Band spent a long day recording some of his originals at The Lodge Recording Studio in Rienzi. And in early March, John Clayton and others planned a time of prayer and praise at Fredonia Baptist Church in New Albany for 16-year-old Ansley Thompson, John Clayton’s dear friend who had cancer. At the service, Ansley was surprised when her friend sang “Biggest Fan,” a song that he wrote just for her. There were few dry eyes in the church. Ansley died not long after. Sadly, life often presents lessons that teach even young people to understand the blues.


“To me, the blues are something to pat your foot to, something that makes you want to dance,” John Clayton said. “It’s a diverse genre between hearing big, loud guitar sounds and quiet, clean, soft guitar, all in one song. The blues are very soulful, and that’s why I like it so much.”


John Clayton and The 662 Band will play at the Corinth Coliseum on April 19 at 7 p.m., and in Oxford at Rooster’s Blues House on May 10 at 9:30 p.m. Learn more at johnclaytonwhitemusic.com.

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