Clifford Doneley Scott, saxophonist, vocalist, recording artist, and composer–arranger, was born on June 21, 1928, in San Antonio. He was the youngest child of Grace and Harry L. Scott Sr. Clifford's mother died when he was six months old, and he was raised by his father and stepmother, Mattie Scott. His siblings included a brother, Harry; two sisters, Harriett and Marcy; and a stepsister, Katherine Dotson.
Clifford's father worked for the railroad but was also a talented musician who played violin and piano. He encouraged all of his children to appreciate music at an early age. According to Clifford's sister Marcy, they had a little family band. By the time he was six years old Clifford was playing music, and upon entering Douglass Middle School he was considered a musical prodigy, having learned the clarinet, violin, trumpet, tuba, and drums. Before he entered Wheatley High School the tenor saxophone had become his instrument of choice.
Scotty, as he was called by those who knew him, was able to meet many future world-renowned musicians who came through San Antonio. In the early 1940s when big-name musicians such as Zoot Sims and John Coltrane came to town and were stranded, they were able to stay with Scotty's family. At that time he was playing with Amos Milburn and the Alldin Chicken Shackers, a Houston group. He also played with George Abrams and the Cavaliers, an all-black orchestra.
Lionel Hampton went to San Antonio when Scotty was fourteen years old to perform at the Municipal Auditorium. He needed a saxophone player, and Scotty got the gig. Afterwards, Lionel asked Scotty's parents if he could join his group for a European tour. They agreed, on the condition that he return to graduate from high school, which he did in 1946.
Whenever Scott returned from touring, he would teach younger musicians in San Antonio. While traveling throughout Europe and the United States, Scotty learned from and performed with such famous musicians as Charlie Parker, Clifford Brown, Count Basie, Les McCane, and Quincy Jones. He also studied composition, arranging, and theory at the Hartnett Music School in New York. During this time Scotty performed and recorded with organist Bill Doggett and wrote the international hit song "Honky Tonk" (1956), which sold millions of copies. "Honky Tonk," Scotty's trademark song for the rest of his life, earned him the nickname "Mr. Honky Tonk."
During the 1950s and 1960s Scotty played with such legendary stars as Little Richard, Ray Charles, and Fats Domino. He lived in Los Angeles in the 1960s, but in 1976 he returned to San Antonio permanently and continued to perform at local clubs. In 1992 he released the album Mr. Honky Tonk Is Back in Town on the New Rose label.
Scott was presented the Carver Living Legend Award by the Carver Community Cultural Center of San Antonio. He was scheduled to perform at the center's jazz festival on the night he was to accept his award. Unfortunately, he had suffered a slight stroke the Monday before the performance and was hospitalized. Nevertheless, he surprised the audience by arriving for the performance via ambulance, and even though he was weak, Scott, accompanied by the Victor Paredes Trio, gave a masterful performance to a standing ovation. Scotty continued to play around San Antonio until his death on April 19, 1993. He was survived by three sons and two daughters. Scott is honored as one of San Antonio’s featured musicians on “La Música de San Anto,” one of the San Anto Cultural Arts murals on the Alamo City’s “”Westside: Murals y Más” Tour.
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All Music Guide (http://www.allmusic.com/), accessed December 10, 2008. San Antonio Express–News, April 20, 1993.
Genres (Rock and Roll, Rhythm and Blues, and Rockabilly)
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
“Scott, Clifford Doneley,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 27, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
December 8, 2006
Most Recent Revision Date:
October 16, 2015
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: