Clay was born Claiborne Cheramie on September 9, 1938 in Gretna, LA. He started his first country band at the age of 12, playing the drums; however, he would later also learn bass and guitar. The band was asked to perform regularly on local radio station WWEZ where they gained a local following.
In 1955, at the age of 17, Joe was signed to RCA subsidiary Vik Records and, in May 1956, he appeared onThe Ed Sullivan Show where he wanted to perform his new, rockabilly, single but Sullivan insisted on him singing a cover of the Platters' Only You.
Clay had become familiar with the emerging Elvis Presley in 1955 when they both performed on the Louisiana Hayride. He later played rhythm guitar on a couple of Elvis Presley's records and filled in on drums at a couple of Elvis' performances but Clay's manager would not let him tour outside of the New Orleans area, feeling that his audience was concentrated there.
Clay released two singles on the Vic label, Duck Tail / Sixteen Chicks and Get On the Right Track / Cracker Jack but, with such a localized audience, they didn't sell well and he was dropped from the label.
Joe continued to play the New Orleans area and signed with Samter Records where he released three more singles in 1962 and 1963 but none broke out. Now relegated to the local club circuit, Joe started driving school buses, a job he would hold for thirty years.
Then, in the 80's, a European label rereleased Clay's 50's and 60's recordings where they were greeted with great acclaim. For four years, Willie Jeffrey, a London businessman, searched for Clay so that he could bring him to Europe to perform. In 1986, Clay traveled overseas where he toured, setting off the second phase of his music career.
Clay stayed on the stage for much of the rest of his life including a regular slot at the Ponderosa Stomp. He was also seen in the 2008 documentary Rockabilly 514. His last performance was three months ago in Spain..