(5 / 5)
I love this man. As an artist, a songwriter, a killer singer and as a humble human being…
In a previous life, I had the absolute honour of working with Delbert, after I contacted him and asked if he would consider singing a duet on an album I was producing at the time. To my sheer delight, he said yes. So along he came to the studio on Music Row in Nashville on the agreed date, and laid down his fabulous vocal with my artist.
He was such a lovely guy: easy-going, good fun and happy to do what we needed. He sang his heart out, seemingly with little effort and nailed the vocal in a few takes. Well, he nailed it in one take, but after a few takes there was real chemistry between the two voices, and I had it in the can. He’d never heard the track we did, before that day, either.
Wearing shorts and a white short-sleeved tennis shirt, hands deep in his pockets and leaning back away from the microphone as he sang. It was damned hot that day and really humid. The sweat dripped down his face and into his eyes as he sang. But he didn’t complain once.
I have worked with nobodies, who bitch and whine about the smallest of things, yet here is this legend who is a delight to be around, and when he opens his mouth to sing, shivers down the spine time for everyone present.
We hung out for a bit at the studio after that for photographs, and he accepted an invite to come along to a gig my artist was doing in Nashville that week. We had a few drinks and some good fun that night at the bar and watching the gig.
He also picked up my artist in his car one day, to take her to his keyboard player’s home studio to co-write a song together. Delbert is a Texan, so me and my artist were at the hotel guessing what car he would be driving. It was a toss-up between a truck or a huge Cadillac type thing.
Both wrong. I laughed out loud when this too-cool-for-school and oh-so-soulful singing star trundled up to the hotel’s parking lot – in a tiny little Ford Ka!!! Nicknamed “Delbert’s roller skate” by my artist, much to his amusement. And off they went for the day.
So, I have a personal attachment to this guy. But as a music fan, I have always adored his voice and his style, and have a lot of the records he has released. Here’s a great new one to add to my collection. A two-disc, 45 track “Best Of”, or “Definitive Collection” as the title tells us. CD # 1 offers up 23 cuts and 22 on the second disc. Not to be confused with the 2006 release on Hip-O Records with the same title; that one a single disc 22-track offering.
There are none of the chart hitting duets he has done with the likes of Bonnie Raitt and Tanya Tucker here, but this collection does cover his entire career, which stretches back to the early 60s.
He first came to fame as harmonica player on Bruce Channel’s 1962 smash hit, and now a classic, “Hey! Baby”. Delbert travelled to England where he headlined shows with Bruce Channel, and a little-known Liverpool band as the opening act.
Both 22-years-old at the time, John Lennon from that support band, asked Delbert to show him a few licks on the harmonica. They were called The Beatles, who you may have heard of by now!
An amazing fact about Delbert places him close to J.F. Kennedy when he was assassinated in downtown Dallas on November 22nd 1963. The FBI went to see Delbert afterwards. McClinton “locked eyes” with President John F. Kennedy just minutes before the president was shot dead.
A few months later, the FBI showed up at McClinton’s house and told him they’d found his name in one of Jack Ruby’s notebooks. Probably because McClinton had played in local clubs owned by Ruby. Jack Ruby was the man who killed JFK’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald.
Singer, songwriter, guitarist, harmonica player, pianist and dynamite live performer, Delbert mixes up the genres to deliver R&B, blues, country, roots, rock and roll and anything classy and rockin’. He is a singer’s singer and has also had big success as a songwriter for other major artists too.
Emmylou Harris had a number 1 hit in 1978, with her recording of McClinton’s composition “Two More Bottles of Wine,” and a cover version of his “B Movie Boxcar Blues” was on the first album by the Blues Brothers, “Briefcase Full of Blues”.
The 77-year-old has released 29 solo albums, a dozen compilations and at least 17 solo singles. A sideman since 1962 and leader of his own band since 1972, his highest-charting single was “Tell Me About It”, a 1992 duet with Tanya Tucker, which reached number 4 on the Country chart. Four of his albums have been number 1 on the U.S. Blues chart, and another reached number 2. He was inducted into the Texas Heritage Songwriters Hall of Fame in March 2011.
As a youngster in Texas, he worked in a bar band, the Straitjackets, who backed Sonny Boy Williamson II, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Howlin’ Wolf, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and Jimmy Reed. He cut several regional singles before hitting the national chart on Bruce Chanell’s hit. McClinton formed the Ron-Dels, sometimes called the Rondells, with Ronnie Kelly and Billy Wade Sanders.The band had a chart single in 1965 with “If You Really Want Me to I’ll Go”.
Relocating to Los Angeles in 1972, McClinton partnered with fellow Texan Glen Clark, to perform a combination of country and soul music. They released two albums before splitting and McClinton embarked on a solo career.
McClinton’s 1980 album, “The Jealous Kind”, contained his hit single, “Giving It Up for Your Love”, which peaked at number 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 35 Adult Contemporary. He was Grammy-nominated for his “Live from Austin” album, recorded during an appearance on the television program Austin City Limits. In 1991 he won a Grammy Award for his duet with Bonnie Raitt, “Good Man, Good Woman”.
McClinton recorded the song “Weatherman”, which was played with the opening titles of the 1992 Bill Murray film, “Groundhog Day”. In 2006, he won a Grammy Award for his album “The Cost of Living” for Best Contemporary Blues Album. Etta James included two McClinton songs on her 2003 album, “Let’s Roll”.
In 2014, Delbert had a bad year. A serious car smash badly injured his son Clay, and soon after, Delbert underwent heart bypass surgery. Both are now well. He performed on the Frankie Miller album “Double Take”, released in 2016; on the song “Beginner at the Blues”.
2017 is a milestone year for Delbert. In addition to the release of his new solo album “Prick Of The Litter”, a biography on his life and career has been written and published. He is nominated for Texas State Musician, a highly acclaimed state appointment akin to poet laureate.
I dig all the cuts here, honestly do. But my faves include, but are not limited to: The opener on CD # 1, “Victim Of Life’s Circumstance”, “Lie No Better”, “A Mess Of Blues”, the fabulous hit “Giving It Up For Your Love” and “Take Me To The River”.
He did a fantastic song called “Too Much Stuff” on his 1997 album “One Of The Fortunate Few”, which is not on here, but I never get tired of hearing that song. One I expected to hear among this set, is the brilliant “Standing On Shaky Ground”, but it’s not included.
He can rock it up, get funky, be bluesy, raunchy, raw and roar, rootsy – always as soulful as heck. But when he lays back for a ballad and connects emotionally, grab the tissues and brace yourself. “I’ve Got Dreams To Remember” is a perfect example, and even more so is, “You Were Never Mine” which Delbert wrote with Gary Nicholson and Benmont Tench for “One Of The Fortunate Few”. A song which means a lot to me, for personal reasons…
If anyone accuses me of being biased when ‘penning’ this review, my response would be simple: “Hell yeah! You betcha sweet bippy, I am.” Fellow Texan artist Lyle Lovett sums it up nicely: “If we could all sing like we wanted to, we’d all sing like Delbert.” But there is only one Delbert McClinton…
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’