Ramblin' Rhodes: McClinton in the mood for Blind Willie McTell festival

The great news for fans of country-blues rocker Delbert McClinton is that he has been recording with his former duet partner Glen Clark for the first time in almost 40 years.


And even better news is that McClinton told me last week that his yet-untitled album should be completed and available in the fall.

In 1972 and 1973, Texans McClinton and Clark made two albums – Delbert & Glen and Subject To Change – that were widely praised by music critics but failed to achieve widespread popularity for many reasons, including the failure of country radio stations to play tracks from them.

McClinton on Saturday, May 19, returns to the Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival. Gates open at 11 a.m. and music starts at noon at the outdoor site one mile north of Interstate 20, Exit 172. He last played the festival in 2007.

When I talked with McClinton last week at his home in the Nashville, Tenn., area, he had just returned late the previous night from his second home in Mexico, which he said is “smack dab in the middle of the whole country.”

It’s a place where he can go to unwind and that inspires his creative side in writing songs.

“I just love Mexico and almost everything about it,” he said. “It just looks like Mexico. My wife and I went down just to vegetate for a while. I did jot down some notes for more songs.”

He’s especially excited about the songs he has been writing for the recording sessions with Clark.

“We’ve recorded about 11 songs out in Los Angeles (where Clark lives) with a bunch of musicians from Texas.”

Probably one of the best descriptions of McClinton was written in October 2001 by Russ Ringsak, who was working with the public broadcasting TV show A Prairie Home Companion.

“He has an everyday look to him,” Ringsak wrote, “neither chic nor dangerous, neither aloof nor overly chummy, and he won’t try to knock your socks off with pyrotechnics. Doesn’t have that high wail of Roy Orbison or the big hair of Michael Bolton, nor the smoke and fire of Jimi Hendrix; but when he sings guys grin and women bring roses to the stage. He connects. To be at a Delbert McClinton concert is to be in a large crowd of happy people.”

McClinton was born in Lubbock, Texas, in 1940 and moved with his family to Fort Worth when he was 11.

One of his earlier musical memories in Lubbock is of seeing the legendary Texas western swing bandleader Bob Wills.

“My older brother went to school with Buddy Holly in Lubbock but by the time Buddy hit it big, we were living in Fort Worth and I never got to see him perform.

“I did get to see Bob Wills at this little bitty nightclub that was in a cotton field outside of Lubbock, and it actually was called The Cotton Club,” McClinton added. “Bob Wills and his band (Texas Playboys) would play there while us kids played out in the parking lot and looked in the windows.”

It was in Fort Worth that McClinton began playing music with his band, The Straitjackets. They became the house band for Jack’s Place nightclub, which booked classic rhythm and blues acts such as Howlin’ Wolf, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Jimmy Reed.

“We had what I like to think was the best band in Fort Worth, and we got hired to do recording sessions by this promoter in Fort Worth named Major Bill Smith, who was a bargain basement Colonel Parker (Elvis Presley’s manager). He would take anybody on. He knew a radio station engineer in Fort Worth named Bob Sullivan, who became one of my closest friends.

“Bob was the recording engineer on the Louisiana Hayride show in Shreveport (La.) and recorded the first night Elvis was on the Hayride show. Major Bill told Bob that he had this new kid he wanted to record with our band. It turned out to be Bruce Channel, and we (musicians) got paid $5 a piece for the session.”

At one session in 1962, McClinton played his harmonica on a Channel recording called (Hey) Hey, Baby. It became a million-plus selling record and resulted in McClinton’s going on a European tour with Channel.

In England, one of Channel’s opening acts was an upcoming quartet called The Beatles. The story goes that John Lennon already knew how to play the harmonica, but he asked McClinton to show him some of his technique. Lennon’s harmonica playing on Love Me Do was recorded in September of 1962, so draw your own conclusions as to McClinton’s influence on Lennon.

Following the two albums made with Glen Clark, McClinton made his first solo album, Victim of Life’s Circumstances, in 1975.

He scored enormous success as a songwriter when Emmylou Harris recorded his song Two More Bottles of Wine in 1978.

His solo album was followed by several others including two with Macon, Ga.-based Capricorn Records and two with Muscle Shoals Sound.

The sessions in Muscle Shoals, Ala., resulted in one of McClinton’s biggest hit singles Giving It Up For Your Love.

In 1989, he released his album Live From Austin based on appearances on the PBS TV series Austin City Limits. It earned him a Grammy Award nomination.

He would win a Grammy Award in 1992 for his duet recording of Good Man, Good Woman with Bonnie Raitt. He also won Grammys in 2001 for his album Nothing Personal and in 2006 for Cost of Living, both in the Best Contemporary Blues Album category.

McClinton’s last album was Acquired Taste in 2009.

“I am long overdue for another album,” he said, “but every time I make a record it takes me a couple of years to get back into the mood to make another one. I’ve just in the last couple of months got back into the mood. That time’s coming around again.”


WHAT:19th Annual Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival

WHEN: Saturday, May 19; gates open at 11 a.m.

Noon: Mama Says

1:10 p.m.: Randall Bramblett/Geoff Achison

2:25 p.m.: Guy Davis

3:40 p.m.: Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons with Adriel Harris

5 p.m.: James Cotton

6:30 p.m.: Delbert McClinton

WHERE: Outdoor site near Thomson, Ga., one mile north of Interstate 20 Exit 172

TICKETS: $25 advance, $35 at gate, children 12 and younger free with paying adult; tixonline.com

MORE: blindwillie.com