We’re looking forward to Delbert McClinton’s 2017 Sandy Beaches Cruise, which begins Jan. 6 in Tampa. There’s a relaxed vibe throughout the week, in contrast to other music cruises that include assigned seats and lines to get into shows.
It’s a great line-up, with Marcia Ball, the Mavericks, Marc Broussard, Fred Eaglesmith, Clay McClinton, the Quebe Sisters, Wayne Toups, Red Young, World Famous Headliners, Teresa James, Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real, Etta Britt, the McCrary Sisters, Big Joe Maher, Lari White, Bob DiPiero, Anson Funderburgh, Bluz House Rockers, Bruce Channel, Danny Flowers, Doyle and Debbie, Gary Nicholson, Jimmy Hall, Kimmie Rhodes, Kree Harrison, Lee Roy Parnell, Mike Zito, Mingo Fishtrap, Sharon Vaughn, Shelley King, the Band of Heathens, Spooner Oldham, the Howlin’ Brothers and Tom Hambridge .
We’ll have full coverage of the 2017 Sandy Beaches cruise, but here’s our report from 2016.
As Marcia Ball wrapped up her first song to polite applause, she seemed a little nonplussed.
“I thought there was a dance floor here,” she said, as she kicked off Delbert McClinton’s Sandy Beaches Cruise 2016. The crowd took the hint, and the rest of the evening – and the week – was one non-stop dance floor.
That sets this music cruise apart from others, where headliners and reserved seats are the norm. The Sandy Beaches crowd listens respectfully, but they move to the music.
That’s probably the influence of McClinton himself, who is a low-key and welcoming presence thoughout the cruise. It’s as though you were invited to Delbert’s house – one with a very large pool – with his musical friends on a Saturday night.
And if this is your first visit to Delbert’s, you won’t feel like a newcomer for long.
“This is your cherry and we’re here to bust it, “ Ball declared, launching into a high-velocity set of rhythm and blues, including the week’s first performance of “Sea Cruise.’ “A lot of nerve, “ she laughed.
The Mavericks headlined the pool deck stage three times and the energy never flagged. Since reuniting in 2012, the band has been on a roll, culminating in their Grammy nominations for the song “All Night Long” and their Mono album, and being named group of the year in the Americana Music Association awards. When a band with more than two decades of experience hits a new career high, it shows on stage. In their final set of the week, they even played a danceable “Okie from Muskogee.”
The McCrary Sisters delivered their first set on Sunday, appropriately so for this hard-rocking gospel quartet. Regina McCrary spoke of God’s capacity for healing and offered to pray for anyone in need. If you have a burden, you should “Let It Go,” they sang. No, not the song from “Frozen.”
Later in the day, Roger Blevins Jr. and Mingo Fishtrap announced they were going to echo the McCrarys’ advice to “let it go, “though their version would be “more profane.”
It wasn’t all church for the McCrarys . The sisters did the Family Stone proud with an inspired version of “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin.)”
Sandy Beaches Cruise 2016 songwriters
The songwriter sessions were uniformly impressive, giving artists the chance to showcase their writing in an acoustic performance. Sharon Vaughn told the story of how she pitched her classic My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys” to Waylon Jennings, who refused to believe she wrote it. Spooner Oldham played songs he co-wrote with Dan Penn, including James and Bobby Purify’s hit “I’m Your Puppet.”
Delbert McClinton joined the songwriters mid-week to showcase songs from a new album due this spring.
Former NRBQ member Al Anderson has been on the last 18 cruises, but this time he brought his bandmates from the World Famous Headliners . It’s a tongue-in-cheek name, but Anderson, Shawn Camp and Pat McLaughlin make up a potent front three, with stellar guitar work and tight harmonies. The band – deep in writing talent – showcased songs from their new album, including “Hitchike Home,” “The Whoa Whoa Song” and “Fried Chicken,” a song that mashes up Memphis music and the Bee Gees.
The Headliners know no barriers. “We’d like to apologize for these songs,’ McLaughlin told the audience, shortly before Anderson sang “Stick It Where the Sun Don’t Ever Shine.”
The band brings Little Village to mind. That was the storied band featuring Nick Lowe, Ry Cooder, John Hiatt and Jim Keltner, an amazing line-up of players and songwriters that never seemed to gel as a group.
The Headliners gel. They even have their own theme song, which they played at both the beginning and close of their set. “We’re the World Famous Headliners…”
Among other highlights of Sandy Beaches Cruise 2016:
Keb’ Mo’ drew big and appreciative crowds poolside with impeccable sets of blues and soul, including his fresh take on the O’Jays’ “Love Train.”
Mingo Fishtrap rallied the audience on the final day, with Blevins Jr. saying that although everyone would have to disembark the next morning, now was the time to “self-lobotomize.” The band then launched into a blistering medley of classic James Brown songs.
Lee Roy Parnell, on the Sandy Beaches Cruise since its inception 22 years ago, was back after a year away. He saluted the late Allen Toussaint with a spirited take on his “Holy Cow.” Lari White joined him for a duet of a song she and Parnell had written, and Etta Britt delivered a powerful “People Get Ready.”
The annual “Pianorama,” with Marcia Ball as ringleader, convened virtually every keyboardist on the cruise for a piano jam. Five players at a time took the stage, trading off parts on songs like “Iko Iko,” “Nothing from Nothing” and Drinkin’ Wine Spo-de-o-dee.”
The Quebe Sisters were a revelation. Their harmonies were gorgeous – in 1940 they would have been the Andrews Sisters –and all three play fiddle beautifully. They draw on a big songbook, but Western Swing is a specialty.
Doyle and Debbie, the lampooning country music revue, doesn’t change and doesn’t need to. It remains fresh and funny.
Alyssa Bonagura was joined onstage by her parents Kathie Baillie and Michael Bonagura, aka “Baillie and the Boys ,” who revisited their musical past, including an impressive “Blue Bayou.” It’s that rare family where the daughter can plug her parents’ CDs at the merch table.
Bruce Channel joined Delbert to perform his big 1962 hit “Hey Baby,” a record on which McClinton played harmonica. I’m sure they’ve performed it together dozens of times, but it’s still a joyous performance.
The Howlin’ Brothers – Ian Craft, JT Huskey and Jared Green impressed audiences with both a reverence for folk, blues and bluegrass classics and their ability to craft new songs that continue the tradition.
Susan Antone stands on the sidewalk amid the overflow of construction sprawling from the new Home of the Blues on Fifth Street.
"Hi y'all!" she greets with arms spread wide as Delbert McClinton and his wife, Wendy Goldstein, make their way through the mid-December drizzle.
The new Antone's is still two weeks from its planned New Year's Eve opening, and as Susan leads the couple through the maze of materials and loose cables inside, McClinton expresses his doubts about the deadline. Co-owner Will Bridges assures him they'll make the date.
McClinton carefully surveying Antone's as the club nears its resurrection makes for a fitting moment. Two years ago, the future of both Texas blues icons seemed in doubt.
In April 2014, McClinton had emergency heart surgery, a triple bypass. It came only two weeks after his son, San Marcos songwriter Clay McClinton, had been hospitalized with a severe head injury following a car accident.
"It changed my life completely," McClinton acknowledges of those harrowing few months. "The fact that I'm still alive, and was just a heartbeat away from being dead, that scared me. I was just short of a heart attack."
The multiple Grammy-winner turned 75 last November, and now follows it with a yearlong "Diamond Jubilee" tour to mark it. He has a new band, and new album due in the spring. His son made a full recovery and plays across Texas in preparing his fifth LP.
Back in the warmth of his 10th-floor condo beside the Hilton Garden Inn, Delbert looks out the window over Downtown Austin, a view cutting straight down Fifth Street toward the new Antone's. Though long based in Nashville, the couple still makes it to Austin at a rate of once a month.
"I'm so much healthier now," McClinton acknowledges. "My voice is a hundred times better, and that in itself leads to so many more ideas. I'm at a point in my life where I'm not trying to have a career. I got a career where I can do anything that I want to do.
"I feel like I'm 50 again," he says and lets out a deep, rounding laugh.
Victim of Life's Circumstances
The opening to Bruce Channel's 1961 hit, "Hey Baby," remains one of the most distinct signatures in rock & roll. McClinton's harmonica ignites the song with a wild abandon against the chugging rhythm, ushering in Channel's vocals trembling with a youthful want and energy. That ringing harp line launched countless stampedes to the dance floor.
The hit also sent the 21-year-old Lubbock native to England with Channel for a tour featuring an opening act called the Beatles. Backstage, McClinton showed John Lennon a few tricks on the harmonica. Later, the Fab bandleader famously credited the Texan's blues harp as an influence.
"It gets romanticized, and I don't know what to say about it, because it just happened," laughs McClinton. "You've gotta put it into perspective. When we did all that stuff, it was still just the infancy of rock & roll. Everything was just made up on the spot, and there was very little precedent of any kind to go by.
"It was just a matter of how big of balls you got."
Rock & roll may not have had a precedent for McClinton's harp, but he learned to blow behind the blues gods. In Ft. Worth, where his family moved when he was a teenager, McClinton formed the Straitjackets in 1958, which became the house band backing Jimmy Reed, Bobby Bland, Sonny Boy Williamson, Howlin' Wolf, and every other blues legend that passed through town.
"There were two main clubs back then, and they were already relics of another time," he remembers. "They were old, massive dance halls. The Skyliner Club had gone to seed a long time ago, but Blue Monday there was the night black people had it. We were the only white band that ever got to play there. I had the band that knew all the artists' songs, and we were doing them good."
Ft. Worth had little more to offer the aspiring musician though. His marriage was falling apart by the end of the Sixties, and his career hadn't reached much beyond Texas.
"I was going nowhere quick," he says. "I was working at a car parts supply and playing in bar bands. One night, I was playing this beer joint, and I was high on acid, and this woman came through the door. I'd known her forever, but she was brand new that night, you know? We locked on each other, and that began this mad, crazy affair. She'd just gotten divorced and had some mad money – and a '66 Chrysler Imperial.
"I said, 'Hey, wanna go to California?'"
In Los Angeles, McClinton hooked up with fellow Ft. Worth songwriter Glen Clark, and the duo released two albums for Atlantic in the early Seventies as Delbert & Glen. He returned to Texas in 1974 just as progressive country began taking hold in Austin, but his eclectic, R&B-based style on 1975 solo debut Victim of Life's Circumstances never fit. He moved to Nashville a year later.
There, McClinton slowly began garnering attention. Emmylou Harris hit No. 1 in 1978 with his song "Two More Bottles of Wine," and McClinton scored his own Top 10 behind "Givin' It Up for Your Love" off 1980 LP The Jealous Kind. Behind the music, however, things were falling apart. Bad business partners and a hard lifestyle were quickly catching up to him.
"I had to turn my life around," he says. "I was going the wrong way like so many others. I can think of three or four guys I knew in the Seventies that drowned in their own vomit snorting junk. I've seen the lowest, dirtiest side of all that drug stuff, and for whatever reason, I didn't die from it, because, Jesus, I loved speed.
"The backside of that can make you feel like the lowest piece of shit that ever drew breath. But I always I had the music. And that's always made me able to do it, because I know if I were to fuck around, I would lose that."
Live From Austin
Austin, 1989: The horns come on like a shotgun blast as the applause drops to a simmer. A sharp burst of percussion and surge of guitars, and McClinton burns into "Maybe Someday Baby" like a man possessed.
The singer's Austin City Limits taping that year preserves one of the show's monumental performances. Although it marked his fourth appearance on the PBS concert series, this time he stacked the stage with a band that included two keyboards, a horn section featuring locals Jon Blondell and Kaz Kazanoff, and late South Austinite Stephen Bruton on guitar. Through "Lipstick Traces," "Thank You Baby," and "B Movie Boxcar Blues," McClinton unloads a set as R&B shouter, soul growler, and blues howler. Turning over Otis Redding's "I've Got Dreams to Remember," McClinton wails tender and broken. Encore "Givin' It Up for Your Love" brings the house down as a full party erupts to close.
Alligator Records insisted on putting out an LP of the recording, and Live From Austin earned McClinton his first Grammy nomination. Although only 40 minutes long, the album captures the full fire of McClinton live. It also marked his comeback after a decade spent getting sober and subsequent hounding from the IRS for back taxes.
"I was working eight days a week to try to pay the IRS and just live," he remembers. "There were assholes that would come to gigs I was at and try to get money for the government. And every record company that I recorded for went out of business except one. You live and learn, if you're lucky."
Live From Austin signaled a turning point. In 1990, he signed with Curb Records and released I'm With You, his first studio effort since 1981. The next year he won a Grammy for Best Rock Performance by a Duo with Bonnie Raitt for "Good Man, Good Woman," and hit the country charts with Tanya Tucker duet "Tell Me About It" in 1993. Whereas his eclectic style had previously confounded labels and/or left him pigeonholed within the blues, by the Nineties it allowed him access across a full spectrum of roots music, epitomized by 1992's Never Been Rocked Enough that featured support from Raitt, Tom Petty, and Melissa Etheridge.
"Wendy came along, that was the big change," says McClinton about his partner of nearly 30 years. "She raked it all in a pile and made it work. The most wonderful part of life was getting together with her. She's got the brains. You can do a lot, but you can't do it by yourself. Here I am at my age and I have more success than I ever had."
2001's Nothing Personal and 2005's Cost of Living both captured Grammys for Best Contemporary Blues Album. In 2013, he re-teamed with his old songwriting partner Glen Clark to release Blind, Crippled, and Crazy. The album brings McClinton full circle in more ways than one as the duo lays down gritty, honky-tonk blues on "Oughta Know," a song co-written by his son Clay and Bruce Channel.
Driftin' Away With You
Since moving back to Central Texas nine years ago, Clay McClinton has become a favorite at the annual Armadillo Christmas Bazaar in the Palmer Events Center. In December, he earned opening honors to the 10-day music lineup after missing the previous year's event while still recovering from his auto accident.
At 41, he looks at least a decade younger, and even more so when he flashes his broad smile behind the microphone. On this quiet Tuesday morning – 11am – a half-dozen Austinites have the seated area to themselves, while others gather from around surrounding booths. Delbert sits a few rows back from the stage, his feet tapping to the blues and country tunes his son delivers. He beams a big proud smile and bobs his head along to "Oughta Know."
"Before he was even born, he was in the beer joints with me," McClinton says later of his son. "He can't get enough of it, and I know the feeling. I can't get enough of it. The one thing that he got from me, and I'm not sure how healthy it is, is that he is so incredibly determined to do this."
McClinton the elder has likewise found renewed inspiration alongside his new band and co-writers. New songs play more in the vein of songbook standards, ballads that unravel smoothly under his low croon in a voice grown rich and evocative with age.
"It's a brand new start in a way, and it's just inspirational to sit with new people and come up with ideas and write," he attests. "It's overwhelming sometimes in that it's such a rich thing to be a part of. Even if this record doesn't sell anything, it's still wonderful and I love it, and that's all I care about."
As Clay begins to strum the fluid sway of "Driftin' Away With You," Delbert can't contain himself anymore and rises out of his seat as if physically reeled in by the music. Onstage, he joins his son in harmony as the chorus swells, and the two songwriters smile at each other, lost together in the moment.
"Life is good," says Delbert. "Knowing that Clay's doing so well, and he's so positive, there just aren't words to describe something like that. We both could have just have easily been dead, and we both know that, and that's a reason to rejoice. It really is."
Another wonderful year of deep ocean performances and there will be a twenty-third edition and likely many more to follow! This year’s cruise brought back many familiar faces: Marcia Ball, Anson Funderburgh, Jimmy Hall, Big Joe Maher, Clay McClinton, The McCrary Sisters, Mingo Fishtrap, Spooner Oldham, Gary Nicholson also known as his alter ego Whitey Johnson, Lee Roy Parnell, Big Al Anderson, Seth Walker, The Band of Heathens who (year after year) I repeatedly have enjoyed, and of course Delbert McClinton who continues to marvel and amaze. There was also a major first-time Delbert cruise performer: Kevin Moore best known as the three time Grammy winner Keb’ Mo’ who was a stellar addition.
Favorites included Gary Nicholson’s band with Anson Funderburgh (and at times Le Roy Parnell) on guitars. It was a superb set where I enjoyed Nicholson’s fun tune “Pay Bo Diddley,” and much more. Unfortunately Nicholson only performs once, and I certainly would like at least one more Nicholson set(s). Funderburgh also regularly performs with the ready and steady Big Joe Maher, and this year I caught him sitting in with Lee Roy Parnell on “Natural Ball” that instrumentally reminiscent of “T-Bone Shuffle,” that was one of the most potent highlights of this year’s cruise.
Who doesn’t like Marcia Ball? Especially with guitarist “Mighty” Mike Schermer, and it’s a Delbert cruise tradition to have Red Young sitting in on B3 throughout. Delbert continues to defy time (saw him three times) as McClinton and his always solid band sparkled. By the way, Kevin McKendree tells me that Delbert will have a brand new album coming out this spring; look for it on-line or better yet at: www.Delbert.com Of special note, I completely enjoyed the two sets that I witnessed by the The Band of Heathens. Even though these youngsters are in their early to mid-thirties, they definitely have an affinity towards late-sixties to mid-seventies roots music. They are reminiscent of groups like The Band, Little Feat, and other country-rock bands, but also write great tunes, vocalize well, and have a unique knack of listening to each other when they jam. These young Heathens would have fit in playing the Fillmore East and West back in the day and (again) left a memorable impression. Their set was another favorite especially when they called for guitarist extraordinaire Guthrie Trapp who tore it up on “Gimme Some Lovin’”near the end of the Heathens performance – whew!
Big Al Anderson has also been a regular on the Delbert cruises but this year he sported a supberb new band: The World Famous Headliners with veteran guitarists and vocalists Patrick McLaughlin and Shawn Camp.
And the best news of all is that (all of this) unforgettable music continues for at least another year! I am happy to report that you can sign up right now for their twenty-third edition at: www.Delbert.com or call 1-800-Delbert. I hope to be back again in January 2017 and look forward to seeing many of you onboard too! You will not be disappointed.
Tearful tribute: Months prior to each previous Delbert cruise I always received preliminary emails from fellow cruiser Jack Malone who would always check on me to see if I would be on-board. I didn’t hear from Jack this year and found out he had passed. So I dedicate this year’s article to the memory of Jack Malone for his always kind words about my articles and for his gentle recommendations about artists I had missed providing coverage for. R.I.P. Mr. Malone, you are missed.
For 17 years Bob Putignano has been pivotal at WFDU with his Sounds of Blue radio show (Wed. & Fri. 9am-1pm) www.SoundsofBlue.com – http://wfdu.fm Previously a contributing editor at Blues Revue, Blueswax, and Goldmine magazines, currently the Music Editor for the Yonkers Tribune www.YonkersTribune.com & www.MakingAScene.org Bob was also the 2003 recipient of the “Keeping the Blues Alive” award (given by the Blues Foundation in Memphis) for his achievements in radio broadcasting. Putignano can be contacted at: BobP@SoundsofBlue.com
McClinton at the Keswick: Still 'Giving It Up for Your Love'
Decades before Americana became an umbrella term to describe hard-to-categorize roots music, Delbert McClinton was tearing up roadhouses with his own "what-do-you-call-that?" blend of rhythm-and-blues, rock, soul, and honky-tonk.
At 74, the Nashville-based Texas native is no longer on the road constantly, but when he does perform, he shows little sign of slowing down. He made that clear Friday night at the Keswick Theatre in Glenside, bringing his rollicking roadhouse spirit to the Philadelphia suburbs.
The performance's vitality reflected McClinton's creative rebirth as a writer, something he had drifted away from after the 1970s, when he first distinguished himself as a vivid, concise, and street-savvy lyricist.
He has done some of his best work over the last 20 years, and examples were sprinkled throughout the set: "New York City," animated by a jazzy, hipsterish vibe; "Squeeze Me In," all fast-talking swagger; "Down in Mexico," a noirish tale of betrayal; and knockout ballads including the yearning "Starting a Rumor" and the border-flavored "When Rita Leaves."
There was also the gospel-tinged "Leap of Faith," written by compadres Glen Clark and Gary Nicholson, which was dedicated to the late B.B. King, who played on the original studio recording. Meanwhile, McClinton's '70s classic "Two More Bottles of Wine," better known from Emmylou Harris' version, rocked harder than ever. Other oldies, such as "Back to Louisiana" and "Shaky Ground," and his one pop hit, 1981's "Giving It Up for Your Love," also retained their boisterous freshness.
McClinton's voice has long had a sandpaperish, frayed-around-the-edges quality, giving it a character that suits the gritty, real-life milieu of his songs. In perhaps one concession to age - besides a midset break - the harmonica player who once gave lessons to a young John Lennon played little himself, conserving his lung power for his singing.
McClinton looked to be having fun with his six-piece band, and at least some of the time he appeared to be making song selections on the spot. He also gave guitarist Bob Britt, saxophonist Dana Robbins, trumpeter Quentin Ware, and keyboardist Dennis Wage plenty of room to shine without disrupting the head-long momentum of the individual songs or the set.
For all the classic strains in his music, when you see Delbert McClinton, you're seeing someone who is not so much carrying on a tradition as cementing his stature as an American original.
Delbert McClinton was there in the very beginning.
“I have great memories of things,” he muses. “I was there at the birth of rock ‘n’ roll, when all these incredible things were going on. I remember going to a midnight movie, which at that time was the most far out thing you could do in West Texas, because nothing happens after midnight that’s good for young people, and the movie I saw was Rock Around the Clock. When that thing started, the place was just packed and everybody suddenly started screaming ‘One two three o’clock, four o’clock rock’ and it was magic! It was as magic as I could imagine, because it affected us all so deep. There was this music that was ours. And after that, so much happened at once. Chuck Berry and Fats Domino, Little Richard, and on and on and on. Nothing like it has happened since.”
McClinton has reason to reminisce. After all, he played a small but memorable role in the music’s emergence in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. His first bar band, The Straitjackets, backed up blues champions like Sonny Boy Williamson, Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Reed and Lightnin’ Hopkins, venerable musicians from whom many a seminal British band would take its cue. He achieved regional success in his native Fort Worth, and then made an indelible imprint when he added his harmonica to Bruce Channel’s hit “Hey! Baby” in 1962. The subsequent success of that single took Channel, with McClinton in tow, to England, where a nascent band named the Beatles supported a couple of their dates and a budding rock ‘n’ roller named John Lennon insisted McClinton teach him the finer points of playing a harp.
McClinton would pave his own path to success in the years and decades that followed that fateful encounter, first with a band called the Rondells (their 1965 single, “If You Really Want Me to I’ll Go” became a regional hit), and later with his group Delbert and Glen, a duo he formed with fellow Texan Glen Clark. After the band split, McClinton went solo, scoring more hits as a songwriter (“Two More Bottles of Wine” for Emmylou Harris and “B Movie Boxcar Blues” for the Blues Brothers, among them) than he managed to accomplish on his own.
Nevertheless, he became a staple of modern blues, recording dozens of albums for different labels, scoring a top ten hit of his own (1980’s “Givin’ Up for Your Love”), and garnering a Grammy for his 1991 duet with Bonnie Raitt, “Good Man, Good Woman.” He won another Grammy in 2006, this time for Best Contemporary Blues Album for The Cost of Living, one of the most critically acclaimed efforts of his career. Another pairing, this time with Tanya Tucker on the song “Tell Me About It”, boosted him to the highest tiers of the country charts.
At age 75, McClinton continues to tour on a limited basis, while devoting much of his time to his Sandy Beaches Cruise, an excursion that laid the foundation for what’s become a burgeoning industry, that of the ocean-going music festival. That’s where PopMatters caught up with him this past January, following a night of freewheeling jam sessions that found him sitting in with his various musical friends.
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Let’s go back almost to the beginning. What are your recollections of being on tour with the Beatles back in 1962?
When “Hey! Baby” was number one in England in 1962 and Bruce got booked for a six week tour of the British Isles, the promoter said, well, we have to have a harp player because that’s a big part of the song. So I got to go, and the Beatles were the opening act on some of the shows we did. There was always three or four bands kicking off the concerts. The shows would start like at three in the afternoon, but Bruce wouldn’t get on until 11 at night. Every day somebody would show up in our dressing room with a harmonica and say show me what you’re doing, because at that particular time, you have to put this into perspective, nobody was playing a harmonica except in blues music. It wasn’t a popular instrument in rock ‘n’ roll. I think in a two week period I spent maybe 15 hours with Paul. He took me out in London, and we’d cruise around at night.
Being in London must have been quite a culture shock.
Hell, yeah! I was just this kid from Texas and I hadn’t really been out of the state before. So he took me around and it was bizarre. And I loved it. I couldn’t get enough. It was fun. We were all 21, 22 years old, and we were all going to change the world. There was no doubt in any of our minds. And of course, they did.
Did you have any idea that they were going to go on to greatness?
Absolutely! When we first saw them, their mode of transportation was a British World War II army ambulance, with a hole in the back where you could take a leak. Anyway, I remember on one particular occasion, this young girl comes up to our dressing room, and we were just worn out completely. I had tried that afternoon at the Cavern, the place the Beatles always played, but there was no hot water, but I needed a shame. And it was just awful, trying to shave with no hot water in this dank little bathroom with no hot water, ice cold water. And this girl comes up and says, you’ve got to come down and hear this group. They’re the hottest group in the north of England. They had just gotten back from Hamburg, and it was the Beatles. We saw them and it was obvious they were amazing. I can’t say I had any idea they would be what they would become, but they were excellent, and they did what they did.
Legend has it that the harmonica riff in “Love Me Do” sprung form your harmonica riff in “Hey! Baby.”
John did mention to me that he was inspired by “Hey! Baby.” Of course, it’s hard to show anybody anything on a harmonica. But later, he told someone I showed him everything he knew. Just like anything, it gets romanticized.
How does it feel being a witness to history like that?
I didn’t know that they would change the world, but that was what was so cool about it. We were all on common ground. No preconceived ideas or anything. We were just a bunch of young guys out to change the world musically and we were convinced we were going to do it. So it was wonderful. You can’t stop somebody with that kind of feeling. They would crawl on their hands and knees to get where they need to be to do it.
Switching to the present, what’s your take on the state of popular music these days?
It’s so important to me to keep good music alive, because a lot of the stuff that’s dished out is for little kids, specifically, little girls. It breaks my heart to see people spend so much time on something that’s nothing more than a primitive beat, something that’s hypnotic, something that’s like a drug where all you hear is this (taps his fingers on the table) for 20 hours. I don’t understand the principle of how it works. If you’re going to play music and do it good, it’s got to be a lifelong passion. And if you don’t have the honesty and intention to get better at it – if all you have is a click track and some little jive ditty, a few words you can say over and over—then why bother? I don’t understand it. What the hell is that about? Where’s the emotional commitment in making something that’s not even very good. It’s crazy.
It seems it’s even harder for the songwriters these days, what with streaming and reduced royalty rates.
Songwriters are getting beat up. As soon as you put a song out on the internet, everybody’s got it. Over the past five years, songwriters’ income has gone to about a quarter of what it was. The only way to make a living in music is to go out on the road eight days a week and develop a fan base that will follow you into the fire.
Still, you’ve been successful at it at doing just that.
I feel so very lucky because I’ve been able to spend my life doing what I wanted to do, and I think, to get better at it. That keeps me standing pretty tall, because I didn’t cheat, I didn’t lie, I did the best I could and it paid off.
When you scored your big hit, “Givin’ Up for Your Love,” was that a career changer for you?
Not really. Even at that time, I was pretty old, and we were in the age of videos. I don’t care how good the music is, do you want to watch this old guy or this pretty little thing here? The latter is going to win every time, man. The radio exposure certainly made it better, but it didn’t turn me into a superstar by any means. I never wanted to be a superstar. That’s the biggest bunch of shit in the world. I know too many people whose lives are a mess because they can’t even go out in public anymore. Some people don’t have any more sense than to think these people have the secret to life, and so they stalk them. You get to the point where you can’t be who you are, or you end up spending so much time pretending that is who you are. Then you spend those late nights when nobody’s around wondering what the fuck you’re doing? What have I done to myself? I’m here, but I don’t know where else to go. I think you have to have passion, true passion, to take you through life. If you don’t have it, you’re going to come to a place where you can’t put up with your own jive bullshit anymore, and then you end up doing so many really sad things. I’ve seen so much of it.
So what’s on your bucket list?
I think that the main thing on my bucket list is that I get to keep doing this. Because without this, I got nothing. I can’t do anything else. The only jobs I ever had were a means to an end, just so I could pay the bills, so I could keep doing music at nights. I just don’t want to stop. I want to stay healthy. I’m the luckiest guy in the world. I work only as much as I want to. I work maybe eight nights a month, which means 16 days of travel.
Do you like the travel?
There’s no place I’d rather be than home. I’ve been to the party. I’ve seen all kinds of mayhem, so the thrill is gone for all that kind of stuff. It’s time to stop and smell the roses, so to speak. There’s just so much more to life than what I’ve done, because I’ve spent an awful lot of nights in beer joints.
So do you have another album in the works?
Yes, we just started recording a few weeks ago. I have three really good songs already done, and I have so many more songs, I’ll almost have enough to do a double album by the time I finish recording. Or I’ll put out two albums at the same time. I’m expecting it will be ready in the fall.
When Willie Nelson was once asked if he would ever retire, he supposedly said, “Why Would I want to?”
Here’s another story for you about what Willie had to say on the subject. It was around 1973 when things were just starting to break big for him. One of the members of his band asked him one night after playing in a particularly lousy, greasy dive, “How long are we going to have to play these fucking places?” And Willie answered, “Forever, if we’re lucky.” [laughs] So that’s kind of how I feel. That’s where I come alive.
Posted on Jan 17, 2015 in Americana Music, Festivals, Music cruises, Reviews
by Ken Paulson
We’ve just stepped off Delbert McClinton’s Sandy Beaches Cruise, a floating music festival in its 21st year. Though the ship stopped in Antigua and St. Croix, that really didn’t matter. On Sandy Beaches, you come for the music.
The cruise features an amazing array of artists, with blues, rhythm and blues and New Orleans influences among the most common denominators. Headliners included McClinton, Paul Thorn, the Mavericks, Lyle Lovett, Marcia Ball, Wayne Toups, Band of Heathens, the McCrary Sisters, Teresa James, Elizabeth Cook, Lari White and Mingo Fishtrap. Rough seas moved some of the deck shows inside, but the performances didn’t suffer. It was one rich performance after another.
McClinton’s partner on the 2015 cruise was Sixthman, the industry leaders in music cruises. Their cruises (they call them festivals) include ventures with Kiss, Florida Georgia Line, Train and Kid Rock, as well as the popular Americana-folk-rock Cayamo cruise.
We’ve written extensively about the always amazing Cayamo cruise over the years and we’ll have a report on the 2015 cruise shortly. It’s the cruise that most closely matches the vibe and music of Sandy Beaches. While both are impressive festivals, Cayamo tends to have bigger names and a wide range of singer-songwriters (John Prine, Lucinda Williams, Richard Thompson and Lovett are headliners this year), while Sandy Beaches books bands and artists whose primary mission is to get you dancing in the aisles.
Among the week’s highlights on Sandy Beaches:
Collaborations – some planned, many impromptu – were a big part of the cruise, and Delbert McClinton was everywhere. In addition to three sets with his band, he sat in on a songwriters session featuring Gary Nicholson, Spooner Oldham, Danny Flowers, Glen Clark (of Delbert and Glen) and Bruce Channel. It was Delbert who played harmonica on Channel’s big hit “Hey! Baby,” a #1 record in 1962, and the duo revisited that classic.
The most striking team-up came when Delbert sat down on the piano bench with veteran keyboardist Red Young for a stirring version of “Georgia,” while members of the audience attempted to slow dance despite high waves and a rocking boat. Young was a revelation throughout the cruise. He’s played piano for Clyde McCoy, Lloyd Price, Eric Burdon, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and even Sonny and Cher, and he showed up as a sideman on stages throughout the cruise, while also leading a band that played Frank Sinatra and jazzy pop in the Spinnaker Lounge.
Delbert also joined Lari White for a song from her Green Eyed Soul album, to her obvious delight. She had opened her set by telling the audience that she would understand if they filtered out to see the Mavericks, whose set overlapped with hers. She then went on to make sure they didn’t, Opening with “Amazing Grace” (her usual encore, she explained), a sizzling take on Steve Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” and guest spots with Young and others.
White’s concern about competition from the Mavericks was understandable. They played two robust sets, including songs from their upcoming album Mono, set for release on Valory Music on Feb. 17.
Bass player and longtime Maverick Robert Reynolds is no longer in the band, and the Mavericks used Sandy Beaches to introduce his successor James Intveld. Raul Malo claimed they were throwing Intveld into the mix without much rehearsal time, but it didn’t show. He’s an accomplished solo artist and a great addition to the band.
As hard as Delbert worked, Marcia Ball matched him, headlining her own three sets, hosting an all-star “Pianorama” that featured the most talented keyboardists on the cruise complementing and competing with each other, and doing guest spots in other shows, including a memorable turn with Teresa James.
Lyle Lovett was probably the biggest draw on the cruise, and packed the largest theater on the boat with acoustic sets that had fans raving.
Paul Thorn’s fans were also out in force, though he surprised many by announcing that after more than a decade on this cruise, this would be his last. He told fans to watch his website for developments, and then delivered an outstanding set that included a guest spot by his daughter on tambourine.
Tt’s been a few years since we’ve seen Thorn perform, and it’s clear that as his fan base has grown, so has his sound. He’s playing much bigger rooms now and his band is more powerful and his songs more anthemic. He played a number of songs from his latest album Too Blessed to Be Stressed, including “Everybody Needs Somebody” and a wonderful version of the title song with guest vocals from the McCrary Sisters.
Another highlight from the new album was “Mediocrity is King,” the best protest song we’ve heard in years, taking to task everything and everyone who waters down our culture, and expressing special disdain for both Republicans and Democrats. A bonus was the Paul Thorn Band’s take on Jackson Browne’s “Doctor My Eyes,” from the recent tribute album Looking Into You.
Thorn also showed up on Jason Wilber’s “In Search of A Song” radio show taping and as a flamboyantly dressed guest on Fred Eaglesmith’s mock talk show. The Sandy Beaches audience will miss him.
Elizabeth Cook battled an illness early in the week, and only made it through four songs before her voice gave out. To our surprise, she battled back on Friday to deliver a solid set that drew heavily from her recent Gospel Plow album and her 201o release Welder, including “El Camino” and “Heroin Addict Sister” from the latter. Whether it was the bug or the mix, her vocals were sometimes overwhelmed by her new band, but she played for almost 90 minutes.
Jill Sobule’s time on the boat was limited, but she delivered one of the most entertaining sets of the week, backed by members of Paul Thorn’s band. she opened with “If I Had a Jetpack,” followed by the defiant “I’ve Got Nothing to Prove,” immediately winning over the audience. “Where is Bobbie Gentry?,” from her California Years album, was next, and Sobule said she had been told that Gentry thought the song was very funny. It was a sweet tribute to Gentry and the sound of “Ode to Billie Joe.”
Sobule explained that she had been hired to write a song about the history of immigration in America, and enlisted more than a dozen audience members to serve as a chorus on a powerful and profane song that makes the point that virtually all of us are in the U.S. because of immigration.
Sobule closed with a sampling of fan favorites, including “Supermodel” from the Clueless soundtrack, “Bitter,” “When My Ship Comes In, “Underdog Victorious” and “Lucy in the Gym,” with an atrium-wide sing-along on the encore of Mott the Hoople’s “All the Young Dudes.”
Of course, all of this just scratches the surface. There were more than 60 shows, with outstanding sets by Wayne Toups, the Band of Heathens, the McCrary Sisters, Jimmy Hall, Teresa James and many more.
As musically memorable as the week was, some of the smaller moments were the most memorable. When Muscle Shoals great Spooner Oldham performed his “I’m Your Puppet,” a hit for James and Bobby Purify in 1966, Glen Clark couldn’t contain himself, rushing all the way across the stage to harmonize with Oldham. We know the feeling.
The 2016 Sandy Beaches Cruise is scheduled for January 9 through 16 on the Holland America Line.
I was first turned on to Delbert McClinton almost thirty-four years ago when the Texas born singer came out with his smash hit, “Giving It Up For Your Love.” I mean, who can forget his memorable performance of that song on Saturday Night Live with the lovely and talented Bonnie Bramlett singing backup for him? Absolutely amazing!
Still recording, touring and performing for fans all over America, the man’s music is as fresh and relevant as ever. I recently caught up with Mr. McClinton by phone to talk about his current tour, the music business and his plans for the future.
Answering my question regarding how things are in his world these days, Delbert dropped a bit of a bombshell on me regarding his health.
“Well, I had a triple by-pass in April. It was successful. I didn’t have any heart damage. I knew something was wrong. So I listened to my body and they caught it. I had a ninety-five percent blockage in the main artery. He told me that I was just a breath away from being dead. So, that happened and that’s great. I’m back and totally recovered and ready for another fifty years.”
Naturally, this all begged the question as to whether or not this experienced changed McClinton’s perspective on life, relationships, career, content of songs or anything else.
“Yeah, it’s a life-changing event regardless of how it goes down. Like I said, I was very lucky. I was already in the process of recovery before I really even knew what I had. I mean, it happened so quick! Heart surgery these days, they make it seem like it’s no more difficult than changing a tire on a little girl’s bicycle. I went in there. They operated one day. I was walking around on the third day. On the fifth day, I was out of there with big ol’ heart shaped pillow to hug and, boy, I was glad to have it! It becomes your best and only friend for a short time – especially right after surgery because, if you cough, you need to have a pillow to hold you together. Ha! Ha!
“But, you know, that didn’t go on for long. It was just a matter of just a couple of weeks. And, yes, it did change my perspective on an awful lot of things. First of all, you realize that it doesn’t always happen to someone else. That’s a pretty big game-changer when you have to face the fact that you almost died from it. It gets your attention. But, at the same time, I feel – I don’t feel twenty years younger but I feel a whole lot better! My voice is better than it’s been since I was a teenager. I don’t know. I could go on and on about the aftermath of having heart surgery but the bottom line is I’m sure glad I didn’t die! Ha! Ha!
“I mean, I don’t mind dying. We’re all gonna die. But I wasn’t ready to die. Of course, few people are but I was certainly aware of the fact that, hey! I’m in trouble! So, it changes the whole way you think. I feel more at ease now because I know I’ve had something done that I corrected a major mess. Other than that, I’m relatively healthy. Life is good and I’m moving on.”
Putting a pleasant, humorous bow on the subject, Delbert said,
“That’s the main thing that’s happened to me. That’s this year’s big deal. Ha! Ha!”
Another reason why I wanted to interview McClinton was I had learned that, as part of yet another busy touring season, he was going to be playing in my area - at the Bijou Theater in Knoxville, Tennessee. I asked if he had performed there before.
“Oh, yeah, I’ve played at the Bijou before – several times! I love old theaters and that’s a good one!”
I asked what if McClinton’s performances have changed due to his surgery and what can fans expect from shows during this tour.
“It has changed but as far as trying to describe that, I don’t know how I would do that. I can’t not be different because something major occurred! I can breathe deeper than I’ve been able to breath in years. I don’t know, man, I don’t know. It’s all still pretty supernatural to me, in a way. In the last three years, my saxophone player had a heart attack while we were on the road and died after got him to the hospital. Then, my trumpet player had a heart attack on a day off while we were out. We took him to the hospital in Richmond, Virginia, and, after several hours, the doctor came walking out and said, ‘Everything’s fine.’ I saw him before he went in there and he looked awful! To see somebody walking after you’ve seen somebody that you just knew wasn’t going to make it . . . and he did! He’s back and healthy.
“You know, you gotta live every minute like it’s the last. It can be over at any second - like blowin’ out a candle. That’s how easy it is. So, with that in mind, I’m having a lot of fun because I nearly wasn’t here! Ha! Ha! I don’t want to ride on that because I’m not the only one in the world who’s ever had heart surgery but you asked me what’s going on and that has occupied my every thought for the last several months. I’m just a very fortunate guy. I’ve got a lot more music in me. I’m making preparations now for another record. I’ve almost got enough songs to do a double album. We’re in the process of putting that together.”
Is keeping the road fresh and non-monotonous a challenge for Delbert?
“Well, it doesn’t necessarily wear me down. I love to go out and make music. I hate the hotels. I hate the goin’ there. If I never walked into another hotel room in my life, it would be too soon. They’re all the same and it comes with the lunch, you know? If you’re gonna do this, that’s where you’re gonna stay.
“I don’t work as much as I used to. I usually work two to three days a week. That’s hard working but it takes up four days a week – with the comin’ and the goin’. So, I’m at home ‘bout as much as I’m on the road and I like that. I don’t spring back as quick as I used to. I’m real good for two or three nights but if I’ve got to do five or six nights a week – I won’t say I couldn’t do it but I sure as hell don’t wanna do it because it’s a young man’s game out here doing this. I’m so fortunate that I have a career that allows me to not have to work all the time. I’m sittin’ pretty, man!”
“I spent a lot of years – a lot of ‘em – being that guy, myself. But that was a long time ago. I’ve got no time for fools or jerks. There’s no room for that. When you’re closed up in a tube with a bunch of guys, one sour apple can screw up the vibes all the way through the place and nobody needs that kind of behavior. But there are an awful lot of jerks out there. It’s a skull orchard out there and they’re just dumb as a rock, a lot of ‘em and you just have to deal with that, you know? I’m certainly not sayin’ everybody but there are those the shade never comes down and says, ‘Maybe you shouldn’t do. Maybe you shouldn’t say that.’ So, you’re on a pivot, ready to get out of the way all the time with some people.
“An example of the kind of people I’m talking about: We played in Vegas once and the shortcut back to my room was straight through the
casino. I kinda closed my eyes and turned invisible and headed off through the casino. Some woman at a slot machine saw me. ‘THERE’s DELBERT!’ Running over there and grabbed me and was hollering at everybody, ‘Look! I got Delbert!’ You know? That’s just really squirrely. Ha! Ha!”
Our conversation shifted over to the state of the music business and record companies in general. McClinton’s comments echoed what I’ve heard from other great artists.
“I don’t even think that there are such things as record companies any more. The thing that’s so incredibly difficult about it - and I don’t know how in the world they’ll ever stop it because you can’t. A good friend of mine is a writer and that’s pretty much all he does is be a songwriter. He’s written a lot of hits for people. Two years ago, his income went to one quarter of what it usually was because, once you record a song now, the minute you let it out, everybody’s got it. Anybody who wants it has got it. You can’t make any money. The only way to make any money is go perform.
“As far as making records, so many bands today give their records away just to create a fan base. Fortunately for me, I’ve got a fan base – a fantastic fan base. They’d take a bullet for me. That’s pretty special. I would hate to be a young guy trying to start out in this world today because, in the first place, I know anybody who starts out in this has the biggest dreams in the world. So many of them have confidence that will just scorch everybody else. But that’s not enough, unfortunately. You’ve gotta have more than that. The want-to is ninety-nine percent of it. The being-able-to is the other ninety-nine percent of it. It’s a hard way to make a living.
“Back when I started doing this, everybody in the world wasn’t in the business. But, today, it’s unbelievable, man. Everybody’s in it and, as hard as I try – well, maybe that’s not the right words because I don’t try that hard. I don’t listen to an awful lot of the new music. I’ve got a young daughter and she brings music around for me to listen to. But she grew up with me and I’d been feeding her Hank Williams and Ray Charles so I think she’s going to be okay. She’s got a good head on her as far as music goes.”
As our chat shifted gears, during the transition Delbert quoted Bob Dylan: “A lot of things get in the way when you try to do something right.” Both of us being Dylan fans, we chatted about the legend for a few minutes.
“It pisses me off every time I hear him say something because I go, ‘Damn! I wish I’d said that!’ He is the guy and always will be. He’s a phenomena that will keep people forever wondering, ‘What the hell?’ His word-smithing is just phenomenal!”
Still on a roll, talking about other great songsmiths, Delbert segued into talking about another artist.
“A couple of weeks ago, I picked up a Johnny Mercer CD that Clint Eastwood did called ‘The Dream’s On Me.’ I grew up listening to Johnny Mercer. He wrote ‘Moon River,”
‘Jeepers Creepers’ and ‘G.I. Jive.’ He was the voice of the Forties! He’s another tunesmith that puts words together that’s just unbelievable!”
McClinton then drew a comparison to today’s talent.
“I was reading an article here a while back. I try to stay away from things like this but Kanye West was running his mouth again. I think, ‘My god! How can anybody be so self-centered and stupid?’ He seems to think he’s God. He said that. I read that he said he’s a god. I’ve already had most of my life and I know where that heads to. It heads to a lot of really confused, uninformed, ultimately pitiful people. Not always but that’s the route, when you go to thinking that you’re the only one, that’s when they start heading for that brick wall. That ol’ brick wall is abrupt. I hit it three or four times and it’s a hard one to get past. First of all, you’ve got to admit that you’re wrong. For a lot of people, that’s a difficult thing to do.”
I’ve counted 28 studio albums that Delbert has recorded n(ot counting compilation albums). I’ve listened to his latest CD, “Blind, Crippled and Crazy” and absolutely love the amazing, “Just When I Need You The Most.”
I said as much to McClinton, to which he responded, “I agree. I agree. And that record did absolutely nothing (sales wise)! It got a lot of great reviews. I think it was a great record. It was a lot of fun. Glen and I always have so much fun singing together. When we went back to do this, it was like we’d never stopped. We do it so naturally, it’s just like fallin’ off a log. We don’t even have to try to sing together. We don’t really sing harmonies together. We just sing different parts together. Because of it, it makes everything go up on two wheels every once in a while which I think is exhilarating.”
You’ll recall that, earlier in the interview, Mr. McClinton mentioned that he planned on going into the studio in the near future. I circled back to that comment and asked him if he had any idea how he was going to go with it.
“It’s going to go every which way. I’ve been writing with some different people. Al Anderson and I have written two or three songs together that are of a Dixieland style which is really, really cool. We’ve got three good songs, at least. My bass player and guitar player have been working together and we’ve got four great songs that are different for me. I don’t play anything real well. I play the pull and jerk method on the guitar – just enough to do my songs. But when I sat down to write with these guys, they are professional musicians. They know more than three chords. So we sat down together and started pushing stuff around and it enabled me to sing and play like I don’t ordinarily get to. When I write songs, I usually don’t write them with more than about three chords. Ha! Ha!
“So, stretching out in this way has allowed me to explore whole different areas of vocal style because, now, I’ve got somebody to write with that can bring that to the table, you know? So, we’ve been having a lot of fun doing that. And I’ve just written a lot of songs over the last several years. The other day I was lookin’ and I think I have sixteen new songs. If I had about twenty, I’d put out a double album. We’re working on that and it might just happen.
“But, in answer to your original question, it’s going to be varying, different styles, from blues to jazz to a kind of New Orleans/Dixieland kind of thing. So, so far, that’s a bunch of the feel that’ll be on this record.”
When I told Delbert that I love the blues and how he sings them and that I can’t wait to hear the new album where he’ll sing some more, he replied with the humor that he peppered our chat with by saying,
“Well, you’re gonna have to.”
What hasn’t Delbert done that he would like to do, career-wise?
“Make a s*** load of money.”
There’s that humor, again.
“Nah, I’m just kiddin’. I’ve got no reason to complain. I’ve done very well. It took a long time to get there. I didn’t make any money in this business until I was fifty-one years old. So, the last ten or twelve years, for me, have been premier time as far as me being a stable commodity and that’s a great place to be, man. I work as much as I want to. You can’t beat that! Ha! Ha! It’s as good as it gets!”
In answer to my question about who he would like to work with but hasn’t yet, Delbert replied,
“I would’ve liked to have sung with Tina Turner. I think it would’ve been great fun to do something with her. But I don’t know, any more, you know? I really don’t. I have, all of my life, been singularly obsessed with what I’m trying to do that I miss so much music in my life. I would not recognize a Grateful Dead song. I know everybody else in the world lived and breathed by the Grateful Dead. I don’t know anything they ever did. I mean, if you played me something, I would recognize it. But, as far as knowing who they were and what they did? No idea. And there are so many people that just went right past me for whatever reason.
“The only reason I bring that up is that I think it’s unusual that I was so preoccupied with I’m not even sure what. I was preoccupied with what I was trying to do that everything else went by like a sign on the highway. I can’t talk to anybody about music, about who played that lick, about who did this except in a small area of music. I spent my whole life living in this area with soft edges.”
Is there anyone relatively “new” that’s catching McClinton’s attention in the music world?
“The last person that I remember hearing that really pulled me out of wherever I was and got my attention was Maroon 5. Fantastic! Fantastic band! Adam Levine, he’s an impressive guy. You can’t not recognize that those guys are doing well and bringing something new.
“Here’s the other and this will probably blow your mind. It blew my mind. Lady Gaga is amazing! You need to check her out because she is real talent. There’s just no denying that, if you give her a chance – I mean, good god! She’s a power house, man! She and Tony Bennett did an album together and it came in at number one! Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga. They are number one! He is amazing, of course. Since I’ve become a fan of hers – I’ve not heard the record yet but I have no doubt that it’s great.”
I had read that Delbert McClinton hosted the “Sandy Beaches Cruise” each year and asked him to tell me about it.
“This January will be the twenty-first year we’ve done it. It’s one week in the Caribbean with singers, songwriters, pony tricks and fire eaters and such and the music never stops. It goes from ten-thirty or eleven in the morning to five-thirty in the morning. People can sign up at 1-800-Delbert or Delbert.com.”
As to what is on McClinton’s career radar for the next year or so, he says,
“Ha! Ha! Well, for the next year, I’ve got a record to make, which is always exciting. As far as whatever else, if I could just keep doing what I’m doing right now until I don’t want to do it any more, I’ll be a big winner.”
When Delbert steps off the tour bus for the final time and has gone to that great gig in the sky, how does he want to be remembered and what does he hope his legacy will be?
“Oh, man! That’s just fantasy, isn’t it? Well, when I hang it up, I hope it’s because I’ve dropped dead on stage because that would be the best way in the world to go out. Of course, you can’t pick that. I don’t know how to answer that question because it could be a real sappy answer if I’m not careful and I don’t want to have a sappy answer. When I’m done, I’m done. The last thing in the world I’d want to do is to have to answer questions like that anymore.”
Delbert McClinton talks about his career ahead of Cain's concert
Delbert McClinton may be a guitarist, singer, songwriter, harmonica and piano player, but what has kept his career going for more than 40 years is his tenacity.
“I’m one of those guys, I’m a survivor,” 73-year-old McClinton told the Tulsa World recently. “I’ve always been a survivor. So I keep trying to make it better.”
With nearly 30 albums and hits in country, blues and rock, McClinton doesn’t see any reason to slow down now.
He’s bringing his tour to Cain’s Ballroom this week for a Tulsa show he said is long overdue. Doors to the show open at 7 p.m. Thursday with Mark Gibson Duo opening the night. Tickets are $26 in advance and are available at cainsballroom.com or at the Cain’s box office, 423 N. Main St.
McClinton grew up in Texas, moving to Fort Worth from the western part of the state at a young age. It was there that he had his first encounter with live music, he recalled.
He got home from school one day to their old shotgun duplex to find a friend of his brother’s making sounds he had never heard before.
“He was a guy that worked in the oil field, he was dirty and greasy and had a hard hat on and he’s sitting there between the kitchen and the dining room with his feet propped up on one side and he’s leaning against the wall on the other and singing a Hank Williams song,” McClinton said. “I just dropped my jaw.”
It piqued his interest in a unique way, so he started to learn how to play and sing where he could. More help came from another friend of another brother in that Texas house in the late 1950s.
“That’s where I learned most from,” McClinton said. “But hell, I still don’t know much about it. I play pull and jerk guitar.”
McClinton was coming of age at a great time in music, as well. Rock ’n’ roll was emerging as a genre from the roots, blues and jazz music. Pop music was Hank Williams and Nat King Cole, and McClinton said he took it all in.
Blues was also something that drew his interest, listening to the black radio stations broadcasting out of Dallas that introduced him to people like Jimmy Reed and B.B. King, he said.
“You did hear some of the things that became hits in the late ’50s, ’60s time, when some of the great blues guys were still around and still having hits,” McClinton said. “I think I got into this at a very high point of musical history, being the birth of rock ’n’ roll, so to speak, and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
McClinton started working as a musician in the 1960s and eventually led his own group in the 1970s and started releasing albums on his own.
His first work had a country feel to it, with his first album, “Delbert and Glen,” released in 1972, an album that featured Glen Clark.
As he was recording his own work, McClinton was also working extensively with other musicians, including doing duets with Bonnie Raitt and Tanya Tucker. His duet with Raitt earned him a Grammy Award in 1991.
McClinton had a string of albums hit No. 1 on the Billboard Blues charts through the 2000s, with four of his albums reaching that spot since 2001.
Playing, writing and singing across a spectrum of music wasn’t a problem for McClinton, he said. The point was that he was making music that he liked and that he liked to perform.
“I’m comfortable just about anywhere,” McClinton said. “Anywhere I feel like I can take something and make it mine, I love music of all kinds. I believe that I’m capable of singing different kinds of music. At least, it makes me happy, and I’m the only one I’m trying to make happy any more.”