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Delbert McClinton Profile

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Delbert McClinton

Texas blues-rock legend Delbert McClinton

Photo courtesy Mark Pucci Media

Born: November 4, 1940 in Lubbock TX

Roots 'n' blues legend Delbert McClinton is a true musical pioneer, mixing blues and old-school R&B music with country twang and 1960s-style rock 'n' roll to create a style entirely his own. McClinton is a survivor of better than five decades in the music biz as well, scoring irregular hits for a number of record labels, some of which barely lasted beyond the release of his most recent effort. His career has had more than its share of ups and downs, but McClinton has persisted, and in the 2010s he stands more popular than ever as new fans join the ranks of his longtime loyal followers.

Rockin' Across Texas

McClinton was born in Lubbock, Texas but moved to Fort Worth as a child with his family, his father a switchman for the railroad, his mother a beautician. He discovered blues music as a teenager after hearing Jimmy Reed and, teaching himself harmonica, soon found work on the central Texas club scene. McClinton's first band of note was the Straightjackets, the house band at a local blues club, where he found himself backing legends like Sonny Boy Williamson, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Lightnin' Hopkins, Big Joe Turner, and Howlin' Wolf, among many others.

McClinton recorded several singles as a solo artist in the late 1950s and early '60s, his cover of Williamson's "Wake Up Baby" earning the harp player the distinction of being the first white artist played by the local rhythm and blues radio station. McClinton's raging harp was featured on Fort Worth native Bruce Chanell's 1962 hit "Hey! Baby," and he accompanied the singer on his subsequent tour of England, where he met, and provided harmonica lessons to a young John Lennon. Returning to the states, McClinton formed a band called the Rondels, which enjoyed a minor hit in 1965 with "If You Really Want Me To, I'll Go," which would later be recorded by both Waylon Jennings and Doug Sahm.

Going To Los Angeles

McClinton spent much of the 1960s touring the Texas badlands, earning a reputation as a dynamic live performer while playing every small club and juke-joint in the Lone Star state that would book his band. In 1972, however, McClinton decided to roll the dice and make the move to Los Angeles with fellow Texan Glen Clark, the two forming the duo Delbert & Glen. The band recorded two albums of soulful country-rock for Clean Records, an Atlantic Records imprint – the 1972 LP Delbert & Glen and the following year's Subject To Change. Although both albums earned a the duo critical acclaim, neither sold well, and McClinton returned to Texas in 1974.

Back on firm footing on his home turf, McClinton signed a record deal with ABC Records which resulted in his solo debut, 1975's Victim of Life's Circumstances. The singer followed rapidly with 1976's Genuine Cowhide and 1977's Love Rustler. Marketed by his label as a "cosmic cowboy" in the vein of Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt, McClinton found little commercial success but earned respect among fellow musicians as a talented and rapidly-maturing songwriter. Other artists began covering McClinton's songs, with Emmylou Harris scoring a #1 country hit in 1978 with Delbert's "Two More Bottles of Wine."

Years In The Wilderness

Signing with Capricorn Records, McClinton recorded two distinctive albums for the label the Allman Brothers built, 1978's Second Wind and 1979's Keeper of the Flame. The latter album yielded the song "B Movie Boxcar Blues," which would be recorded later the same year by the Blues Brothers (John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd) for their chart-topping, double-platinum album Briefcase Full of Blues. When Capricorn went belly-up for the first time, McClinton quickly signed with the Muscle Shoals Sound label for his 1980 album The Jealous Kind, which resulted in the singer's first hit single, "Givin' It Up For Your Love," which rose to number eight on the Billboard sales chart.

McClinton followed up The Jealous Kind with 1981's Plain From The Heart, but when the label went under shortly after the album's release, he took a five-year hiatus from recording and made his living on the road. McClinton resurfaced in 1986, provided vocals for roughly half the songs on Roy Buchanan's acclaimed Dancing On The Edge album, the guitarist's second for Alligator Records. McClinton signed with Alligator for his 1989 "comeback" album Live From Austin, earning the singer renewed critical acclaim and his first Grammy® Award nomination for "Best Contemporary Blues Album."

McClinton followed up The Jealous Kind with 1981's Plain From The Heart, but when the label went under shortly after the album's release, he took a five-year hiatus from recording and made his living on the road. McClinton resurfaced in 1986, provided vocals for roughly half the songs on Roy Buchanan's acclaimed Dancing On The Edge album, the guitarist's second for Alligator Records. McClinton signed with Alligator for his 1989 "comeback" album Live From Austin, earning the singer renewed critical acclaim and his first Grammy® Award nomination for "Best Contemporary Blues Album."

The Nashville Years

McClinton moved to Nashville in 1990, signing with Curb Records for that year's I'm With You album. Often writing with fellow songwriter Gary Nicholson, McClinton became known as a hitmaker on the thriving 1990s country music scene, placing songs with such Music Row heavyweights as Wynonna, Vince Gill, and Martina McBride. A duet with Bonnie Raitt for her 1991 album Luck Of The Draw earned McClinton his first Grammy® Award, and he released his own Never Been Rocked Enough album a year later. Featuring guest appearances by Raitt, Tom Petty, and Melissa Etheridge, the album produced a hit in "Every Time I Roll The Dice."

"Tell Me About It," a duet with singer Tanya Tucker, resulted in a Top Five country hit, the song becoming the cornerstone of McClinton's self-titled 1993 album. Although McClinton enjoyed a modicum of commercial success with Curb, his relationship with the label deteriorated during the mid-1990s and, after releasing two subsequent underperforming albums for the label, he signed with the independent Rising Tide imprint for 1997's One Of The Fortunate Few. Featuring guests as diverse as Vince Gill, John Prine, B.B. King, and Mavis Staples, the album received the usual critical acclaim afforded McClinton and it sold briskly until the label went out of business, leaving the singer on his own again.

An Americana Legend

McClinton signed with the Austin, Texas indie New West Records for 2001's Nothing Personal album, and a lot had changed in the four years since his previous release. The Americana genre – a style that encompasses a mix of rock, country, blues, and soul music that McClinton helped pioneer and define – had grown in popularity. Nothing Personal became the best-selling album at that point in the singer's lengthy career, earning McClinton a second Grammy® Award for "Best Contemporary Blues Album." McClinton followed with the equally-acclaimed Room To Breathe in 2002 and Cost of Living in 2005, which earned McClinton his third Grammy® Award.

McClinton's popularity has continued to grow in the new millennium, his status as elder statesman cemented with electric concert documents like 2003's Live, which captures a performance from that year's Bergen Blues Festival in Norway, and 2006's Live From Austin, Texas which features a performance by McClinton and his band on the Austin City Limits TV show. McClinton also appeared in filmmaker Jay Curlee's 2007 musical documentary Rocking the Boat alongside artists like Marcia Ball and Tommy Castro. McClinton continued his hot streak with 2009's Acquired Taste, which topped the blues charts and paved the way for the singer's next decade in the business.

Recommended Albums: Blues fans would probably enjoy McClinton's late period, roots 'n' blues collections much more than his Nashville-era albums, and you won't do better than the singer's Nothing Personal to experience the full range of his talents. For a more overall retrospective of the artist's career, Hip-O's eighteen-track The Ultimate Collection covers McClinton's years with the ABC, Capricorn, Curb, and Rising Tide labels.

Delbert McClinton – Select Discography
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