Delbert McClinton is an absolute professional whose performances are consistently great and he has a substantial Twin Citiesí following that keeps the dance floor packed. However, the last few times Iíve seen him have left me with the impression that perhaps heíd been on the road or without inspiration too long. This time Delbert did a great version of John Hiattís ĎHave a Little Faith in Meí, but it was one of the few new songs from previous performances. Iíd been hopeful that Tommy Castro and Delbert would spend some time onstage together, but theyíre not touring together, just coinciding at different points. Delbert doesnít speak to the audience at all during his performances, except to introduce his band, which is an enjoyable entity on its own. This time there was more promotion of solo efforts. A couple of numbers written by band members are memorable, such as " Mind If I Smoke." Delbert promoted their CDís which accompanied the substantial traveling "Delbert Mall", as Tommy Castro described it. Delbert also promoted the upcoming annual January cruise.
There may be several reasons why Delbert is quiet onstage. He may feel that his audience prefers music to talk. His substantial Grammy-winning recordings certainly speak for themselves. His energy may be completely focused on music. Maybe a phase of songwriting is needed to rejuvenate his live performances. At any rate, his onstage manner and the difficulty of obtaining an interview on this and previous visits left me with the apprehension that an interview would be an uphill conversational battle. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Whatever motivates his onstage lack of chatter, Delbert is warm, wonderful, bursting with information and full of enthusiasm about music, if not the music business. His passion for music came shining through the telephone line in a way that recent performances have not. It was an absolute thrill to talk to Delbert. Afterwards, I thought of ten questions I wished Iíd asked, but hereís as much as I can reconstruct from our high-energy conversation.
You come through town several times a year, November and in the spring and at the Minnesota Zoo series. How much are you touring these days?
"We play about 200 dates a year."
You just made it out of town ahead of some ugly weather. Does bad weather affect your touring much?
"Yes, I saw that we just missed it. We usually come up there in November before the weather gets bad. Otherwise we just try to stay south of it until spring."
Are you going to be playing anywhere on New Yearís Eve?
"We have a couple of things in the works, but Iím not sure where weíll be. Itís a big deal in a way, being the end of the millennium supposedly and all, but actually I hope to stay at home with my family. Several years ago, I realized I never really had fun on New Yearís Eve, that it was just forced gaiety." Exactly. Itís like dating an old girlfriend you really donít want to be with anymore."
I think it was your wife I talked to earlier. What is your family? Are your children young?
"I have two sons, ages 38 and 25 in Texas, and my wife and seven year old daughter here in Nashville. On New Yearís Iíd rather be with them."
In arranging the interview, she was very protective of you, and said that you were sick, and also that youíd be happy to hear youíd missed the bad weather.
"Yes, I was fighting a bad cold the week before and was still getting over it when I was up there. She is very protective of me, takes good care of me. And she handles all of the arrangements for the cruise and bookings."
As much as you tour, how do you stay fresh?
"I love performing ! Itís true that youíre only as good as your last show. You have to keep testing yourself and keep that lump in your throat before you go on."
What do you listen to?
"I listen to a lot of new artists, people we have on the cruise."
Iím looking at the list of artists for the January cruise: John Hiatt, Tommy Castro, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Marcia Ball, Joe Ely, Wayne Toups & Zydecajun, Patty Griffin, Jimmy Hall, Anson Funderburgh & the Rockets, Stephen Bruton, Lloyd Jones & Struggle, Gary Nicholson, Monte Montgomery, Al Anderson, Nick Connolly, Bruce Channel, and Bekka Bramlett. How do you find these people?
"People turn us on to them. For example, have you heard Lloyd Jones? Heís out of Seattle and was on the cruise last year. After hearing him play, we call him Lord Have Mercy Jones. Heís a real shot in the arm for blues. You have to hear him. Heís refreshing and plays with a lot of class. His arrangements are first class. Heís with Blind Pig - you have to get ahold of his CDís and let me know what you think. Youíll like him, but I really want to know what you think. Iím serious. I want you to call me back and tell me what you honestly think. "
You have such a following. One thing I like about the blues community is that there are so many people who are legends who choose to mentor others coming up. The cruise is a great way to promote that. One of the groups you sort of discovered was Tommy Castro.
"Tommy Castro was with us on the cruise last year so we wanted to have them back, and I sat in on Tommy Castroís last CD."
Your band has been pretty stable the past few times Iíve seen them without any changing faces. How long has this group been with you?
"Well, the drummer this time was a stand in who used to play with us, but has been doing alot of studio work and playing with Web Wyler the past couple of years. The rest of them have been with me for awhile."
Blues greats seem to go out of their way to mentor new artists coming up. The cruise is one way to do that. Youíre such a legend, yet you do alot to promote the solo efforts of your band.
"The guitarist and bass players have had CDís out for awhile, and Don Wise, the tenor sax, has a new CD thatís wonderful, so I said, why donít you just bring your stuff along with mine."
Are you working on a new CD?
"As a matter of fact, Iím going to start recording next month, and it should be out in late spring."
Where are you going to record and what are you going to record?
"Well, first weíll be recording out in California. There are some musicians out there Iíd like to work with, so Iíll go out there first. Itíll be all brand new songs. None of them have been written."
Do you have your own studio in Nashville?
"No, I donít need one. There are enough studios here that I can use, without having to build my own.
What label will you be on ?
"Well, Delbert McClinton Records, I think, or something like that. Iím really through with record companies. I have a certain reputation and so at this point I donít really need a record company. Unless youíre going to sell millions of records, itís too easy to get lost in the shuffle. And besides, with the Internet and all, there are so many other ways to market your music without a record company. I have enough of a following."
What is songwriting like for you?
"I love songwriting ! Itís my Number One passion other than performing. Well, actually itís like wearing three different hats: songwriting, recording and performing. Theyíre all completely different and draw on different types of skills. With recording, there are so many different phases of production, and you have to be very careful because you can polish it until it doesnít shine."
Do you write every day, or just when inspiration comes or do you have specific things that help you get going with the writing?
"There are some things I do to prime the pump. Sometimes Iíll just go off by myself with a groove or hook line and see what happens. I donít write at all on the road. And then thereís co-writing. I sat down yesterday with Tom Hambridge (who produces Susan Tedeschi) who Iíve never written with before and we talked for awhile and just started writing. I co-wrote with Gary Nicholson on the last CD, The Fortunate Few. And then I like to write with Al Anderson from NRBQ. Nashville is the best songwriting community in the country. There are so many different kinds of music here. There are people here who go to work at 9 every morning and write songs all day and thatís just what they do."
Youíve been so generous with your time. Itís been a total thrill to talk to you.
"Will you do me one favor ? Please promote the cruise."
Guaranteed. And thanks again.
"You have a great day."
For more information about the cruise, call 1-800-DELBERT
The cruise is from January 9 - 16, 2000 departing from Houston, TX aboard the Norwegian Sea.
This review is copyright © 2000 by Rebecca West, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.