Acquired Taste Bio
“I’m an acquired taste in that my kind of music’s not for little kids,” Texas singersongwriter Delbert McClinton says. “It’s adult rock ‘n’ roll. I write from the sensibility of the people I knew growing up, and I grew up with all the heathens, the people who went too far before they changed and tried to make something out of their lives. There are a lot of beautiful colors and sad stories and much-deserved joy in that.”
All those colors and stories, and all that joy, are richly present in McClinton’s New West album Acquired Taste. The collection is the musician’s fourth studio set for the label, and it succeeds his Grammy Award-winning Cost of Living (2005), which was named best contemporary blues recording by the Recording Academy. The album reunites McClinton with the producer who helmed his very first Grammy winner, Don Was. The multi-talented bandleader, bassist, and studio wizard recorded “Good Man, Good Woman,” a collaboration with Bonnie Raitt that captured the best rock performance by a duo or group Grammy for 1991. Was came to the current project on the recommendation of New West president Cameron Strang, who had employed the producer on Kris Kristofferson’s widely praised 2006 album for the label, This Old Road.
“Don and I had kind of a cosmic connection, because of Bonnie,” McClinton says. “Then he and I got together and recorded a few things that were very, very good. I’ve been ricocheting off of him for about 17 years now.”
Was says, “Delbert’s an erudite, urbane sophisticate, wrapped up as a roadhouse singer. There’s nothing contradictory in his character -- he’s a real Texan. Neither the intellectual nor the roadhouse singer is a put-on. They come in equal parts. He’s one of a kind, he’s amazing. He defies the categories and slips right through.”
Working with Was took McClinton in a welcome new direction.
“It was a good thing, because it kind of got me off my ass,” he says. “Since we did Cost of Living, I’d been writing, but I couldn’t get motivated to go into the studio. During those three years, I was trying to reinvent myself a bit, and even the thought of it was very daunting. At the same time, I knew I had bits and pieces of songs I had started that were, to me, very much unlike most of the songs I write. They were kind of outside the box.”
McClinton wrote or co-authored the 14 songs on Acquired Taste; his co-writers included his longtime musical collaborator and producer Gary Nicholson, his keyboardist Kevin McKendree and guitarist Rob McNelley, Texas songsmith Guy Clark, Nashville ace and ex-NRBQ axe man Al Anderson, and Benmont Tench of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers. The album was tracked at East Isis Studios in Nashville and Henson Studios in Hollywood by McClinton and his working band – McKendree, McNelley, drummer Lynn Williams, and bassist Steve Mackey.
Kicking off with “Mama’s Little Baby,” a grown-up rewrite of “Short’nin’ Bread,” Acquired Taste ranges through a breadth of styles. While longtime McClinton fans will bask in the gutsy blues of “I Need to Know” and the churning funk of “Do It,” other songs drive onto some freshly-paved stylistic roads – the jazzy, hard-swinging “People Just Love to Talk,” the melancholy tango “She’s Not There Anymore,” the popharmonized “When She Cries at Night.” The album’s balladry – “Starting a Rumor,” “Never Saw It Coming,” “Wouldn’t You Think (Should’ve Been Here By Now),” “Out of My Mind” – finds McClinton at his most profoundly affecting, while “Willie” and “Cherry Street” show that his sense of humor remains firmly in place.
The record’s freewheeling diversity – and McClinton’s career-long defiance of easy categorization – is unsurprising, given his Texas origins.
“I saw a chart once in the book Folk Songs of North America,” McClinton recalls. “You open it up, and there’s a map of the United States, with musical influences in color, showing where they came into this country and where they migrated. More colors come through Texas than anywhere – they come from everywhere. All these different cultural musics come together in Texas.”
Born in Lubbock (hometown of such other musical notables as Buddy Holly and Joe Ely), McClinton came of age in the Fort Worth joints. He first appeared on a hit record in 1962, when his distinctive harmonica playing graced Bruce Channel’s No. 1
single “Hey Baby” (which inspired the harp work of a young John Lennon). He backed such blues legends as Jimmy Reed and Sonny Boy Williamson, and honed his chops in local acts like the Ron-Dels, the Straightjackets, and Bobby Crown and the Kapers. In the early ‘70s, McClinton and keyboardist-vocalist Glen Clark relocated to Los Angeles, where they cut a pair of prophetic roots-rock albums as Delbert & Glen.
Beginning in 1975, McClinton recorded a series of brawny LPs for ABC, Capricorn, and Capitol that seamlessly melded blues, R&B, and country into a uniquely soulful blend. At the latter label in 1980, McClinton scored the top 10 hit “Giving It Up
For Your Love,” which pushed the accompanying album The Jealous Kind into the national top 40.
After spending the late ‘80s and ‘90s cutting consistently powerful albums for Alligator, Curb, Mercury, and MCA, McClinton arrived at New West in 2001 with the wildly received Nothing Personal, which won him his first solo Grammy, for best contemporary blues album. Room to Breathe followed in 2002. His high-temperature show was captured on the two-CD set Live (2003). (His 1982 appearance on the popular PBS series Austin City Limits is available as part of New West’s Live From Austin TX series.)
Producer and artist both place Acquired Taste among McClinton’s best and most ambitious work.
Was says, “What I like about this album is that it’s a musical journey. It’s got a really broad spectrum stylistically, and yet his sensibility and persona are so strong that it’s totally unified when you put him on top of it.”
“This one definitely does stand apart, without a doubt,” says McClinton. “There were an awful lot of people wanting to make this really good. “When we went in to do it, everybody was tense but ready. Don has that bedside manner to make everybody think they’re the most important one around. We were talking during a break in the session, and my guitar player said, ‘Man, he just makes you really do good shit!’ And I said, ‘Yeah, well, he’s kinda known for being able to do that without letting you know he’s doing it.’ Don’s a magic guy, and I love him more than anything. I couldn’t be happier with this.”
ROOM TO BREATHE BIO
When Delbert McClinton announces with his latest album that he has Room To Breathe, he sure ain't kidding. After more than four decades of making music, McClinton is breathing freely with the confidence and energy of an artist who knows that he has mastered his game. Still basking in the glow of a new Grammy® Award, he has followed up what The Wall Street Journal declared his “best recording ever” -- 2001's Nothing Personal -- with a set that displays even greater muscle, smarts, charm and soul.
A listen to the 12 tracks on Room To Breathe handily backs the contention that even after enjoying the best year of his long career, McClinton is now poised to triumph further. From the swampy and rollicking opening strains of “Same Kinda Crazy” to the album’s closing jump blues visit to “New York City,” Room To Breathe plays like the night of your life in God's own roadhouse. Co-produced by Delbert's longtime friend and songwriting partner Gary Nicholson, the bulk of the album was with his well-seasoned road band. Special guests like singer Bekka Bramlett and Texas guitar legend Bill Campbell stopped by. Horn and string sections were used to deepen the sound. It features 12 new McClinton originals written solo and in collaboration with such noted talents as Nicholson, Benmont Tench (from Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers) and Al Anderson (the former NRBQ guitarist turned hit Nashville songsmith). He is joined on “Lone Star Blues” by an honor roll of fellow Texans: Marcia Ball, Ray Benson, Guy Clark, Rodney Crowell, Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock, Kimmie Rhodes and Billy Joe Shaver, along with honorary Texan Emmylou Harris.
McClinton's early memories include going as a child with his parents to see Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys at The Cotton Club in Lubbock, TX, where he was born. His family moved to Ft. Worth when McClinton was 11, and just a few years later he started earning his Ph.D in real American music in a city known as a fertile incubator for a variety of styles. Out on the Jacksboro Highway at clubs like Jack's Place, Delbert mastered the craft of keeping the hard-drinking rednecks, cowpokes and roustabouts entertained all night long. And at the legendary Skyliner Ballroom, where McClinton's band was the only white act to play its Blue Monday nights AND be the backing band for the headliners, he received a first-class tutelage from the masters of blues music like Jimmy Reed, Howlin' Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson.
McClinton cut a number of local and regional singles before hitting the national charts in 1962 playing harmonica on Bruce Channel's now classic “Hey! Baby.” On a subsequent package tour of England, Delbert showed some of his harp licks to the rhythm guitarist for a young band at the bottom of the bill. The lessons he gave John Lennon were later heard hit singles by The Beatles.
In the early 1970s, McClinton and his Ft. Worth pal Glen Clark headed out to Los Angeles, where they cut two then obscure but now prized albums for Atlantic Records as Delbert & Glen. Returning to Texas, he landed a deal with ABC Records. With the release of his 1975 solo debut, Victim of Life's Circumstances, McClinton firmly stamped his Ft. Worth-bred blend of blues, country and blue-eyed soul onto the pop musical landscape. A succession of influential and critically acclaimed albums followed, along with coups like appearing on “Saturday Night Live” in its heyday -- an acknowledgement of the pages torn from Delbert's play book by Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi when they formed The Blues Brothers. He scored hits like “Giving It Up For Your Love” and “Sandy Beaches,” won a Grammy with Bonnie Raitt for their “Good Man/Good Woman” duet, and over the years has enjoyed covers of his songs by Emmylou Harris, The Blues Brothers, Vince Gill, Wynonna, Lee Roy Parnell, Martina McBride, Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, among others.
Tightening radio formats may have offered fewer opportunities for his expansive musical approach, yet McClinton solidified his loyal following with his relentless touring and his annual Delbert McClinton & Friends Sandy Beaches Cruise every January in the Caribbean.
Then last year, when Delbert “came roaring out of the gate on Nothing Personal,” as Rolling Stone put it, his stature as one of the living icons of genuine American music returned to the forefront. The album debuted on five Billboard charts: Hot 200 Albums, Blues, Country, Independent and Internet Sales. What's the secret behind his newfound success? “Life is better than it's ever been for me,” McClinton explains.
The splash made by Nothing Personal has given McClinton “a great confidence” that makes Room To Breathe sound like it could be a personal best. But with both his characteristic modesty as well as the moxie of a man on top of his game, Delbert shies away from claiming his latest as his greatest. “I think that it is a perfect record to follow up Nothing Personal with,” he notes. “I'm not sure I've made the best record yet that I will ever make. And that in and of itself is a great feeling, because as long as I've been doing this, I still every day feel like I can do better. And that's pretty amazing to me, because most people either burn out or stop doing it all the time by now. So far I have not lost the inspiration; it's getting even better for me. I am the luckiest man you know.”