Music spotlight | Spotlight | Indy Week
Pin It

Music spotlight 

Delbert's Texas philosophy

We had been hunting down across the river in Fort Worth, and we were walking back from being over there and there was this barbecue joint, a black barbecue joint way out on the west side there that we were coming back to through the woods. And I heard 'Honey Hush' coming across that field, and it was almost like the voice of God. And nothing was ever the same."

Delbert McClinton's introduction, at 15, to R&B (starring Joe Turner as the voice of God) started him on a career as one of rock's most durable and eclectic performers. For forty years, McClinton has worked on his own blend of R&B, rock, blues, country and rockabilly. He's written hits for a string of country artists including Vince Gill, Wynona, LeRoy Parnell and Martina McBride. Waylon, Emmylou and Doug Sahm have covered his tunes. But he's never gone for a career in country music. "I hate to think about going any kind of way," McClinton said recently from Nashville. "I'd rather just go where what comes out takes me. I feel more comfortable just not trying to say, 'Well, maybe I need to sound more like that.' "

McClinton got down to the business of sounding like the music he heard in the black joints in Texas in short order. By his early twenties, McClinton and his band, the Straitjackets, were backing Turner and Howlin' Wolf when they came to town. McClinton laughs when asked if Turner gave him any advice. "Naw, he didn't have to give me any advice. He'd just count it where he wanted it and say, 'Make it jump.' And just his singin' is all the advice you need."

Howlin' Wolf wasn't a dispenser of advice either. "Out of all the guys I've worked with, he was the one anybody got least close to," McClinton remembers. "He didn't seem to be looking for new friends, you know?"

Wolf proved his lack of sociability the first night McClinton played with him. Without any preamble, Wolf just stepped off the stage, walked out on the dance floor and started singing. Then when he noticed he was singing a capella, he turned around, scowled and said, 'Come on, band!' The band quickly figured out the key and jumped in, and from then on knew what to expect.

The band only played with Wolf twice. "I remember 'cause the second time we did I was of course thinking about the first time. He was better about talking to the band, but he still wasn't lookin' for any friends," McClinton chuckles. "And I understand that. I'm sure he was a little uptight having to come in and play with a bunch of white boys down in Texas. But at the same time, it was the white boys down in Texas who knew how to play that shit."

McClinton agrees that there must be something in the water or the air in Texas that makes musicians in that area sound so unique. "I don't know. That's my home. I buy into all of that. You can get citizenship, but you gotta be born Texan. All that shit--it used to be funny back in the '70s, when it was all cool, but we've all come a long way since then. I think it's stupid for anybody to hoot about their state," he laughs. "But I'm getting to be old and it's all pretty much the same. You make of it what you will wherever you are."

McClinton's made a pretty good business out of the business of being Delbert. His latest release, Delbert McClinton Live, is a testimony to a career spent in honky-tonks with an arsenal of gritty, down home hits delivered in his sandpapery rasp.

You still can't find Delbert on your radio dial, and though he'd like to see that happen, it's not as important to him as it once was.

"You know, I don't much care anymore," he laughs wearily. "I'm doin' this for me. Me and other people. There are other people that understand it and like it, and that's good. Hey, I got the world by the tail."

Latest in Spotlight


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in Spotlight

Twitter Activity


i love WXYC, except fpr the low power, hillsborough hardley gets it, metaphorically speaking. the sound quality is horrible. can …

by peterhoyt on Uncle Woody Sullender (Spotlight)

almost as good a my son, nique

by peterhoyt on Uncle Woody Sullender (Spotlight)

Most Read

No recently-read stories.

Visit the archives…

Most Recent Comments

i love WXYC, except fpr the low power, hillsborough hardley gets it, metaphorically speaking. the sound quality is horrible. can …

by peterhoyt on Uncle Woody Sullender (Spotlight)

almost as good a my son, nique

by peterhoyt on Uncle Woody Sullender (Spotlight)

Juliette Lewis is such a great actress but shes an even more amazing singer! I am so excited she is …

by Gerard on Juliette & the Licks (Spotlight)

We the House Of God Church (Keith Dominion)in Fayetteville,NC is having a Gospel Fest for our Y.F.F.U. Dept. in August. …

by yvette 58 on The Campbell Brothers (Spotlight)

This man, as well as Jasper were very talented. They took there handicap, and made a living out of it.They …

by babyboo on Skeeter Brandon (Spotlight)

© 2018 Indy Week • 320 E. Chapel Hill St., Suite 200, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation