Delbert McClinton: "Honestly, I've Never Figured Houston Out"

At 72, Delbert McClinton has been about everywhere and done about everything you can do: hung out with the Beatles; worked as a sideman for Bruce Channel where he played harmonica on a national hit, "Hey, Baby;" wrote a No. 1 hit for Emmylou Harris, "Two More Bottles of Wine"; dropped four albums that made it to No. 1 on the blues charts; had hits in both country, pop, and blues charts; and operates the highly successful annual Sandy Beaches blues cruises.

But when you get him on the phone, he's still that Lubbock-raised, Fort Worth-seasoned good old boy he's always been. Here's more of our conversation with him about his career and (drum roll) Houston women.

Rocks Off: You're a great honky-tonk singer, yet you've never done what would be called a honky-tonk album.

Delbert McClinton: I always put a song or two on most of my albums, and I've got two new honky tonk songs I'll probably record because I like them. I grew up in Lubbock, and Hank Williams and Bob Wills are two huge influences.

But I've always been a rocker with one foot in the blues for the most part. Everything I do, even the honky-tonk songs, has a blues element.


Delbert McClinton Keeps Satisfying His Jones

RO: We were living in Austin in 1975 when Victim of Life's Circumstances came out, and it pretty much nailed the coffin shut for us as far as the Cosmic Cowboy trend. Did you consciously try to make an attempt at a less hippie-fied record?

DM: No, I wouldn't say that. I'd just moved from California and I just made a record that was the way I was feeling. And it was like most of my records, a mix of blues, country, rock and soul. And I think that is kind of a Texas thing for a lot of artists.

RO: We noticed Don Wise, your saxophonist for years, isn't in the touring band anymore. What's the story with Don?

DM [laughs]: Mr. Don Wise is living the good life. These days, he paints. Actually it's more accurate to say he draws, and he's pretty damn good at it. But Don decided to retire a few years ago. He's probably bird watching right now. He really takes care of himself and looks great.

RO: Guys like you, Doug Sahm, Joe Ely, Terry Allen, you're all as Texas as it gets. But at least recording-wise, the so-called Texas music that's being foisted on us today is much different than what you guys do. What's your take on the new breed in Texas music?

DM: There's absolutely nothing in most of those songs. It's sad, really. It's just shit, but that's what today's radio seems to be looking for, and you'll always have people willing to give radio what it wants regardless of any artistic factors. It does seem like we're really reaching new lows as far as song lyrics go, though.

RO: A left-side-of-Nashville songwriter recently explained these new types of songs to us, the ones that most of the Texas new breed are doing. They're now called "lifestyle songs," as in, 'Hey, write me a lifestyle song.' This is the usual shallow dreck about country boys, tubs of beer, floating the river, driving the tractor. What's your reaction to that?

DM: I'd just warn those guys to be careful what you chase after. What you write and record sticks with you, it doesn't just vanish one day. I know the stuff you're talking about. It mostly just comes across as half-hearted, nothing you feel is very real. It's a pose, an act.

RO: Before we go, we want to ask if you've got any special memories of Houston.

DM [clears throat, laughs]: I'll just say this: Houston is loaded with some of the most brazen women in the world.

RO: Oh? You want to explain?

DM: Man, I better not start telling tales. I'll just say I've been to a lot of places in Houston where I started out being the life of the party and ended up feeling like the world's biggest fool. Houston's one reason I'm kind of over women. I don't need no more of that kind of trouble.

RO: Houston is getting a lot of national press right now as being a great place to live or visit.

DM: Maybe so, but honestly, I've never figured Houston out. A man can sure get in some trouble there, though.

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