Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Roadhouse Royalty: Delbert McClinton

Delbert McClinton
There is an old warehouse in East Minneapolis known as the Cabooze. A cavernous building where live music, cold beer and sometimes great brawls are the order of the day.  As a university student in the mid-70s the Cabooze would book the likes of John Lee Hooker, the Kinsey Report, Charlie Daniels in addition to local stars like The Lamont Cranston Band, The Wallets and The Hoopsnakes.  You went to the Cabooze to dance for a few hours, drink lots of beer and pick up cowgirls.

One of the Cabooze’s regular and most popular attractions was a harmonica player and singer from Texas called Delbert McClinton. Sadly, I never saw him play but near the end of my rather shambolic university career I discovered his music.   And every time I listen to him I am immediately tele-transported back in time and space to a hot August night and see Delbert sweating his way through his second set. The dance floor is jammed and the bartenders are scared they’re going to run out of beer.  Delbert McClinton is the ultimate honkytonk man, serving up a torrid mix of country, white soul, R&B and rock n’ roll, 200 + nights a year, all across America.

He’s 71 one this year and still at it.   The Cabooze, by the way, is still there too!

Delbert taught himself to play the harmonica as a boy in Texas in the early 1950s and even had the honour of being the first white-boy to have his record heard on the local all black R&B station.  When acts like Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland (remember him?) and Howlin’ Wolf came to town he’d back them up on the harp.  In the early 1960s he improbably found himself on tour in the UK and met a fellow named John Lennon who fronted a little group known as The Beatles. Delbert was kind enough to teach John how to blow the harp before he returned to the States and his life as a travelling Texas roadhouse musician.  

At the same time he wrote some songs that other bigger stars began to record and Delbert’s own recording career began in the early 1970s.  And though even from almost the git go his records were well received by the critics and live audiences he never cracked the big time (i.e. radio or big record deals).  And so he remained, like Bobby ‘Blue’, a connoisseur’s secret.   Near the end of the 70s Emmylou Harris sang his Two More Bottles of Wine (now an American standard) and people began looking out for this guy from Texas. 

Tonight’s offering is from about the same time and includes his own version of Two More Bottles of Wine. It is a near impossibility to select but one  Delbert McClinton record to share as almost every side he’s put out since 1978’s Second Wind is so good.  Not only does he play the hell of the harp but his voice is as rough as sawdust, just the kind you need for a roadhouse full of beer drinking good old boys, and his bands always are tight and kick ass.  His songwriting is full of sly humor, swagger and the pathos of the guy who is hanging and wishing and hoping in desperation for the dream to come true.

Delbert is still at it but still not entirely in the mainstream. Still somewhat of an acquired taste (which just happens to be the title of his latest album). There will be more of Delbert in the future but for now grab a cold one, roll up your sleeves and get ready to head down to the Cabooze for an hour of absolute pleasure.

            Track Listing:
       01 plain old making love
02 just a little bit
03 shot from the saddle
04 i don't want to hear it anymore
05 have mercy
06 i'm talking about you
07 two more bottle of wine
08 seesaw
09 i received a letter
10 a mess of blues

Listen here

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