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Celebrating Delbert McClinton: Keep Doin’ What You Do

07-03-2021 | By Wayne Goins | Issue 116

I know, I know…I promised y'all I was gonna present Part III of the Grant Green story to you from last issue. But there's something I just gotta tell you about, and it can't wait. Reason is, it's a timely issue—one of the legends is hanging up his spurs, and this is my tribute to his career and legacy as he eases his way into a well-deserved retirement from the music biz. His name is Delbert McClinton, and he is, among many things, a self-made man. His life intersected with mine in a most peculiar way, and it's almost unbelievable how it happened, and what it led to was even more amazing. It's too good not to share. So, here's my story—and it's a good 'un—so strap in, folks. I hope you enjoy this one. (And I promise we will get back to the legendary jazz guitarist Grant Green next time!)

 ACT I – The Awakening

 Just about every night, I fall asleep with headphones on listening to music through my iPhone connected to my trusty ol' Audio-Technica ATH-M50x ear-goggles. I usually listen to my favorite albums on TIDAL platform, and it works as well as any sleeping pill I could ever take. Each night, I eventually drift off to sleep when the REM cycle kicks in as a direct result of the sound waves pulsating through my brain. TIDAL's lossless, high-definition audio sounds incredibly awesome through these headphones, and one of the things I love the most about using their platform is when the album is finished, the track listing automatically rolls into something similar to the album you've heard, in order to match the sonic groove you're in. This happened automatically, and it usually occurs while I'm already sleeping—I barely make it all the way through my chosen "album of the night" to initiate my nocturnal journey.

Quite often, I will be awakened in the middle of the night with some tune I'm utterly unfamiliar with, but thoroughly enjoying in my half-sleeping, subconscious slumber. One night, I woke up and this tune was really grooving hard, and the mantra of the song was, "Just keep doin' what you do…" I had no idea who it was that was doin' what he was doin' to my ears—or who he was talkin' to and tellin' to keep doin' whatever they were doin' to him—but I really wanted to find out who this dude was. I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and stared at the TIDAL playlist on the iPhone screen. It was Delbert McClinton & Self-Made Men. It was track 2 of the album called Prick of the Litter, but in my semi-conscious state, I totally missed the tongue-in-cheek play on words and just thought it said "pick of the litter," which is the common phrase we all know.

I stared at the little square album icon on the TIDAL app on my phone. It was a photo of a dude sitting at the beach with a pair of green cargo pants and red socks, legs folded and propped up on a wicker table. I started the song over again. It hooked me. Then I played the whole album. it hooked me harder…and I didn't go back to sleep that night. Every single track on it was catchy. Great lyrics and soulful singing. The entire band made up of killer musicians. Perfect song form, structure, and sequencing. Superior sound recording. Who is this guy?

I'd never encountered his music before, and he wasn't on my radar at all. I had some friends back in Atlanta that I vaguely remember being huge fans of Delbert, but, as it happened, I somehow never got around to investigating the catalog of songs and albums of Delbert McClinton. But in one single moment of chance, I stumbled backwards into what I'd been missing. Without really knowing the vast body of literature he'd already created over the several decades, I already decided that my favorite album of his would be Prick of the Litter, which was first released on January 27, 2017. l listened to it every night on my iPhone, either on Spotify or TIDAL. I listened to the album until I memorized it. On March 24, 2017, I bought the CD so that I could pop it into my car's Bose stereo sound system, where it stayed on repeat form months and months. There were twelve tracks on the album, each one as good as the other, which is hard to find these days—I mean, it's really rare.

His 5-piece backing band's name is a unique one. So just who are these Self-Made Men?

Drummer Jack Bruno played in rock bands by the time he was twelve, and went on to tour and record with an all-star roster including Taj Mahal, Joe Cocker, Tina Turner, Elton John, Richard Marx, Peter Frampton, et al. Bob Britt came to Nashville when he was invited to audition for Leon Russell. After ten years with him he spent time with legends including The Dixie Chicks, John Fogerty, and even played on Bob Dylan's Grammy winning Time out of Mind before joining Delbert in 2011, after which he became Music Director, co-writer and co-producer. The multi-talented keyboardist, guitarist, producer, songwriter and engineer Kevin McKendree moved to Nashville with and kick-started his career with Lee Roy Parnell, in 1994, and began working with Delbert in 1997. 

Bassist Mike Joyce was on the front-end of Nashville's first-wave rock scene during the '80s, and spent time with the likes of Roy Orbison, Hank Williams, Jr., Roseanne Cash, Vince Gill, John Hiatt, and a host of others. He's been with Delbert McClinton for six years. Trumpeter Quentin Ware came from Atlanta and has been with Delbert for the past ten years, after paying dues in every musical arena you could imagine, including Jazz with Cab Calloway, Dizzy Gillespie, Clark Terry, Wynton, Branford, and Ellis Marsalis; soul music with Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and Al Green; blues with B.B. King, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Son Seals, Johnny Lang; and country with Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, Hank Williams Jr., Willie Nelson, Kenny Chesney, Brooks and Dunn…the list goes on…but enough about the band—lemme give you a thumbnail sketch of the tunes found on this incredible collection.

The album gets off to a great start with a sax/trumpet blast in triplet figures that announces, hold on to your hats, folks…the first track, "Don't Do It," is a medium-tempo, Texas roadhouse shuffle featuring Austin legends Lou Ann Barton and blues guitar great Jimmie Vaughan. Then the second song appears—the one that woke me from my deep sleep on that fateful day—"Doin' What You Do." It's the smoothest, grooviest tune you may ever hear (great lyrics penned by Delbert, Bob Britt and Mike Joyce) about a man whose life was really changed when he encountered a fantastic find in a woman of his dreams. "Middle Of Nowhere" is a love song that has even sweeter lyrics—and it's sung in McClinton's tender falsetto—a masterfully-controlled upper range that has to be heard to be full appreciated.  

"Skip Chaser" is a hard-rockin' tune written about working for a bogus loan company who chases down unsuspecting "defaulters," while "San Miguel" is one of the most beautiful (and true testimonial) laid-back jazz tunes ever written about a vacation spot he bought in San Miguel, Mexico. "Pulling The Strings" is about a man sitting at a bar who's down on his luck and can't seem to catch a break; no matter how hard he tries, it seems like someone's always yanking the chair out from underneath him.

"Neva" is a sexy, slinky funk tune with a hard backbeat, written about his favorite kinda woman (Neva) who is exactly the kinda girl he needs to keep him satisfied. "Like Lovin' Used to Be" is a slow, two-step swing tune, written about exactly what it sounds like—long walks on the boardwalk, picnics, holding hands, and wading in a shallow stream with the one you love.

"Jones For You" is a warmly humorous tune written with a New Orleans second-line groove, the lyrics dedicated to giving up smoking, drugs, bad eating habits, and everything else except the passion that remains for the one girl he still lusts for.

The pace picks up with Percy Mayfield's "The Hunt Is On," a cleverly written, up-tempo blues shuffle about finding a man that's in a hurry to settle down and find a woman to grow old with him. "Bad Haircut" tells the tale of a dude who's quite down on his luck and having a life of regret, and his outlook on life is not optimistic in the least. "Rosy" has a similar swing feel to "Like Lovin' Used to Be," but the tempo is a bit brighter, and, unlike the previous tune, this one has wonderfully optimistic lyrics: Delbert is basically saying, "no matter how unpredictable life can be, just relax—things will come out all right, everything will be rosy." It's such a smooth and uplifting way to land the plane on this album.

I soaked up the grooves on this album for more than two years. In fact, I listened to it so much, I almost missed out on his newest album, Tall, Dark, & Handsome, released two years after Prick of the Litter.

On July 24, 2019, McClinton told Kristin Brown (magazine writer for Cowboys and Indians (HERE):

The guys I worked with, we've been working together about seven years, and one of them, I've been working with for over 20 years. We had so fun much making music together. And how much better could it be than that? So I'm 78 years old and I think this is the best record I've ever made.

Brown then asked a pertinent question that I myself would have asked and had been wondering about since I heard about his last album:

C&I: How does this new record differ from 2016's Prick of the Litter?

McClinton: They're two completely different records. I wrote some songs with a new writing partner, and we kind of combined both of our styles. So you'll hear a lot of Pat McLaughlin and Bob Britt and me. It's a mix, which works really well together, because we all enjoy writing the songs that we write.

The album came out two days later on his own label, called Hot Shot Records (manufactured and distributed by Thirty Tigers). It was recorded at The Rock House in Franklin, Tennessee, which was owned and operated by engineer Kevin McKendree. Now, mind you—Kevin was the pianist for Delbert on this album—but I didn't know this at the time.

ACT II – Meeting A Few Self-Made Men

I've spent some time in Nashville, and actually recorded there back in the early 80s when I went to school in Chattanooga. I had some friends who ran a studio on Music Row and that I recorded there with them a few times, and it was then that I saw the legendary RCA studios and a host of others. I didn't realize it before, but there were dozens upon dozens of studios that were set inside buildings that only looked like houses from the outside. To me it was like a magic trick: You think you're just cruising down a normal city street with ranch-style houses, but then when you get inside, some of the most expensive, world-class recording setups hit your eye once you enter the back door. Some aren't very large, but they're incredibly efficient, and run by musicians who know really their way around some recording equipment.

Delbert's pianist Kevin McKendree (who lived in Nashville) owned such a place. I didn't know him—had never met him. But when I read in the Kristin Brown interview that Delbert had recorded his newest album somewhere in Nashville, I called the one person I knew would know something—somehow—about the studio called The Rock House, if not about Kevin McKendree himself. And that person for me was Oliver Wood, the fantastic guitarist for the Wood Brothers. Oliver was my former bandmate when we played together in King Johnson, a blues-based band in Atlanta, Georgia during my stretch there from 1989-1995.

So, I took a chance and texted Oliver, who is currently having a stellar career in the band with his brother Chris (who is the electric/acoustic bassist who put the "wood" in Medeski Martin & Wood). The first message I sent was simple:

"Hey Clem! [my Hicktown moniker for Ollie]…Do u know the people over at The Rock House recording studio? A guy named Kevin McKendree?"

Ollie replies, "Neb!" [his Hicktown moniker for me.] "I have met Kevin, and did a session there once…the studio is at Kevin's house…how are u?"

I told him I was doing some research for a new article I'm writing on McClinton. I asked if he knew Delbert. "I don't know him, but I'm a fan." I then gushed about the Litter album and how it is my absolute favorite album, hands down. Ollie responded immediately with, "My wife [Rebecca, who runs her own successful catering business, called Hearts In The Mix] cooks for him sometimes." "Wow! Really?"

"For his wife and him, she delivers it—but we don't know him personally."

I told Ollie to check that album out, and warned him, "You will fall in love with it IMMEDIATELY." Then he added, "I have a friend who played drums for him, not recently but way back…" I followed with, "Did you know he's officially retired as of about a coupla weeks ago?" "Didn't know that," said Ollie. I then shared my info on Delbert's 'Tall' album that won Grammy for best traditional blues. "It's REALLY GOOD," I said. "It's probably the last official album and tour he's ever gonna be involved in. But he has a blues cruise thing that he's done for over twenty years and he's gonna continue that tradition. It's probably the only place we can catch him from here on unless he's a random guest artist for somebody!" "I love how you dig into these things!" said Ollie, and I knew he meant it.

After Ollie gave me that name of McKendree, I was googling the name of the studio for info while also seeing if I could find Kevin on Facebook (isn't everybody there? Evidently, yes, because I found him, yay team!) So, I took a leap and sent him a private message, saying that I knew/played with Oliver Wood who'd sent his regards, etc. etc.

To my surprise and utter joy, McKendree actually responded within minutes. "Oliver is a brilliant musician. Last time he was here he was playing on a Tinsley Ellis album…today we are tracking a new one…please give Oliver my best." Now I'm thinking to myself, 'this is just amazing…' Tinsley Ellis—a legendary blues/rock guitarist—was also a friend of mine, whom I met through Oliver back in the Atlanta days (Oliver played second guitar for Tinsley and toured with him). I was so excited to hear from Kevin, I immediately texted Ollie, "I texted the guy at the Rock studio and he wrote me back and said he would give me info about when Delbert recorded this Grammy album… And I just learned that Kevin was a keyboardist in Delbert's band at some point!" Oliver replied, "Yeah he's a killer player!"

Up to this point I'd only thought that Kevin was the engineer of the album. And therein lies the problem with listening to music on Spotify, TIDAL, YouTube, etc.—you get the music and not the full story like you did when you listened track by track and read every single detail of who, what, when, where, how and why of the album as you held the cover in your hand. I knew I needed to go old-school and get the vinyl.

So, of course, I had to contact my buddy Chad Kassem at Acoustic Sounds in Salina, to get 180-gram vinyl copies of both Prick of the Litter and Tall, Dark, & Handsome from his world-class operation—his place is where I go when I wanna get the best-sounding vinyl pressings.

First, I texted Chad and asked if he knew Delbert personally. "No," Chad responded, "but his favorite LP is The Jealous Kind. It's a Bobby Charles song." Ok, good to know! Indeed, this was good info to have, but that bit of knowledge was kinda leading me too far away from my intended goal of dissecting these two albums, so I didn't go down that stray path of the past—I focused on the present…but I did dig enough to find out that Delbert recorded the song on his 1980 Capitol Records release (ST 12115). The album The Jealous Kind was titled after the Bobby Charles song recorded on Bobby's second album, Wish You Were Here Right Now (Rice and Gravy Records [SPCD1203]).

But I digress – back to our story!

You cannot imagine how shocked I was when the 180-gram vinyl pressing of Prick of The Litter arrived in the mail from Acoustic Sounds in Salina. I opened it up, and, lo and behold, there is none other than Kevin McKendree's name all over the album's back cover! Not only was he the engineer, he was also the co-producer (along with Delbert and Bob Britt) and the killer keyboardist that Ollie was talking about—but on this album—my fave? I had no idea I was actually texting THE dude! I felt instantly like I had won the damn lottery! After all, the keyboard playing on 'Litter' was sooo good—like, perfectly tasty from start to finish, and on every single track.

The next step was to interview to Kevin. I set up a chat line to correspond with him, and he came through for me like you would not believe. I asked him the big question: How was recording process on the new Tall, Dark, & Handsome album different from Prick of the Litter?

Here is the highly-detailed, word-for-word response from the man himself:

There is a big difference in how those two albums sound. What's most surprising is that the difference is largely due to the fact that they are (for the most part) two different rhythm sections. Both albums were recorded the same way, in the same room, using mostly the same gear. On Tall Dark and Handsome, there are a couple tracks that sound more like Prick Of The Litter, and it's because it's the same rhythm section ("Let's Get Down Like We Used To" & "Ruby & Jules"). For both albums we recorded "live" in the room...letting the piano and drums bleed. The vocal mics were different...U67 for 'Prick,' U87 for 'Handsome.' No console. A mix of different era API inputs on everything except Neves for vocals. Pretty standard 4 mics on the drums. Beta 52 kick, 57 snare, matched 414's overheads. A pair of Avantone ribbons on the piano. RCA 44 on upright bass. Electric bass was taken direct. 57 on the guitar amp. Various ribbons on the horns. The Rock House is a small (1100 sq. ft.) project studio in my backyard. It's a great sounding little room...very warm.

Then he added:

I believe great tone starts with the musicians and then follows the chain down. All the gear in the world can't fix a mediocre player or performance. It's your ear much more than it's the gear. Not that I don't love great gear! But I think great recordings can be made very inexpensively, provided you have great musicians and great songs to record. I use UAD Apollo (Universal Audio Apollo plug-in interfaces) into ProTools.

And there it is! The glue that ties it all together! The ties that bind! Oh, joy, oh rapture!

During my interrogation of Kevin, I dug up a bit of history and discovered that one of Delbert's album had a very strange title to the band's name on his 2009 album, Acquired Taste (New West Records [NW6174]), and the name of the band attached to Delbert's name was DICK50. Very mysterious! I had to know more. I asked McKendree about it. "What is "Dick Fifty?" I inquired. Unbeknownst to me, it was a band that was born before this album was released! The band was made up of Delbert's sidemen—Rob McNelley, Steve Mackey, Lynn Williams, and Kevin McKendree. They recorded their own album in 2009, but only released in April 2020. About the project, which was recorded around the same time as McClinton's Acquired Taste, Kevin says, "We were decidedly a rock band for this project. Each song on this disc was written and recorded in one day by the four of us…it's vastly different from what we did with Delbert."

Being inspired by Kevin's connections, I called another Nashville friend out of curiosity to see if he knew anyone from the band. Enter none other than Andy Reiss, world-class guitarist, whose iron-clad reputation as a first-call studio guitarist has earned him a spot with the ten-piece western swing band called the Time Jumpers, the world-famous band who play regularly at 3rd & Lindsley.

A bit of a side-story here: I met Reiss on Monday August 8, 2016, when Ollie insisted that upon my first trip to Nashville, had to go see the Time Jumpers (who only play on Monday nights – there's always a line wrapped around the block!) I was lucky enough to get back to the green room where I was introduced to the entire band backstage in the venue. That night I also met Vince Gill, and told both him and Andy about my biography on Charlie Christian (and later sent them copies).

Reiss, by the way, has played on Grammy-winning albums for several artists including B.J. Thomas, Reba McEntire, and others. I had a hunch that if anybody might be connected to the world of McClinton, Andy would somehow be a prime suspect. I contacted him and asked if he knew Delbert…and, of course he did! I asked if he would be kind enough to connect me with an of the members of his entourage? Of course he would (this, is, by the way, just the kind of prince of a guy Reiss is, and has been, since the day I met him.) And with that, he promptly set up a long-distance meet/greet with Bob Britt, the monster guitarist, co-producer, and co-writer on both the Litter and Handsome albums. Andy went further, and said he would try to connect me with Wendy Moten, one of the two background vocalists (along with Vicki Hampton) who sang harmony parts on the very track that I fell in love with—"Doin' What You Do," as well as "Like Lovin' Used To Be" (and if you haven't already heard those silky oooh's and aaah's on that one, you're in for a real treat—they're just perfection.)

After Andy connected me with him, I called Britt and interviewed him on the phone and also via email. Like Kevin McKendree, Bob gave me incredible responses to every question I asked. The conversation went something like this:

Tell me the circumstances around how you met Delbert, and how did you win his confidence to become his band member?

How I met him is long faded from my memory banks…I ended up playing with him after filling in for [long-time Delbert guitarist] Rob McNelley one year on Delbert's cruise. Rob had some important session dates that he didn't want to miss and he asked me to step in. After that Rob got really busy in the Nashville session scene (Rob is a fantastic player!) and I took his place in Delbert's band.

What was your first recording session with Delbert, any thoughts about that auspicious occasion?

Not sure about the first session… probably the Delbert & Glen record Blind, Crippled & Crazy. (released in 2013, New West Records [NW5075])

How many/which Delbert albums are you on in total?

Blind, Crippled & Crazy; Prick Of The Litter; Tall Dark & Handsome.

You have any solo projects?


What's your general approach to writing music/lyrics with Delbert?

It usually starts with me coming up with a chord progression/groove. Delbert starts kind of scatting around and words and melody start to present themselves. 

Do you compose primarily on guitar?


Do you play other instruments?

Not really… some mandolin, lap steel.

How do u view your special role as producer and/or co-writer?

Serve the song. 

Which songs stand out as most significant to u on Prick Of The Litter, and why?

That's hard to say… kind of akin to asking which is your favorite child? I have several favorites, but I'll keep that to myself. "Pullin' The Strings" is one the first tunes we wrote, so that kind of holds a special place. 

From Tall Dark & Handsome, which songs stand out as most significant to you, and why?

"Mr. Smith" was inspired by an amazing guy we knew down in San Miguel… a bigger-than-life Indiana Jones type character. We had been trying to get ahold of him for a couple of days with no luck, when we heard that a guy sounding very much like him had passed away. We sat around depressed for several hours. Then the phone rang and it was Joseph. He had been out of the country and just returned. Needless to say, there was a dramatic mood shift… "Mr. Smith is back in town!"

To what extent does Delbert lean on/rely upon your input to provide material?

Being that he doesn't really play an instrument other than harmonica he tends to lean on us to establish chordal structure and groove.

What's the "formula" for success when it comes to writing with/for Delbert?

Patience. Don't rush anything.

Describe a bit of the "working" environment when u guys go out to san Miguel to create material for a new album with Delbert—that place seems to REALLY invigorate him, and it sounds like a lotta FUN is involved too!

He has a great home there. Generally, we'll have breakfast then head out to the veranda and write for several hours, then maybe walk into town for a bite to eat, or just have lunch at the house and continue writing. Maybe a siesta. No rules. Whatever we feel like. Everything slows down there. Very relaxed.

What was your reaction to hearing about Delbert's official retirement and how did it ultimately impact your working relationship with him regarding gigs, recordings, etc.?

It's sad really. I expect we'll keep writing/recording. 

How many Grammy awards have you garnered in your career thus far?

Just the one for Tall, Dark, & Handsome. I have worked on other Grammy winning records as a musician, but they don't give out Grammys for that, just certificates.

How does your time with Delbert compare to all the numerous other famous people you have played for/with?

It's a much closer, more intimate/familial relationship because of the amount of time we have spent together, and the creative process of writing songs together.

ACT III – Tall, Dark, & Handsome

When Delbert gave an interview to Chuck Dauphin (published on 7/25/19) for Billboard magazine, he stated that he was looking forward to touring behind the new record…but as we now know, that tour didn't happen—all due to COVID. Between the two albums, though, his voice has only gotten better—the vintage, aged seasoning that, oddly enough, seems to have his voice seemingly benefitted his voice from the temporary setback of having just come through a health scare that led to triple-bypass surgery. This last record of his sounds just like what it is—a renewed passion for life, and an appreciation for the God-given natural gift for making consistently good music. The raspiness in the upper range combined with the southern twang that permeates the album and gives him an even more enticing road-dog relish that fans around the world have come to know and love.

This time around, the official band name for the Tall, Dark & Handsome album has been slightly altered to become the Self-Made Men + Dana. The "plus Dana" being Dana Robbins on tenor sax—who, quite obviously, is not a man. Not long ago, Dana toured with Taj Mahal and Keb'Mo' on their collaborative TajMo album. Since then, she's been performing with Delbert McClinton for the past eight years now, and is featured on two of the cuts on this record. 

The trio of Bob Britt (guitar), Quentin Ware (trumpet) and McKendree (piano) return on this album, with a host of other veteran longtime members like James Pennebaker (guitar), Glenn Worf (bass), Dennis Wage (organ), and Joe Maher (drums), rounding out the rhythm section for added firepower (although bassist Mike Joyce and drummer Jack Bruno make a reprise from the 'Litter' session on two tracks—"Ruby & Jules" and "Let's Get Down Like We Used To"). Several other artists make guest appearances (such as Roy Agee on trombone, Stuart Duncan on violin, and both Robert Bailey and Pat McLaughlin on vocals).

The album came out on July 26, 2019 which, just as the last album, was co-produced by the trio of McClinton, McKendree, & Britt, recorded on the Hot Shot Records label, and distributed by Thirty Tigers. It contained new songs all written or co-written by Delbert. The songs collectively represent a natural, seamless flow between classic Texas-flavored jump blues, big band swing, funk, country, New Orleans soul, and old school rock n' roll. This album was so good, it received a Grammy the following year for Best Traditional Blues. The fourteen songs add up to forty minutes of music—most of the songs are between two and three minutes, which gives you a wide variety, and also sends the message that a great song just doesn't have to take that long. The variety of retro styles on this album is nothing short of impressive; the subject matter and image-laden lyrics are vintage McClinton.

The album opens with him kicking the front door open with a hard-swingin', big band romp, "Mr. Smith," a piece that lets veteran tenor player Jim Hoke rip and roar in such a delicious manner. His howling sax is followed by Ware's growling trumpet, as Delbert exclaims, "heatin' things up, coolin' things down..." The exchange of solo licks between them at the out-chorus is truly infectious.

Bob Britt, Mike Joyce, and Delbert together wrote "If I Hock My Guitar," a fun, quirky tune that has a monster-mash kinda boogie, [what exactly do u call that groove?] about how helpless Delbert would surely be if he couldn't play music for a living. "No Chicken On The Bone" has that old-school gypsy jazz, feel, as in "Stefan Grappelli meets Django Reinhardt." It's a jumpin' song with a great set of lyrics about an enticing woman who "makes pizza at the corner of 5th & Main…The sun shines on her even when it rains." Then: "She's the kinda woman take away your breath/she's the kinda woman scare you half to death…" Indeed, she don't leave no chicken on the bone.

"Let's Get Down Like We Used To" is about turning back the clock, shutting out the rest of the world and kicking back ol' school style, with a focus on the bottle of vodka, without the T.V, or phones. The song has background "ahhs" from Wendy and Vicki that somehow remind me of the Beatles harmony every time I hear it.

"Gone To Mexico" reminds me of watching Ricky Ricardo and his Cuban band perform on the I Love Lucy TV show, and also so much of Tom Waits' Latin-tinged tune, "Jockey Full of Bourbon" on the Rain Dogs album. This tune is like the brother to the sister song, "San Miguel" from the 'Litter' album. Indeed, Delbert confessed to Kristin Brown in the Cowboys & Indians magazine interview, "I've got a home down in Mexico, and we'll get three or four people at a time, go down there and spend a week-to-10 days, eat a lot of good food, enjoy the weather, and sit and make up stuff, which makes for a pretty good gig." He later told Craig Garber during an exclusive YouTube interview during the height of the pandemic in 2020, "It's always been a magic place for me. It's like walking around in a piece of art. People are so nice there. The culture in Mexico is so beautiful. I feel safer there than I do here."

The tune "Lulu" is a response to the classic tune, "Lulu's Back In Town," except for she's not welcome this time around. He told the Rolling Stone writer, "On 'Lulu,' I was kind of thinking of Mose Allison," McClinton explains. "When I was phrasing it, he was the one who came to mind for me. The song is slow and hypnotic, and it was so much fun to sing." "Loud Mouth" is a perfect, medium-tempo blues shuffle with B.B. King-tinged licks from—wait for it—Kevin McKendree's son, Yates McKendree (who really nailed that King style!). His dad Kevin follows with his own rollicking piano solo. This song has wonderfully descriptive lyrics about not wanting to be around someone anymore, when they get too drunk and, as expected, show their ass in a most embarrassing manner. "Down In The Mouth" is another greasy Texas shuffle, with great guitar work from longtime McClinton band member James Pennebaker, who sounds like a perfect cross between the patented Austin-style work of Denny Freeman and Jimmie Vaughan.

"Ruby & Jules" is a medium-tempo jump blues about the woman who owns the bar that can control this crazy cat who comes in a bar lookin' for a fight. The song has great lyrics ("Ruby's a gem, Jules is too…") along with a real unique chord progression that's beyond just a three-chord blues; it doesn't sound like anything else on the album, and there's a real reason for it—Delbert told Kristin Brown in the C&I interview, "On 'Ruby and Jules,' that piano is Dennis Wage, and he gives it a totally different style. I love the 'Pink Panther' feel to it." 

Things slow down with the semi-ballad "Any Other Way," a genuine mellow jazz feature with lyrics that are clearly dedicated to the love of his life, Wendy Goldstein. Here is where Dana Robbins takes her mellow solo. "A Fool Like Me" is a New Orleans boogie that has the "Dixie Chicken" groove. His daughter, Delaney, sings background harmony on the song, while Kevin delivers a perfect Bourbon Street piano solo. "Can't Get Up" is a slow and greasy New Orleans backbeat groove that slip-slides into to a killer blues shuffle. It's a song about boogeying with the best of 'em back in the day, but he can't do it anymore like he used to. "You won't be gettin' up to get down like you used to anymore," he warns. Kevin lays down a vicious, gargling Hammond B3 organ solo on this one.

"Temporarily Insane" has a great rain-drop background, and the tune is like the soundtrack to that Academy Award-winning Anthony Hopkins movie, The Father. Delbert's voice sounds as deliciously ragged and scared and frayed as ever—a perfect delivery for the lyrics that he serves here. "I bump into myself, and I cried out for help, but I smiled, shook my head and walked away." This song sounds like Tom Waits could have—should have—written it. It just might be my favorite track on the entire album precisely because of its spookiness.

"A Poem" is a strange ending on a dobro-sounding acoustic guitar, like a peek behind the garage late at night when and see a dim light swinging from an old shed and your curiosity gets the best of you as you wonder "Where's that strange sound coming from?" On this 60-second mini-movie, you can hear a fly buzzing past your ear that suddenly lands. Then the broken-wheel music starts—this one has that ragged recording approach that Waits mastered, where the harmonic structure is consonant dissonance. This one, ironically, is even more like Waits than "Insane" was, and could have fit perfectly on Mule Variations.

Delbert is unique in that John Prine kinda way; the fact that he can crank out a great disc at the age of 78 is stunning and puts him in rare air, and now that John is gone, Delbert's one of a select few still around that can pull off this feat effortlessly (Taj Mahal has already conquered that hill and sits right at the top, in my opinion). The wide range of styles just sounds like an organic process to him.

In a quote published on July 17, 2019, He told Bob Paxman for Rolling Stone magazine, "We have no restraints in making the music we want to make," McClinton says. "I can pretty much do anything I want to. That's a key factor in being creative. You get to be soaked in what you're doing. Nothing is off limits for me, and that's the best feeling in the world." Just like with music maestro Mahal, the word "Americana" is not an exaggerated term used to describe what McClinton's body of work represents—it covers such a wide swath of styles, that its fruitless to try bag it with one shot.

Delbert's biography, Delbert McClinton: One of the Fortunate Few (Texas A&M University Press), was released on Dec. 6, 2017, at the end of the same year I discovered the Litter album. Written by close friend and Texas music journalist Diana Finlay Hendricks, the book was named after his 1997 album of the same title One of The Fortunate Few (Rising Tide, RTD-3042).

TV morning radio talk show host Don Imus, one the biggest and most loyal long-standing fans of Delbert, was chosen to write the foreword to the book that was released on December 6. Besides being incredibly well-written and funny, Imus said two things that were really powerful and spot-on. The first was his sharing a quote he got directly from Lyle Lovett (found at the bottom of page ix in the foreword), when Lovett said to him, "If we could all sing like we wanted to, we'd all sing like Delbert McClinton."

The other great phrase was mentioned during an interview conducted by Leah Pickett for the Dallas Observer published on November 30, 2017, when she interviewed author Diana Finlay Hendricks about the release of the book. The quote was attributed to Imus, where he'd stated somewhere in the book, "There are two kinds of people in the world—those who love Delbert McClinton and those who've never heard of him."

Thank God I'm no longer in that second category…some people just don't know what they're missing.