In the 40-plus years he has been fronting his own bands and recording his own albums, little in the music of Delbert McClinton has changed. His songs are steeped in Texas roadhouse tradition by combining elements of vintage R&B, country and no-frills rock ‘n’ roll, while his singing remains an effortless reflection of good-time Lone Star soul.
But at age 73, the Lubbock, Texas, native, now living in Nashville, doesn’t maintain the sort of brutal tour schedules he juggled during the ‘70s ‘80s and ‘90s. And he does not think that the rambunctious story lines that dominated his earlier original material best serve his music today.
“I mean, I can’t sing songs about chasing women anymore. I really can’t. That would be ridiculous, you know what I mean?” said McClinton. “But there’s plenty more to do. We’re old guys that still love to make music, know how to do it and have a good time doing it. As long as that feels good, there ain’t no reason not to keep at it.”
Known best for the Blues Brothers-covered “B Movie Box Car Blues” in the ‘70s, his own hit “Givin’ It Up for Your Love” at the dawn of the ‘80s and a series of critically lauded albums that culminated with 2006’s Grammy-winning “The Cost of Living,” McClinton offers an insightful look at his role as an elder Americana stylist in a recent tune titled “More and More, Less and Less.”
“If I don’t throw the party, I won’t have to clean up the mess,” he sings over a subtle, weary shuffle.
“I guess I’ve just been around the block a few times,” McClinton said in reference to the song. But “More and More, Less and Less” also reflects two key artistic partnerships that have helped establish and extend his career.
The first is a rekindled alliance with Glen Clark, whom McClinton recorded and toured with under the name Delbert & Glen during the early ‘70s. The two have remained friends, and in 2013 they released their first collaborative album in more than four decades. Titled “Blind, Crippled and Crazy,” it features “More and More, Less and Less” as one of its 12 new songs.
“It’s been 42 years since we did anything,” McClinton said. “We’ve talked about doing this off and on for 10 years. Glen was working as a music director for a TV show, “According to Jim.” He retired from that and had some free time, and so did I. We said, ‘Well, let’s make a record.’ It was like getting back on a bicycle.”
“More and More, Less and Less” also continues McClinton’s longstanding songwriting partnership with Gary Nicholson. Continuing that association was one of the reasons McClinton relocated to Nashville in 1989.
“Gary was in my band back in the late ‘80s, so we’ve been friends for a long time. When I moved to Nashville, he had already been living here 10 or 12 years. So we got together and started writing songs. He and I have been having constant luck with that since about ‘91.”
With such a longstanding love of singing and writing, what was the tune the young McClinton heard that made him want to pursue both as his lifelong vocation?
The answer is “Honey Hush,” a 1953 hit penned and performed by famed Kansas City soul shouter Big Joe Turner.
“There was this barbecue joint out on the highway just across the tracks in Fort Worth,” McClinton recalled. “They had an outside speaker, and that’s where I heard ‘Honey Hush.’ I just started walking toward the music. I had never in my life heard something that had moved me as much as that. I always wanted to be a honker, a shouter like Big Joe Turner. That song still moves me.”