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The venerable Delbert McClinton is a legend among Texas roots music aficionados, not only for his amazing longevity, but for his ability to combine country, blues, soul, and rock & roll as if there were no distinctions between any of them in the best time-honored Texas tradition. A formidable harmonica player long before he recorded as a singer, McClinton's career began in the late '50s, yet it took him nearly two decades to evolve into a bona fide solo artist. A critics' darling and favorite of his peers, McClinton has won two Grammy awards to date and countless fans across the globe.
When Delbert McClinton announces with his latest album that he has Room To Breathe, he sure ain't kidding. After more than four decades of making music, McClinton is breathing freely with the confidence and energy of an artist who knows that he has mastered his game. Still basking in the glow of a new Grammy® Award, he has followed up what The Wall Street Journal declared his “best recording ever” -- 2001's Nothing Personal -- with a set that displays even greater muscle, smarts, charm and soul.
A listen to the 12 tracks on Room To Breathe handily backs the contention that even after enjoying the best year of his long career, McClinton is now poised to triumph further. From the swampy and rollicking opening strains of “Same Kinda Crazy” to the album’s closing jump blues visit to “New York City,” Room To Breathe plays like the night of your life in God's own roadhouse. Co-produced by Delbert's longtime friend and songwriting partner Gary Nicholson, the bulk of the album was with his well-seasoned road band. Special guests like singer Bekka Bramlett and Texas guitar legend Bill Campbell stopped by. Horn and string sections were used to deepen the sound. It features 12 new McClinton originals written solo and in collaboration with such noted talents as Nicholson, Benmont Tench (from Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers) and Al Anderson (the former NRBQ guitarist turned hit Nashville songsmith). He is joined on “Lone Star Blues” by an honor roll of fellow Texans: Marcia Ball, Ray Benson, Guy Clark, Rodney Crowell, Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock, Kimmie Rhodes and Billy Joe Shaver, along with honorary Texan Emmylou Harris.
McClinton's early memories include going as a child with his parents to see Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys at The Cotton Club in Lubbock, TX, where he was born. His family moved to Ft. Worth when McClinton was 11, and just a few years later he started earning his Ph.D in real American music in a city known as a fertile incubator for a variety of styles. Out on the Jacksboro Highway at clubs like Jack's Place, Delbert mastered the craft of keeping the hard-drinking rednecks, cowpokes and roustabouts entertained all night long. And at the legendary Skyliner Ballroom, where McClinton's band was the only white act to play its Blue Monday nights AND be the backing band for the headliners, he received a first-class tutelage from the masters of blues music like Jimmy Reed, Howlin' Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson.
McClinton cut a number of local and regional singles before hitting the national charts in 1962 playing harmonica on Bruce Channel's now classic “Hey! Baby.” On a subsequent package tour of England, Delbert showed some of his harp licks to the rhythm guitarist for a young band at the bottom of the bill. The lessons he gave John Lennon were later heard hit singles by The Beatles.
In the early 1970s, McClinton and his Ft. Worth pal Glen Clark headed out to Los Angeles, where they cut two then obscure but now prized albums for Atlantic Records as Delbert & Glen. Returning to Texas, he landed a deal with ABC Records. With the release of his 1975 solo debut, Victim of Life's Circumstances, McClinton firmly stamped his Ft. Worth-bred blend of blues, country and blue-eyed soul onto the pop musical landscape. A succession of influential and critically acclaimed albums followed, along with coups like appearing on “Saturday Night Live” in its heyday -- an acknowledgement of the pages torn from Delbert's play book by Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi when they formed The Blues Brothers. He scored hits like “Giving It Up For Your Love” and “Sandy Beaches,” won a Grammy with Bonnie Raitt for their “Good Man/Good Woman” duet, and over the years has enjoyed covers of his songs by Emmylou Harris, The Blues Brothers, Vince Gill, Wynonna, Lee Roy Parnell, Martina McBride, Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, among others.
Tightening radio formats may have offered fewer opportunities for his expansive musical approach, yet McClinton solidified his loyal following with his relentless touring and his annual Delbert McClinton & Friends Sandy Beaches Cruise every January in the Caribbean.
Then last year, when Delbert “came roaring out of the gate on Nothing Personal,” as Rolling Stone put it, his stature as one of the living icons of genuine American music returned to the forefront. The album debuted on five Billboard charts: Hot 200 Albums, Blues, Country, Independent and Internet Sales. What's the secret behind his newfound success? “Life is better than it's ever been for me,” McClinton explains.
The splash made by Nothing Personal has given McClinton “a great confidence” that makes Room To Breathe sound like it could be a personal best. But with both his characteristic modesty as well as the moxie of a man on top of his game, Delbert shies away from claiming his latest as his greatest. “I think that it is a perfect record to follow up Nothing Personal with,” he notes. “I'm not sure I've made the best record yet that I will ever make. And that in and of itself is a great feeling, because as long as I've been doing this, I still every day feel like I can do better. And that's pretty amazing to me, because most people either burn out or stop doing it all the time by now. So far I have not lost the inspiration; it's getting even better for me. I am the luckiest man you know.”