Delbert McClinton Acquired Taste bio Chris Morris
“I’m an acquired taste in that my kind of music’s not for little kids,” Texas singer- songwriter Delbert McClinton says. “It’s adult rock ‘n’ roll. I write from the sensibility of the people I knew growing up, and I grew up with all the heathens, the people who went too far before they changed and tried to make something out of their lives. There are a lot of beautiful colors and sad stories and much-deserved joy in that.”
All those colors and stories, and all that joy, are richly present in McClinton’s New West album Acquired Taste. The collection is the musician’s fourth studio set for the label, and it succeeds his Grammy Award-winning Cost of Living (2005), which was named best contemporary blues recording by the Recording Academy.
The album reunites McClinton with the producer who helmed his very first Grammy winner, Don Was. The multi-talented bandleader, bassist, and studio wizard recorded “Good Man, Good Woman,” a collaboration with Bonnie Raitt that captured the best rock performance by a duo or group Grammy for 1991. Was came to the current project on the recommendation of New West president Cameron Strang, who had employed the producer on Kris Kristofferson’s widely praised 2006 album for the label, This Old Road.
“Don and I had kind of a cosmic connection, because of Bonnie,” McClinton says. “Then he and I got together and recorded a few things that were very, very good. I’ve been ricocheting off of him for about 17 years now.”
Was says, “Delbert’s an erudite, urbane sophisticate, wrapped up as a roadhouse singer. There’s nothing contradictory in his character -- he’s a real Texan. Neither the intellectual nor the roadhouse singer is a put-on. They come in equal parts. He’s one of a kind, he’s amazing. He defies the categories and slips right through.”
Working with Was took McClinton in a welcome new direction.
“It was a good thing, because it kind of got me off my ass,” he says. “Since we did Cost of Living, I’d been writing, but I couldn’t get motivated to go into the studio. During those three years, I was trying to reinvent myself a bit, and even the thought of it was very daunting. At the same time, I knew I had bits and pieces of songs I had started that were, to me, very much unlike most of the songs I write. They were kind of outside the box.”
McClinton wrote or co-authored the 14 songs on Acquired Taste; his co-writers included his longtime musical collaborator and producer Gary Nicholson, his keyboardist Kevin McKendree and guitarist Rob McNelley, Texas songsmith Guy Clark, Nashville ace and ex-NRBQ axe man Al Anderson, and Benmont Tench of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers. The album was tracked at East Isis Studios in Nashville and Henson Studios in Hollywood by McClinton and his working band – McKendree, McNelley, drummer Lynn Williams, and bassist Steve Mackey.
Kicking off with “Mama’s Little Baby,” a grown-up rewrite of “Short’nin’ Bread,” Acquired Taste ranges through a breadth of styles. While longtime McClinton fans will bask in the gutsy blues of “I Need to Know” and the churning funk of “Do It,” other songs drive onto some freshly-paved stylistic roads – the jazzy, hard-swinging “People Just Love to Talk,” the melancholy tango “She’s Not There Anymore,” the pop-
harmonized “When She Cries at Night.” The album’s balladry – “Starting a Rumor,” “Never Saw It Coming,” “Wouldn’t You Think (Should’ve Been Here By Now),” “Out of My Mind” – finds McClinton at his most profoundly affecting, while “Willie” and “Cherry Street” show that his sense of humor remains firmly in place.
The record’s freewheeling diversity – and McClinton’s career-long defiance of easy categorization – is unsurprising, given his Texas origins.
“I saw a chart once in the book Folk Songs of North America,” McClinton recalls. “You open it up, and there’s a map of the United States, with musical influences in color, showing where they came into this country and where they migrated. More colors come through Texas than anywhere – they come from everywhere. All these different cultural musics come together in Texas.”
Born in Lubbock (hometown of such other musical notables as Buddy Holly and Joe Ely), McClinton came of age in the Fort Worth joints. He first appeared on a hit record in 1962, when his distinctive harmonica playing graced Bruce Channel’s No. 1 single “Hey Baby” (which inspired the harp work of a young John Lennon). He backed such blues legends as Jimmy Reed and Sonny Boy Williamson, and honed his chops in local acts like the Ron-Dels, the Straightjackets, and Bobby Crown and the Kapers. In the early ‘70s, McClinton and keyboardist-vocalist Glen Clark relocated to Los Angeles, where they cut a pair of prophetic roots-rock albums as Delbert & Glen.
Beginning in 1975, McClinton recorded a series of brawny LPs for ABC, Capricorn, and Capitol that seamlessly melded blues, R&B, and country into a uniquely soulful blend. At the latter label in 1980, McClinton scored the top 10 hit “Giving It Up For Your Love,” which pushed the accompanying album The Jealous Kind into the national top 40.
After spending the late ‘80s and ‘90s cutting consistently powerful albums for Alligator, Curb, Mercury, and MCA, McClinton arrived at New West in 2001 with the wildly received Nothing Personal, which won him his first solo Grammy, for best contemporary blues album. Room to Breathe followed in 2002. His high-temperature show was captured on the two-CD set Live (2003). (His 1982 appearance on the popular PBS series Austin City Limits is available as part of New West’s Live From Austin TX series.)
Producer and artist both place Acquired Taste among McClinton’s best and most ambitious work.
Was says, “What I like about this album is that it’s a musical journey. It’s got a really broad spectrum stylistically, and yet his sensibility and persona are so strong that it’s totally unified when you put him on top of it.”
“This one definitely does stand apart, without a doubt,” says McClinton. “There were an awful lot of people wanting to make this really good.
“When we went in to do it, everybody was tense but ready. Don has that bedside manner to make everybody think they’re the most important one around. We were talking during a break in the session, and my guitar player said, ‘Man, he just makes you really do good shit!’ And I said, ‘Yeah, well, he’s kinda known for being able to do that without letting you know he’s doing it.’ Don’s a magic guy, and I love him more than anything. I couldn’t be happier with this.”
- Marcia Ball
- Richard Thompson
- Paul Thorn
- The Mavericks
- Al Anderson
- The Band of Heathens
- Alyssa Bonagura
- Etta Britt
- Chuck Cannon
- Bruce Channel
- Glen Clark
- Nick Connolly
- Elizabeth Cook
- Doyle and Debbie
- Brian Dunne
- Fred Eaglesmith
- Danny Flowers
- Donnie Fritts
- Anson Funderburgh
- Jimmy Hall
- Tom Hambridge
- Teresa James
- Joe Maher
- Clay McClinton
- The McCrary Sisters
- Mingo Fishtrap
- Lukas Nelson & P.O.T.R.
- Gary Nicholson
- Spooner Oldham
- Lee Roy Parnell
- Kimmie Rhodes
- Jill Sobule
- Wayne Toups
- The Trishas
- Seth Walker
- Kevin Welch
- Lari White
- Red Young
- Mike Zito