This season closing show brought together all the vibes and individual craft that makes Music City Roots go, with a new folk discovery, a heartfelt bluegrass tribute and two true icons of American roots music. We start with the moody beauty of Bay Area folk group Quiles & Cloud. An all-star gathering of Nashville pickers pay tribute to Mac Wiseman, including Sierra Hull, Shawn Camp, Justin Moses, Thomm Jutz and Peter Cooper. Next, Danny Barnes performs solo on the banjo, showing what a unique genius he is. And the show wraps with the fire and thunder of Texas master Delbert McClinton.
There are two kinds of people in the world: those who love Delbert McClinton and those who haven’t heard him yet. Delbert is always working on that second group.
Lyle Lovett has said, “If we could all sing like we wanted to, we’d all sing like Delbert.”
The multi-Grammy Award winning artist is at the top of his game with his 19th studio album, Prick Of The Litter (Hot Shot Records/Thirty Tigers). The new offering captures the balance of soulful energy and restraint that the legendary performer has been delivering in his live performances for decades all over the world. On Prick of the Litter, Delbert incorporates a variety of styles, and as always, just enough to keep him comfortably outside the traditional marketing categories.
Prick Of The Litter blends Delbert’s signature rhythm and blues sound with a newer jazz-influence inspired by Johnny Mercer, Nat King Cole and other legendary crooners. He includes some upbeat traditional blues (“Don’t Do It”) with a romantic take on Tony Bennett’s San Francisco (“San Miguel”) while “Skip Chaser” paints a vivid picture of the perils of the profession. A highlight is the album’s closer, the gentle and hopeful “Rosy.” McClinton’s road band, Self-Made Men provide a hard-driving rhythm section, powerful guitars and innovative piano, accented by punched-up horns. Delbert’s definitive vocals and distinct harmonica licks bring it all together.
Delbert McClinton has been a leading Americana artist since before the genre was established. He has won two Grammy awards in the blues category for Best Contemporary Blues Album; and one in the rock category (Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group), with Bonnie Raitt for “Good Man, Good Woman”.
Delbert’s unique musical style grew from his Texas music beginnings. Influenced at a young age by Tejano, Western Swing, Rhythm and Blues and War songs, he developed a signature sound that served him well.
Delbert grew up around Lubbock and Fort Worth, and spent his early career in the desegregating roadhouses of Fort Worth’s Jacksboro Highway, leading the house bands for Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, and others, while making a local name for himself. Later, Delbert traveled to England where he headlined shows with Bruce Channel (“Hey Baby”) with a little-known Liverpool band [The Beatles] as the opening act. He then rolled into Los Angeles as songwriters began to take top billing, and headed back to Texas for the progressive movement and blues renaissance that helped kick off Austin’s role in American musical history.
If you’ve seen a live Delbert McClinton show, you will recognize the synchronized energy on Prick Of The Litter that comes from thousands of miles of playing together. Delbert feels that his current road band, Self-Made Men, is the best band he’s ever had.
“Jack Bruno [drums] is amazing. He played with Joe Cocker and with Tina Turner for years. I’ve been harder on drummers than anybody in the world, but Jack is right there where I need him. Dana Robbins [saxophone] and Quentin ‘Q’ Ware [trumpet] punctuate the live performances in just the right places. James Pennebaker [guitar] is family. He’s been playing with me off and on since he was nineteen. Mike Joyce [bass guitar], Kevin McKendree [piano], and Bob Britt [guitar] are among my best friends, in addition to being in the band. Mike and Kevin and I write together a lot. We wrote most of the songs on this album together.”
Delbert, Kevin and Bob also co-produced Prick Of The Litter. “Going into the studio with a band that’s like family creates real magic,” says Delbert. “You have the energy of a live band. We feed off of each other. We are better together. And it always feels like they have my back.” Jimmie Vaughan and Lou Ann Barton are an added bonus on the first track. Delbert adds “I am such a fan of Lou Ann and of Jimmie. We needed a female to do a part on ‘Don’t Do It.’ Bob suggested Lou Ann, and I knew she would be perfect. I have always loved Jimmie and Lou Ann. I had talked to Jimmie about doing something on my last album but it didn’t work out. So this time, we went to Austin and they both came into the studio. We spent about two hours and had a lot of fun. They are both so talented.”
Delbert wrote or co-wrote ten of the songs on the album. “By the time we wrote these songs, Mike, Bob and Kevin had been in my band for a long time,” says Delbert. “We got together every Wednesday for several weeks, and then we went to Mexico and finished writing the rest of the album.”
2017 is a milestone year for Delbert. In addition to the release of Prick Of The Litter, a biography is slated for release in September. He has also been nominated for Texas State Musician, a highly acclaimed state appointment akin to poet laureate.
Prick of the Litter is a signature project for Delbert McClinton, and he is proud of it. “We worked hard on this and we got exactly what we wanted,” he says. “The songs, the band, the production. Everything came together. We didn’t leave no chicken on the bone,” he says.
“I did what I came to do with this album. I guess I really am One of the Fortunate Few.”