Delbert McClinton Wrapping Up Nothing Personal

Country-blues virtuoso readies first new album in four years; kicks off mostly southern tour this month.

Veteran Southern rock, country and honky-tonk bluesman Delbert McClinton will hit the road before Nothing Personal, his first new album in four years, comes out in March.

“I wanted to get a good focus on what I was doing, and a plan,” McClinton said about the time lag between projects. The tour of mostly Southern venues includes two January dates, several in February and two in April, including one non-Southern stop — a show at the Hard Rock Café in Las Vegas on April 10.

Although McClinton’s most recent album, 1997’s One of the Fortunate Few, was well received, it sank in the failing fortunes of Nashville’s Rising Tide record label, along with albums by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Dolly Parton and Matraca Berg. Nothing Personal is due March 6 on Austin’s New West Records.

“This is the first record I’ve ever done that I had the opportunity to spend more than five days trackin’ on,” the Lubbock, Texas, native reflected. His recording career dates to the 1960 single “Wake Up Baby!,” on the Le Cam label, and includes more than two dozen solo albums.

Among them are the classic Southern-rock groundbreaker Victim of Life’s Circumstances (1975) and 1992’s Never Been Rocked Enough, which included McClinton’s Grammy-winning duet with Bonnie Raitt, “Good Man, Good Woman” (RealAudio excerpt), and another top-10 hit, “Every Time I Roll the Dice” (RealAudio excerpt).

McClinton said he thinks Nothing Personal is even better.

“It’s my baby, you know,” he said, speaking from his Nashville home. “I went in and did this before I ever had a record deal. I paid for it all myself. So I took my time and did exactly what I wanted to do, made a record for me. On every other one I’ve done, you know, you get a set time for the studio, and you go in and the record company says, ’All right, you’ve got five days, get it done,’ and that’s basically what happens.

“With this record, we tried some things,” he continued, “and maybe they didn’t work, and we’d try some other things, just took our time.”

McClinton and longtime collaborator Gary Nicholson produced the record, which contains 13 original songs. “The album was recorded over an 11-month period, with no one rushing us. I think it’s just a good example of what I do.”

What McClinton does is to blend country, folk and roadhouse blues with an insistent back beat and insightful lyrics. That blend has induced artists raging from Raitt to Emmylou Harris and Martina McBride (both of whom recorded “Two More Bottles of Wine”), Vince Gill (“Victim of Life’s Circumstances”) and even tejano star Shelly Lares (“Blame It on Love”) to record his songs.

On Nothing Personal he visits a basket of border country rhythms, including Southern rock on the teasing tale of love in the age of overwork, “Squeeze Me In,” and soulful ballad form on “Don’t Leave Home Without It.” Iris DeMent duets with McClinton on the country-tinged blues “Birmingham Tonight,” and there’s a dash of Tex-Mex spice in the melody and story of the ironic love tale “When Rita Leaves.”

Looking back at his West Texas roots, McClinton remarked, “I don’t think anything drew me into music — I think it was just born with me. It’s something I couldn’t help but do.”

He started out playing the harmonica. “Before I heard blues harmonica, I was just playin’ ’She Wore a Yellow Ribbon’ and stuff like that. Of course when I heard blues harmonica, that was a whole new idea. Then I started playin’ guitar, and somewhere along the way I picked up a little bit of piano. For the life of me, I don’t know how it happened,” he said with a laugh, “just being exposed to it eight nights a week, I guess! Just all of a sudden I could play a bit, and now it’s something I really love.”

On Nothing Personal, he puts his piano chops on display on the blues-based “All There Is of Me.”

As much as he enjoyed writing the songs for and recording Nothing Personal, live performance really forms the core of McClinton’s love for music. His venues have ranged from roadhouses to classy clubs (he taught John Lennon how to play harmonica when McClinton was touring England in 1962), and he’s just returned from his seventh annual Sandy Beaches Caribbean Cruise, playing with musical friends including Marcia Ball, Michael McDonald and Asleep at the Wheel. “It’s wonderful, it’s a lot of fun,” said McClinton, who along with his wife, organizes the cruise each year. “There are a lot of magic moments.”

Those magic moments are what make McClinton’s career. “Any good night onstage, in a real honky tonk, was always magic to me, and still is,” he said.

“You never know what’s coming, but when it happens, everything falls into place. Whether it goes on for 30 seconds or two hours, it’s a memory that I take away of one of the most wonderful times of my life.”

Delbert McClinton tour dates:

1/19 – Tulsa, OK @ Cain’s Ballroom
1/27 – Austin, TX @ Convention Center
2/2 – Robinsonville, MI @ Horseshoe Casino
2/3 – Robinsonville, MI @ Horseshoe Casino
2/9 – Spartanburg, SC @ Memorial Auditorium
2/10 – Charleston, SC @ Desperados
2/24 – Paducah, KY @ JR’s Executive Inn
4/7 – Richmond, VA @ Brown’s Island
4/10 – Las Vegas, NV @ House of Blues