After his last album all but disappeared when his record label was folded three years ago — not the first time that’s happened to him — veteran country blues rocker Delbert McClinton took his time with Nothing Personal, his new album released on Tuesday (March 6) on Austin’s New West Records.
“It’s my baby, you know,” he said. “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. And I think it’s a real good example of what I do.”
What McClinton does is blend country blues, southern rock, R&B, and a dash of Texas border spice to come up with a style that’s found him teaching John Lennon harmonica, sharing a Grammy with Bonnie Raitt, and finding his songs covered by artists ranging from country songbird Emmylou Harris to Tejano rocker Shelly Lares.
“I chose the title Nothing Personal because it is so personal,” McClinton said. “A title like that is a set up for just about anything.”
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,” McClinton said. “We tried some things, and then we tried some other things, and just took out time.” McClinton found himself with that time when his former record label, Rising Tide, abruptly shut down in 1998, taking down new releases by Dolly Parton and Matraca Berg as well as McClinton’s One of the Fortunate Few in its demise.
“I wanted to get a real good focus on recording these songs, have a plan,” McClinton said. “Every other record I’ve done, you go in and you set a time for the studio and the record company says, all right, you’ve got five days. So we took our time with this one, and I’m real proud of how it came out.”
McClinton grew up in West Texas, in Lubbock, where Bob Wills’ western swing was king, and he also heard the blues and border music of the ’40s and ’50s there.
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.” As a harmonica player, he toured Britain with “Hey Baby” singer Bruce Channel in the early ’60s. A young British group, the Beatles, was often the opening act, and McClinton taught Lennon some of
the harmonica licks which later showed up in the Fab Four’s hit “Love Me Do.”
“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 recalled, “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.”
His first band, the Straightjackets, backed up blues greats including B.B. King, Jimmy Reed, and Howlin’ Wolf when they played Jack’s Place, the Fort Worth roadhouse where the group was the house band. “That was like on the job training with people I idolized,” McClinton said. He’d go on to mine that blues influence through the years with a nomination for best independent blues record for his 1988 Live In Austin disc, a 1992 Grammy for best blues performance for his duet with Bonnie Raitt on “Good Man, Good Woman” (RealAudio excerpt), and as headliner of his annual Sandy Beaches Blues cruises.
On Nothing Personal, McClinton explores blues as well as a range of soulful styles he’s made his own. There’s a country blues duet with Iris DeMent on “Birmingham Tonight” (RealAudio excerpt) and Texas R&B mixed in on the rockers “Living It Down” and “All Night Long.” He offers a bit of Latin spice along with dry humor in “When Rita Leaves” (RealAudio excerpt) and country soul predominates in “Don’t Leave Home Without It,” along with roadhouse rock on “Squeeze Me In.”
McClinton expects to continue his busy touring schedule in support of Nothing Personal, and he has another project up his sleeve as well. He’s working on re-recording some of his favorites from his four-decade career. “There’s so much of that stuff that I didn’t get an opportunity to move around and try this and try that,” he explained. “I think the songs are great but the arrangements on some of them are not what I wanted to do. So we’re having a lot of fun with that.”