In 1954, when he was about 14, Delbert McClinton was walloped by a celestial dose of the blues. After a day of hunting in the woods of his native Fort Worth, Texas, McClinton heard a joyful noise wafting through the trees. “There was this bar-b-que joint, a black bar-b-que joint way out on the west side there that we were coming back to through the woods, and I heard “Honey, Hush” coming across that field, and it was almost like the voice of God. And nothing was ever the same.” That voice was Joe Turner, sitting in that day as God’s mouthpiece. Six years later, McClinton and his band were backing Turner when he came to town. “He didn’t give me any advice,” McClinton says, but the young singer/harpist soaked up plenty just the same. “He’d just count it where he wanted it and say, ‘Make it jump.’And just his singin’ is all the advice you need.”
McClinton sucked that advice down, swirled it around his tonsils with the inspirational sounds he was soaking up playing with Jimmy Reed, Freddie King, and T-Bone Walker, and spat it back out as a soulful moan that creaked like a well broken in saddle, comfortable and easy to ride along with.
He backed his vocals with one of the best roads bands in the business, a horn-heavy troupe that could be as funky as a honky-tonk road band one minute,play deep dish soul the next, and then tear the house down with a bigfoot blues stomp.
But it turns out that McClinton has a softer side that didn’t get heard from much on records,or onstage. He’s a Nat King Cole fan, and also has a thing for the sounds of Johnny Mercer. That all comes out on his latest, Prick Of The Litter. Although the title sounds like it’s another of McClinton’s rowdy excursions, its the most introspective record he’s ever made. The cover shows what could be a shot of a relaxed moment on one of his blues cruises, the singer at rest, his stocking feet propped up on a rail overlooking the ocean.
The material inside matches that image, laid back offerings that swing harder but come across softer than any of his previous work.
But what McClinton considers laid back still packs a wallop. You get a jolt of Texas twang, vintage Fabulous Thunderbirds style, when ex-‘Birds Lou Ann Barton and Jimmie Ray Vaughan step in back to back on the opener, “Don’t Do It.” Its a shuffle, but with this band you’ll be picking up your feet and doing more stomping than shuffling.
McClinton’s road band has always been the best in the biz, and this incarnation calling themselves the Self-Made Men keeps up that high standard. Long time McClinton keyboardist Kevin McKendree, anchors the cast that includes bassist Mike Joyce, drummer Jack Bruno, Quentin Ware on trumpet, and guitarist Bob Britt, whose vocalist wife Etta put out a fine tribute to Delbert with 2014’s Etta Does Delbert.
McClinton wrote or co-wrote all but two of the songs. “Skip Chaser,”a hard rocker with a Dog the Bounty Hunter sensibility was co-written with old partner Glenn Clark, who McClinton recorded two albums of country soul with in the early ’70s before going solo.
Percy Mayfield’s “The Hunt Is On” starts out as mellow swing, but Delbert gets worked up when McKendree’s burbling organ and Britt’s twangy Jimmy Vaughan style guitar loop around his throat, producing his customary crusty soulful growl.
McClinton channels Louis Armstrong on “Jones For You,” penned by trumpeter/composer Tim Ouimette ( Ben E. King, Iggy Pop, Darlene Love, Ray Barretto, Blood Sweat and Tears.)
The horn and and the voice sound like Satchmo, but the lyrics go beyond anything Armstrong ever dared to discuss: “Ah gave up drankin, gave up pills/gave up evahthang that gave me thrills,” McClinton drawls. “Don’t miss my mushrooms nor sniffin’ glue/ but I still Jones for you.”
He shuts things down with his own composition, “Rosy,” a laid-back ballad perfect for putting your feet up and relaxing with a tall cool one, while Delbert advises you to sit back and do just that.
Depending on your lifestyle, McClinton’s latest is an early morning or a late night listening choice. Either way, it’s a dose of Delbert you’ve never been prescribed before. But, like everything else in his catalog, even though it takes care of what ails you, it still leaves you wanting more, and soon.