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Why I Love Delbert McClinton

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You May Not Know Delbert's Name, But You Know His Music

Even if you don't know his name, chances are, you've heard Delbert McClinton. He's been a working musician for over 50 years, and he's played with some legendary musicians.

In 1962 Delbert McClinton played harmonica on Bruce Channel's single "Hey Baby." His harmonica is such an integral part of the song, sometimes the vocals almost seem to be an accompaniment to it, rather than the other way around.

Delbert McClinton's first group, the Ron-Dels, hit the charts in 1965 with "If You Really Want Me To, I'll Go." The song was number 95.

Delbert Advised John Lennon on His Harmonica Technique

When "Hey Baby" became a hit, Delbert McClinton had the opportunity to tour Europe with Bruce Channel. While he was there, he met a young John Lennon. That was before the Beatles became an international sensation. Lennon had heard "Hey Baby," and asked for Delbert's advice on his harmonica technique. Lennon later acknowledged Delbert's influence on his own harmonica playing on "Love Me Do."

The Song that Hooked Me

The first time I ever noticed him, I heard Delbert McClinton on a small, local radio station. He stopped me in my tracks. I had to know, who is this guy? The song was off his Room to Breathe album. The name of the song was "Everything I Know About the Blues (I learned from you.)"

Everything I Know About the Blues

Sandy Beaches Cruise

Delbert was being interviewed on the radio when I heard that first song. I thought his life sounded fascinating, and his music impressed me so much I went to his website. There I saw that he hosts the Sandy Beaches Cruise. It is a music cruise, and it takes place every winter. I signed up.

What a blast! That was the most fun vacation ever. Who would not love cruising the Caribbean on a floating music festival? Delbert brings along plenty of other talented musicians, both old and new. Multiple shows are going on at the same time in different venues around the ship. It was even better because it was January, and 20° back at home!

Sandy Beaches Cruise - On the Deck

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Young Delbert McClinton

Born in Lubbock TX in 1940, and raised in Fort Worth, Delbert McClinton discovered the blues as a teenager. An accomplished harmonica player, he found work in the local clubs playing whatever genre of music was called for on a particular evening.

He learned to move from blues and soul to rock and roll, with a little country thrown in for good measure, without even breaking a sweat. It was during this time that he met, and played with, many of the blues greats. They were legendary artists like Bobby "Blue" Bland, Sonny Boy Williamson, Lightening Watkins, T-Bone Walker, Big Joe Turner, and Freddy King.

Being able to switch genres without effort stood him in good stead in those early club years, enabling him to play with whoever came around. However, in the 1970s, when the progressive country movement began, they found Delbert too bluesy to fit in. Although he played back-up, formed bands and cut several albums during those years, he had limited commercial success as a musician.

Delbert McClinton the Songwriter

Delbert honed his skills as a songwriter, and other artists began recording his songs. Emmylou Harris made it to the top of the country chart with Delbert's song, "Two More Bottles of Wine," in 1978.

In the late 80s many country artists recorded Delbert’s songs. They included Wynonna Judd, Vince Gill and Martina McBride.

In 1991, Bonnie Raitt invited him to do a duet with her on her Luck of the Draw album. The song, "Good Man, Good Woman," earned Delbert a Grammy for Best Rock Vocal, Duo or Group.

Delbert made the most of his newfound notoriety by putting out a new album of his own, Never Been Rocked Enough. That album produced a hit single for him, "Every Time I Roll the Dice."

Emmylou Harris Singing Delbert's Song

Hits and Misses

In 1980 Delbert McClinton had a top 40 single with the song "Giving it Up for Your Love," on his album, The Jealous Kind. The success didn't last though. The recording company he was with, Muscle Shoals Sound, folded. Delbert was back to living on the road and playing dives.

In 1989, Delbert's album Live From Austin, on Alligator records, earned him a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Blues Album.

Rising Tide Records - One of the Fortunate Few

Delbert released his record One of the Fortunate Few in 1997 on Rising Tide Records. It was a small label associated with Universal. The album received praise from critics, and sold over 250,000 copies before Universal pulled the plug on Rising Tide. Once again, Delbert was without a record label.

One of the Fortunate Few

New West Records

In 2001 Delbert teamed up with yet another record company, New West, with whom he remains today. Delbert has called them "artist friendly," and the pairing seems to be a good fit.

His first record with New West, Nothing Personal, would become one of his most popular albums. Hitting the Billboard blues chart, it won him a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album. Delbert has gone on to record five more albums with New West.

  • 2002 - Room to Breathe
  • 2003 - Live
  • 2005 - Cost of Living
  • 2006 - Live from Austin, TX
  • 2009 - Acquired Taste

Delbert's Still Rocking the Boat

While still hardly a household name, Delbert McClinton seems to have finally found a level of professional and financial comfort. While on the Sandy Beaches Cruise, talented friends and adoring fans surround him. He has a loyal and dedicated following.

He has had some health problems in recent years. Delbert underwent successful heart bypass surgery on Monday, April 7, 2014. He continues to make music. He tours steadily, and is a regular at the New Orleans Jazz Fest.

He often mentions that he wants to discontinue the Sandy Beaches Cruise. More than once he has said "This is the last time." Thankfully, so far he is continuing the tradition; the 2017 cruise is already scheduled. If you have any interest in it, book your ticket before it's too late!

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5 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 6 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

Well I'll be darned. I knew his music but had no idea who he was. Thanks for filling in a gap in my music knowledge.


Blond Logic profile image

Blond Logic 6 weeks ago from Brazil

I had never heard of him, but what an influence he has had. That cruise idea is fantastic, I imagine everyone had a wonderful time.

When you look at who has played together or are musically connected, it is fascinating. When my husband watches YouTube, I hear him say, "I didn't know they ever played together".


Jodah profile image

Jodah 5 weeks ago from Queensland Australia

Sherry, I enjoyed learning about a musician I had not heard of. Very interesting hub. Well done.


bravewarrior profile image

bravewarrior 3 weeks ago from Central Florida

I would love to go on a Sandy Beach Cruise! What a blast that would be. I'm sure I can't afford it, but it sure would be fun.

Great hub, Sherry. I'd like to see you expound on the Sandy Beach Cruise experience.


Sherry Hewins profile image

Sherry Hewins 3 weeks ago from Sierra Foothills, CA Author

You should check it out. At least you won't have to pay air fare like we did. They often depart from Florida.

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