If ever there was a fitting album title, it’s Delbert McClinton’s “One of the Fortunate Few.”
“You don’t have enough time for me to tell you how fortunate I am,” the soulful honkytonk singer-songwriter said recently from his home in Nashville.
He has seen it all through a 40-year career.
€ In the late ’50s, the Lubbock, Texas, native’s first group, the Straightjackets, was the house band at Jack’s Place in Fort Worth, where they shared the stage with Jimmy Reed, Sonny Boy Williamson, Howlin’ Wolf and Big Joe Turner, to name a few.
€ In 1962, he played harmonica on Bruce Channel’s No. 1 hit, “Hey! Baby.” A subsequent tour with the Beatles led to an impromptu harmonica lesson with John Lennon, who later used his new skills on “Love Me Do.”
€ He teamed with Glen Clark in the early ’70s for a pair of critically lauded albums.
€ Then came a slew of solo releases, beginning with “Victim of Life’s Circumstances” in 1975. He bounced from one label to another, along the way scoring a Top 40 hit (“Giving It Up For Your Love”) in 1980 and snaring two Grammy Awards (for best rock vocal duet with Bonnie Raitt for “Good Man, Good Woman” in 1992 and best country vocal collaboration with Tanya Tucker for “Tell Me About It” in 1995).
Even at age 57, McClinton still is at the top of his game. “One of the Fortunate Few,” his first for Rising Tide/Universal (released Oct. 7), has plenty of star power to back up a grab bag of roadhouse rock ‘n’ blues, with help from B.B. King, Vince Gill, Lyle Lovett, Pam Tillis, John Prine, Mavis Staples, Lee Roy Parnell and Benmont Tench (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers).
It ranks among the best of his career.
“I had a little bit more time to work on this record, because I hadn’t done one in a little over four years,” McClinton said. “I’ve been writing quite a bit and have been working with a lot of different people. We knew we had enough songs for a record and then some.
“Even before this opportunity with Rising Tide came along, we were prepared and ready. We were listening to the particular songs and went over the people we knew who we wanted to work with and just called them up to see if they wanted to be a part of it.
“It didn’t start out to be an all-star record, particularly. Actually, it’s just a bunch of friends of mine that I thought would sound good with these songs. I think it’s a good thing to be in a position to do something like that. The most important thing to me is that they were gracious enough to join me.”
Despite an unfortunate history with major labels, McClinton is quick to praise Rising Tide’s commitment.
“They have a spirit that got my attention. They like me,” he said with a laugh, “and it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. We’ll see what happens. They have a lot of real positive energy there; unfortunately, that’s something I haven’t seen a lot of in my career.”
From the moment he first stepped foot on stage, at the Big “V” Jamboree in 1957, McClinton knew his calling.
“It’s the only thing I can do, and it’s one of the only things I get so much pleasure from,” he said. “I learned a long time ago that I don’t like to do things that aren’t fun. When I first got involved in this, I remember going out and seeing all these people in the audience, who were there for my thing … well, it was just an awesome feeling. It still is, and I don’t take it for granted.”
BWF (before we forget): The Delbert McClinton solo album discography – “Victim of Life’s Circumstances” (ABC, 1975); “Genuine Cowhide” (1976); “Love Rustler” (1977); “The Best of Delbert McClinton” (MCA, 1977); “Second Wind” (Capricorn, 1978); “Keeper of the Flame” (1979); “The Jealous Kind” (Muscle Shoals Sound/Capitol, 1980); “Plain From the Heart” (1981); “Wake Up Baby” (Accord, 1981); “Feeling Alright” (Intermedia, 1982); “Sometimes Country, Sometimes Blue” (Quicksilver, 1983); “Honky Tonkin’ ” (MCA, 1987); “Let the Good Times Roll” (1988); “Honky Tonkin’ (I Done Me Some)” (Alligator, 1988); “Live From Austin” (1989); “I’m With You” (Curb, 1990); “Best of Delbert McClinton” (1991); “Shot from the Saddle” (PolyGram, 1992); “Never Been Rocked Enough” (Curb, 1992); “Delbert McClinton” (1993); “Honky Tonk ‘n Blues” (MCA, 1994); “Classics, Vol. 1-2” (Curb, 1994); “One of the Fortunate Few” (Curb/Rising Tide, 1997).