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Nothing personal, but Delbert McClinton finds room to breathe

By Brian Baker, October 2002

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Although he had previously shared a Grammy with Bonnie Raitt for their 1991 duet "Good Man, Good Woman" (which appeared simultaneously on Raitt's "Luck of the Draw" and McClinton's "Never Been Rocked Enough," and which he characterizes as "the one I won on Bonnie Raitt's coattails, on a sure bet..."), McClinton was pointedly pleased about winning one on his own.

"I don't put that much stock in awards, but a Grammy is from your peers," says McClinton with an obvious grin. "And it's the fact that we won it on something that we did without any input from the knucklehead record companies or anyone else. It was the vindication more than the Grammy. The self-satisfaction of doing exactly what I wanted to do and having it be the one that was best received. I'm still high on it. I dropped a lot of baggage with ‘Nothing Personal.' I'm running light these days."

It is from this atmosphere of satisfying and uncompromised success that McClinton fashioned "Room to Breathe."

Just as "Nothing Personal's" title sent a sly message to the corporate meddlers that stunted his creative growth, "Room to Breathe" seems to signal McClinton's relaxed and expansive attitude toward his songs and his presentation.

The rumbling roadhouse choogle of "Same Kind of Crazy" and "Blues About You Baby" is balanced with the poignant melancholy of "Don't Want to Love You" and "Everything I Know About the Blues," which leads naturally right back to rave ups like "Money Honey" and "Ain't Lost Nothin'."

One of the high points is the all-star country romp of "Lone Star Blues," which features a virtual who's-who of Texas music in the song's backing choir, including The Flatlanders (Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock), Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Guy Clark, Rodney Crowell, Billy Joe Shaver and Asleep at the Wheel's Ray Benson.

Despite the potential for this stellar line-up's impossible scheduling conflicts, McClinton and Gary Nicholson, his frequent co-writer and co-producer of "Room to Breathe," found it ridiculously easy to get them together.

"It was amazingly simple - it shouldn't have been, but it was," says an incredulous McClinton. "I had two sessions scheduled to do that, one in Austin and one in Nashville. I talked to Joe Ely about when The Flatlanders would be around, and I was going to get them in Austin, but come to find out they were having a record release party here in Nashville. I called a few people, and Gary called a few people, and everybody we called was in town and said, ‘Sure, I'll come down.' I mean, every one of them. It's good to have friends...friends that will just come do it without having to go through somebody. So, we got everybody in there and did it and then went to Austin and got Billy Joe Shaver and Ray Benson and Kimmie Rhodes and Marcia Ball. I just wanted to get a bunch of Texans on there. A couple of the girls aren't - Heather Waters and Jessi Alexander and Emmylou, they're not from Texas. But you forgive women a lot of things."

Theoretically, "Room to Breathe" has to escape from the long, successful shadow that's been cast by its predecessor, but if McClinton learned anything from his label experiences, it has been to ignore that temptation to compare the last album's accomplishment against the next album's potential.

"I don't expect anything anymore, ever," says McClinton. "If it does well, that'll be cool. I think it's a good record, and I think a lot of people are gonna like it. No matter how well prepared you are, when you go into the studio and there's a little guy behind your right ear, nearly in the middle of the back of your head, saying, ‘Boy, I hope we don't ---- up.' But we went in there and in three days, we got nine songs. Nearly half of the songs on this record are live takes - we got it all in one take; the track, the vocals, everything. We had a lot of fun, and I can hear it in there."

McClinton has a lot of plans for a guy whose age would dictate that he has only a few years until the gold watch/handshake ceremony. In addition to the planning for his 14th annual Sandy Beaches Blues Cruise in the Caribbean in January, McClinton is currently planning to re-record a fair portion of his back catalog with his brand new backing band, updating the songs to the arrangements that he's using in his live sets currently.

"Hell, they're just laying there on albums that nobody knows about," says McClinton. "That way, I won't have to go buy ‘em from these record companies. ‘Here's the new improved version...hope you like ‘em.' You can do any damn thing you want to do. I was thinking the other day, I want to go into a studio and sit around a mic in a circle and play a bunch of songs."

There's a word that frequently recurs when Delbert McClinton talks about his new album or his next blues cruise or his next jaunt out into the roadhouses and juke joints of America: Fun.

"That's why I started doing it, and thank God it is still fun," says McClinton. "It's more about doing it than having to do it. I really feel fortunate in the fact that I still have this much fun with it. If I wasn't, I couldn't do it. I know some people that have had to do it because they need the money. It's a tough old spot to be in. The last thing in the world I wanna be is somebody who's out there doing it when the thrill is gone."

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