The legendary Texas musician talks about his latest album, Tall, Dark, & Handsome.
The highly anticipated follow-up to 2016’s critically acclaimed Prick of the Litter, Delbert McClinton’s latest endeavor, Tall, Dark, & Handsome, delivers 14 new original songs and proves that he’s still got that swagger after six decades of tearing it up.
Available July 26, the record finds the 78-year-old Grammy Award winner throwing down the rootsy Lone Star blues gauntlet.
Recently, we caught up with the man Rolling Stone declared the “Godfather of Americana.”
Cowboys & Indians: Congratulations on your new album, Tall, Dark, & Handsome. What do you hope your fans will get out of it?
Delbert McClinton: The same thing I’ve always wanted. I want people to enjoy it as much as we enjoyed doing it. The guys I worked with, we’ve been working together about seven years, and one of them, I’ve been working with for over 20 years. We had so fun much making music together. And how much better could it be than that? So I’m 78 years old and I think this is the best record I’ve ever made.
C&I: How does this new record differ from 2016’s Prick of the Litter?
McClinton: They’re two completely different records. I wrote some songs with a new writing partner, and we kind of combined both of our styles. So you’ll hear a lot of Pat McLaughlin and Bob Britt and me. It’s a mix, which works really well together, because we all enjoy writing the songs that we write.
C&I: Speaking of writing of songs, what was the songwriting process?
McClinton: Well, we’re all close friends, so it was never an uncomfortable situation. We get together and somebody may have an idea. We might not have any ideas, and we fool around with it and something hits — a line, you know, anything. A place to start. And it doesn’t get easy from there, but it gets easier. It’s building, you know, it’s building something, and building something that you think is beautiful. These songs on this record are intelligent songs.
C&I: Is there a specific song that you feel most connected to or one that you’re most excited for your fans to hear?
McClinton: No — just depends on my mood as to which one’s my favorite. I love them all.
C&I: Is there a song of yours that really resonates with your fans?
McClinton: Well, you know, we play along, and we do them. I’ve got songs from just about every record I’ve made that are standard in the playlist, you know? You can’t get away without playing them … so I don’t know. We usually go on stage knowing what the first three songs are going to be. And then I kind of judge how things are going. I have hand gestures that I can give to tell what the next song is. Mainly, all the songs are wonderful and the more we get into it, the better they are. And we have a lot of fun.
C&I: What has been the most rewarding moment of your career?
McClinton: Well, it hasn’t happened yet.
C&I: You recently got a prestigious sidewalk star at Austin’s historic Paramount Theater. What was that like?
McClinton: When I learned about it, it really didn’t register with me because I couldn’t imagine that anybody would want to put a star with my name in it or anything. No, I mean I was a bit surprised, but I stood a little taller, you know? It’s great. It’s a wonderful thing to be right there, for as long as the building’s there, you know? It’s good.
C&I: What gave you inspiration for the new record?
McClinton: I have a home in Mexico. Every few months, two or three of us go down there and spend a week there. And that way, we’re not disturbed by anything in our lives. We don’t have to put a different hat on for anybody. We’re just down there and sitting out on the veranda and watching the world go by, eating good food and doing what we do best — just hanging out and writing songs.
C&I: This album is very much a celebration of Texas blues and swing dancing. While you were in Mexico and writing about Texas, how did you go about blending the red-dirt sound with the diverse sounds of Mexico?
McClinton: I grew up in Texas [with] conjunto music — which is Texas music. It’s a blend between Texas rock ’n’ roll and Mexican. Doug Sahm was the king of Tex-Mex and blues. Very unsung hero. But that music was there and Tex-Mex, it’s great and it’s fun. It’s happy music.
C&I: Were there any songs that didn’t make it on this album that we can expect later on down the road?
McClinton: There’s one that we worked on for too long and then gave up on it altogether. Well, not altogether, but altogether for that trip. It’s got some good lines in it, but we never turned it into a good song. But it’s still there to go and revisit, which is always good. We can always go revisit something unfinished, and nine times out of 10 it works, and you finish it, or you come up with a better idea.
C&I: What can we expect in terms of touring for Tall, Dark, & Handsome?
McClinton: Well, I tour quite a bit anyway. I don’t go out as much as I used to. Right now, I’m doing about four shows a month. I work a week and I’m off a week. I work a week and I’m off a week. That’s enough to satisfy the jobs. And I like to stay home. You know, I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I don’t do staying up late eight nights a week.
C&I: What’s something that people might not know about you?
McClinton: Oh, Lord. There’s any number of things, but of course you try to think of something positive or jolting. If I’d had a better education, I’d have probably been an archaeologist. … But I was a victim of the birth of rock ’n’ roll and so I ran away and joined the service.
C&I: Are you still interested in that now?
McClinton: Oh, yeah. It’s mostly what I read about. In fact, I’m reading a good book right now called The Lost City of the Monkey Gods. It’s fascinating because they use lidar, which is like radar, but it looks underground. And they looked in this dense part of Honduras and found a massive city. … So that’s what I like.
C&I: What’s next for you?
McClinton: Well, we just got back from Mexico with some songs. I don’t have much time to fool around, so we’re going to start recording again.