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"Even then, though," McClinton continues, clearly enjoying this favorite remembrance, "that music hadn't quite exploded. In fact, I saw more Elvis imitators then than I ever have here. But in a six-week period of time, I was exposed to so much that it didn't all sink in right away. You know--this band, the Beatles, were great, but nothing really indicated that anything big was gonna happen."
When the British Invasion struck the colonies a year or so later, the import still didn't "register" with McClinton. Yet while Bruce Channel and Delbert McClinton may not have immediately understood the Beatles' musical messages, the Liverpudlians had fully embraced the Yanks. In fact, a quick listen to McClinton's harp work on "Hey, Baby!" and the famous harmonica break on the Fab Four's "Love Me Do" will reveal in which direction the early influences broke.
"It was a time," McClinton concludes happily.
Back stateside, McClinton formed the Rondels, reaching the charts with his "If You Really Want Me to I'll Go," which subsequently was covered by Waylon Jennings and Doug Sahm. Later, McClinton and fellow Texan Gene Clark teamed up to produce a pair of long-forgotten albums on Atlantic subsidiary Clean Records. McClinton continued songwriting and performing, turning into a solo act in the early Seventies. A long period of label hopping--though not by his choice, McClinton says--followed.
His celebrated, if not particularly great-selling, 1975 solo debut, Victim of Life's Circumstances, was followed by Genuine Cowhide (1976) and Love Rustler (1977), all on ABC Records. In keeping with his album-a-year trend, McClinton moved to Capricorn Records the next year and released Second Wind and, in 1979, Keeper of the Flame. McClinton finally got a Top 10 hit of his own in 1980. "Giving It Up for Your Love," from his The Jealous Kind on Capitol Records, gained McClinton a modicum of national recognition.
Many of those in the business, however, already knew all about McClinton's work. Emmylou Harris had negotiated the top of the chart with McClinton's "Two More Bottles of Wine" in 1978, and his "B Movie Boxcar Blues" made it onto longtime admirers Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi's The Blues Brothers LP. Other veteran McClinton followers include the Allman Brothers, Jimmy Buffett and Elvis Costello.
After 1981's Plain From the Heart on Capitol, however, things began to fall apart. Virtually the entire Reagan era found McClinton sinking low and sinking fast.
"Man," McClinton sighs, his drawl sad and slow, "life was really bad, really bad. I was turning 40, which didn't thrill me too much, my second marriage was going to hell, and the IRS was all over my case. I had a big, ugly lawsuit going on against the Austin accounting firm that caused the IRS problems, and I was losin' it, mentally and physically."
McClinton quit writing and recording during most of this period.
"I was just touring," he recalls. "I wasn't entertaining no career thoughts or anything like that. I was just going down, down, down." He allows a wry laugh. "You know," he says, "every single label I was on through 81 fell apart when I was with them. Every goddamned one. Man, it's hard to sell many albums that way."
He credits his companion, Wendy Goldstein, for, as he says in his dedication on Never Been Rocked Enough, ". . .holding it all together in the hurricane we live in and for loving me."
"I met her in 1985, when I was just about at my lowest. By 1988 I was writing again, and she'd gotten most of the legal stuff taken care of." McClinton pauses to clear his throat.
"I'm telling you, I don't honestly think I could have made it without her. I'm a lucky guy."
Never Been Rocked Enough seems a flat-out celebration of McClinton's return to songwriting and recording, as well as containing a Who's Who of celebrity assistance. Don Was (Bob Dylan, Iggy Pop) and Raitt produced four of the disc's 11 tracks, including the Grammy winner. The balance of the album was produced by McClinton and saxman and veteran producer Jim Horn. As the title suggests, Never Been Rocked Enough has a harder edge than previous McClinton discs, but the McClinton-penned "Cease and Desist" successfully introduces a Ray Charles-type jazz flavor to Delbert's already eclectic mix, and Bonnie Raitt's slide work, especially on "Good Man, Good Woman" and the fun and funky "Everytime I Roll the Dice," keeps a down-home feel to the work. Other notables participating on Never Been Rocked Enough include Paul Shaffer and his World's Most Dangerous Band, Melissa Etheridge, Valley legend Francine Reed, Tom Petty, Ivan Neville, Heartbreaker Benmont Tench on the Hammond B3 organ and studio studs guitarist Waddy Waddell and drummer Kenny Aronoff.
McClinton knows that, at age 52, he's one fortunate son, wielding a hit record and returning healthy and happy from a long, tough haul. When he performs at Mr. Lucky's on June 22, he plans on taking out his happiness on the crowd. (He calls J. David Sloan's Grand Avenue landmark "exactly the kind of place I'd want to have were I to quit. There ain't nothin' stiff about it or J. David.") Although last year's stop at Mr. Lucky's was jammed to overflowing, and one of the top shows of the year, McClinton warns that the best is yet to come. He laughs.
"Just see if you get rocked enough."
FATAL DISTRACTION WHEN MASS DISASTER... v6-17-92