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He made a better match with Joe Harley, formerly of Audioquest, who produced his last three albums. McClain is due to return to the studio for Audioquest in September.

"It's been an up-and-down thing," he says of his career. "Right now, I'm doing better than I've ever done in my life. You know, I've never had this opportunity before. . . . It's amazing, I tell people all the time, I sing some of the same songs I sang 20 years ago and couldn't get nobody to look at me--and today I'm gettin' paid!"

McClain has included a long ballad on each of his Audioquest albums. On Sledgehammer, it's "Don't Write Me Off," a gritty, pleading seven-minute number in the Deep Southern Soul tradition, with a long spoken introduction. In his liner notes, he dedicates the song to "Mrs. Sandra McClain, my fourth and last wife."

Last year, McClain moved to his wife's hometown of Epping, New Hampshire. He has a house now and the things that go with it, including a place to store his mementos, seven acres of land, a few cats and a dog. He's quit drinking, he says, making it more likely he'll stay rooted this time.

"I don't need no mojo hand or nothin', it's just me and Jesus. I've known I was going to do this all my life. Nobody thought I was fucking smart enough. I'm supposed to be the black sheep. I won't ever be shit, that's what my stepfather told me. I was just waiting for the opportunity.

"Well, hello, I'm here. It's me.

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