Blind, Crippled & Crazy
Artists: Delbert McClinton and Glen Clark
Label: New West Records
Released: June 18, 2013
Reviewed: June 23, 2013
I was first turned on to Delbert McClinton back in 1980. I was in the process of promoting a Christian concert by former Wings drummer, Joe English, and Bonnie Bramlett was opening for him. The Saturday before the concert, their record label phoned me and told me that Bonnie was going to be on performing with a cat by the name of Delbert McClinton on Saturday night live. I watched their performance of his hit, Givin’ It Up For Your Love, and became an instant McClinton fan.
Fast forwarding to today, the three-time Grammy winner has kicked out his 28th album, Blind, Crippled and Crazy. It blends R&B, country, blues and rock ’n’ roll with humor, heart and roadhouse virtuosity. The disc also reunites McClinton with his longtime friend and musical running partner Glen Clark, making these 12 songs the first time the seminal roots music duo Delbert & Glen have recorded since 1973.
“We’ve always had an amazing rapport as musicians and friends, but we’ve been off living our own lives,” McClinton explains. “For the last decade Glen and me have been talking about doing another album, and everything fell into place last year here in Nashville with my songwriting partner Gary Nicholson.”
Besides co-writing several tracks, Nicholson co-produced the LP with McClinton and Clark and played guitar alongside drummer Tom Hambridge, fellow six-stringer Bob Britt, keyboardists Kevin McKendree and Bruce Katz, and other members of McClinton’s touring band as well as blues guitar hero Anson Funderburgh, who guests on “Oughta Know,” a hot-licks fest penned by McClinton’s son Clay.
Blind, Crippled And Crazy’s opening Texas shuffle “Been Around a Long Time” sets a reverberating tone of self-deprecating humor, as does the album’s title.
“We’re a couple guys who started playing together in ragtag bands around Fort Worth in the ’60s,” Clark relates, “so we like to poke some fun at ourselves for being older now.”
Clark picked up the tune’s tag line many years ago from a feisty 102-year-old woman in Arkansas, who told him, “Sonny, I ain’t old. I’ve just been around a long time,” and the song finally emerged during the disc’s 2011 writing sessions.
The loping and textured More and More, Less and Less resonates similarly as it dismisses the excesses of youth, although its acoustic guitar bedrock and the yearning timbre of McClinton’s vocal performance and his haunting harmonica solo add poignancy, too.
“The bottom line is that we’re still bulldogs on a pork chop, but our teeth are ground down, so it takes longer to chew that thing up,” Clark says, chuckling a bit. “But we still get it right down to the bone.”
That also explains the amount of sheer growl in Blind, Crippled And Crazy’s grooves. World of Hurt is a snarling six-string rocker about biting heartbreak, and Good as I Feel Today rings like a great lost Little Feat number — although McClinton and Clark come by its drawling melody, swaggering rhythm and buttery slide guitar via their own assimilation of R&B, blues, country and nascent rock in the 1950s and early ’60s.
They were schooled by the sounds of Ray Charles, Charles Brown, Little Richard, Bob Wills, Elvis Presley and Hank Williams courtesy of the radio and their siblings’ record collections. Then they graduated to playing the roadhouses of their native Texas.
Musical mutual admiration rapidly followed. “Delbert was the first great singer I ever saw in person, so he’s always been one of my biggest influences,” Clark relates. In turn, McClinton testifies that “Glen is one of the few people I can really duet with. Our phrasing just compliments each other, and our voices sound great together. I have more fun singing with Glen than anybody else.”
Clark left Texas in the early ’70s for the lure of Los Angeles’ big-time music business, and after a while McClinton followed. Soon the collaborators landed a record deal and cut two albums, 1972’s Delbert & Glen and the follow-up Subject to Change. Both of these now-hard-to-find classics plumbed the same turf as Blind, Crippled And Crazy, albeit in the sweeter vocal registers of younger men.
McClinton’s B Movie Box Car Blues from Delbert & Glen was re-cut six years later by the Blues Brothers for the double-platinum-selling Briefcase Full of Blues and has become a standard of the genre. In a twist of fate, Clark would later play keyboards with the Blues Brothers after becoming music director for Jim Belushi in 1997.
Delbert and Glen began their four-decade hiatus after both men moved back to Texas separately to follow romance and their solo careers. Clark returned to Los Angeles in 1977. He became a popular songwriter, authoring tunes for Rita Coolidge, Etta James, Loretta Lynn, Wynonna Judd, Kris Kristofferson and many others. He also hit the road with his keyboards, touring with Kristofferson, Bonnie Raitt and others before beginning his dozen years with Belushi, which included nine years as composer for the sitcom According to Jim.
Of course, McClinton became an international star in the realms of blues and traditional country music, cross-pollinating the genres into his own unique sound. Since 1980, when his sixth solo album The Jealous Kind sparked the aforementioned top 10 hit Givin’ It Up for Your Love, he has remained one of the most respected figures in American roots music. In 1992 the man who gave John Lennon his first harmonica lesson — when McClinton toured England in the early ’60s as part of Bruce Channel’s band — won his first Grammy Award, for the duet Good Man, Good Woman with Bonnie Raitt. That was followed by a second win in 2003 for Nothing Personal in the Best Contemporary Blues Album Category. In 2006, he won a third Grammy for his Cost of Living album. McClinton’s songs have also been recorded by a who’s who of country music royalty including Vince Gill, Wynonna Judd, Garth Brooks, Emmylou Harris, Martina McBride and Trisha Yearwood.
Over the decades his blend of soaring blue-eyed soul singing sprinkled with red Texas dust, the emotional wealth of his songwriting and his command of virtuoso supporting ensembles has built McClinton a wildly avid fan base in the United States and Europe. They are nearly like Deadheads in their willingness to travel to repeated shows and their level of support. Each January they turn the Delbert McClinton & Friends Sandy Beaches Cruise, a weeklong music festival he hosts aboard luxury liners, into a sell-out.
“The bottom line is, at this point I don’t believe in doing anything that’s not fun,” McClinton says, “and recording Blind, Crippled And Crazy was a blast. Me and Gary, who I’ve known for 40 years starting back in Texas, handpicked every musician on the record and made sure every song was perfect. The title, from the old soul tune, is something I’ve wanted to use for years. And singing with Glen again — between the way our voices mix and his sense of humor — makes me excited about us taking this music out on the road together.
“I’ve got a good deal in life,” McClinton continues. “I’ve got a lot of good people for fans who support me — although I’ve won over each of them one-by-one on the road. I can pick and choose whatever I want to do. And I’ve never had to keep a job for long, thank God, because jobs stink. I know. I’ve had a lot of them, and I know why I got fired from every one. And believe me, making this album and singing these songs with Glen is nothing like a job.”