Acquired Taste bio
“I’m an acquired taste in that my kind of music’s not for little kids,” Texas singer-
songwriter Delbert McClinton says. “It’s adult rock ‘n’ roll. I write from the sensibility of
the people I knew growing up, and I grew up with all the heathens, the people who went
too far before they changed and tried to make something out of their lives. There are a lot
of beautiful colors and sad stories and much-deserved joy in that.”
All those colors and stories, and all that joy, are richly present in McClinton’s
New West album Acquired Taste. The collection is the musician’s fourth studio set for
the label, and it succeeds his Grammy Award-winning Cost of Living (2005), which was
named best contemporary blues recording by the Recording Academy.
The album reunites McClinton with the producer who helmed his very first
Grammy winner, Don Was. The multi-talented bandleader, bassist, and studio wizard
recorded “Good Man, Good Woman,” a collaboration with Bonnie Raitt that captured the
best rock performance by a duo or group Grammy for 1991. Was came to the current
project on the recommendation of New West president Cameron Strang, who had
employed the producer on Kris Kristofferson’s widely praised 2006 album for the label,
This Old Road.
“Don and I had kind of a cosmic connection, because of Bonnie,” McClinton
says. “Then he and I got together and recorded a few things that were very, very good.
I’ve been ricocheting off of him for about 17 years now.”
Was says, “Delbert’s an erudite, urbane sophisticate, wrapped up as a roadhouse
singer. There’s nothing contradictory in his character -- he’s a real Texan. Neither the
intellectual nor the roadhouse singer is a put-on. They come in equal parts. He’s one of a
kind, he’s amazing. He defies the categories and slips right through.”
Working with Was took McClinton in a welcome new direction.
“It was a good thing, because it kind of got me off my ass,” he says. “Since we
did Cost of Living, I’d been writing, but I couldn’t get motivated to go into the studio.
During those three years, I was trying to reinvent myself a bit, and even the thought of it
was very daunting. At the same time, I knew I had bits and pieces of songs I had started
that were, to me, very much unlike most of the songs I write. They were kind of outside
McClinton wrote or co-authored the 14 songs on Acquired Taste; his co-writers
included his longtime musical collaborator and producer Gary Nicholson, his keyboardist
Kevin McKendree and guitarist Rob McNelley, Texas songsmith Guy Clark, Nashville
ace and ex-NRBQ axe man Al Anderson, and Benmont Tench of Tom Petty’s
Heartbreakers. The album was tracked at East Isis Studios in Nashville and Henson
Studios in Hollywood by McClinton and his working band – McKendree, McNelley,
drummer Lynn Williams, and bassist Steve Mackey.
Kicking off with “Mama’s Little Baby,” a grown-up rewrite of “Short’nin’
Bread,” Acquired Taste ranges through a breadth of styles. While longtime McClinton
fans will bask in the gutsy blues of “I Need to Know” and the churning funk of “Do It,”
other songs drive onto some freshly-paved stylistic roads – the jazzy, hard-swinging
“People Just Love to Talk,” the melancholy tango “She’s Not There Anymore,” the pop-
harmonized “When She Cries at Night.” The album’s balladry – “Starting a Rumor,”
“Never Saw It Coming,” “Wouldn’t You Think (Should’ve Been Here By Now),” “Out
of My Mind” – finds McClinton at his most profoundly affecting, while “Willie” and
“Cherry Street” show that his sense of humor remains firmly in place.
The record’s freewheeling diversity – and McClinton’s career-long defiance of
easy categorization – is unsurprising, given his Texas origins.
“I saw a chart once in the book Folk Songs of North America,” McClinton recalls.
“You open it up, and there’s a map of the United States, with musical influences in color,
showing where they came into this country and where they migrated. More colors come
through Texas than anywhere – they come from everywhere. All these different cultural
musics come together in Texas.”
Born in Lubbock (hometown of such other musical notables as Buddy Holly and
Joe Ely), McClinton came of age in the Fort Worth joints. He first appeared on a hit
record in 1962, when his distinctive harmonica playing graced Bruce Channel’s No. 1
single “Hey Baby” (which inspired the harp work of a young John Lennon). He backed
such blues legends as Jimmy Reed and Sonny Boy Williamson, and honed his chops in
local acts like the Ron-Dels, the Straightjackets, and Bobby Crown and the Kapers. In the
early ‘70s, McClinton and keyboardist-vocalist Glen Clark relocated to Los Angeles,
where they cut a pair of prophetic roots-rock albums as Delbert & Glen.
Beginning in 1975, McClinton recorded a series of brawny LPs for ABC,
Capricorn, and Capitol that seamlessly melded blues, R&B, and country into a uniquely
soulful blend. At the latter label in 1980, McClinton scored the top 10 hit “Giving It Up
For Your Love,” which pushed the accompanying album The Jealous Kind into the
national top 40.
After spending the late ‘80s and ‘90s cutting consistently powerful albums for
Alligator, Curb, Mercury, and MCA, McClinton arrived at New West in 2001 with the
wildly received Nothing Personal, which won him his first solo Grammy, for best
contemporary blues album. Room to Breathe followed in 2002. His high-temperature
show was captured on the two-CD set Live (2003). (His 1982 appearance on the popular
PBS series Austin City Limits is available as part of New West’s Live From Austin TX
Producer and artist both place Acquired Taste among McClinton’s best and most
Was says, “What I like about this album is that it’s a musical journey. It’s got a
really broad spectrum stylistically, and yet his sensibility and persona are so strong that
it’s totally unified when you put him on top of it.”
“This one definitely does stand apart, without a doubt,” says McClinton. “There
were an awful lot of people wanting to make this really good.
“When we went in to do it, everybody was tense but ready. Don has that bedside
manner to make everybody think they’re the most important one around. We were talking
during a break in the session, and my guitar player said, ‘Man, he just makes you really
do good shit!’ And I said, ‘Yeah, well, he’s kinda known for being able to do that without
letting you know he’s doing it.’ Don’s a magic guy, and I love him more than anything. I
couldn’t be happier with this.”