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DIANA FINLAY HENDRICKS, a Texas Hill Country–based writer, has spent her career in journalism and feature writing, focusing on Texas and Southern music and culture. She is a regular contributor to the Journal for Texas Music History, Lone Star Music, and recently contributed the James McMurtry chapter to Pickers and Poets: The Ruthlessly Poetic Singer-Songwriters of Texas.



Diana Finlay Hendricks

foreword by Don Imus

Delbert McClinton: One of the Fortunate Few

Texas A&M University Press

Hardcover, 9781623495886 (ebook also available); 232 pages, 30 color/30 b&w photos, bibliography, index; $29.95

December 11, 2017

Reviewed by Si Dunn



The journey from the flat plains of West Texas to worldwide musical stardom can be long and hard, with ample opportunities to get lost on side roads or slammed into bar ditches by life’s passing eighteen-wheelers.


Lubbock native and blues rock singer-songwriter Delbert McClinton knows that he has been one of the “fortunate few” to complete that arduous journey from obscurity to fame. Now a three-time Grammy winner with many albums to his credit, McClinton has been on stage for more than sixty years. And he keeps performing his songs with his widely envied voice, plus his well-honed skills on harmonica, guitar, and piano.


In this engrossing, enlightening new biography by San Marcos writer Diana Finlay Hendricks, McClinton recounts some of his life’s and career’s darkest moments, as well as the bright times when his bands found their grooves and his performances, concerts and recording sessions seemed to take on memorable lives of their own.


“Songwriting has been key to Delbert’s unique brand,” Hendricks writes. “His songwriting is a patchwork quilt of American styles and genres,” and he learned over time how “to blend those influences into his own sounds.” Quoting him from an interview with Texas music historian Kathleen Hudson, McClinton explained his distinctive songwriting this way: “I’ve probably been influenced by everybody I’ve heard because I like a little bit of everything. The only conscious direction that I believe I’ve ever taken is that I’m not trying to copy anybody else.”


Born in 1940, McClinton grew up listening to music of all types, including songs popular during World War II. He was a teenager when rock ’n’ roll caught fire nationally and spread around the world. He got a guitar, learned some songs, and began doing his first solo performances before age seventeen. Soon he formed a band, the Mellow Fellows. Mostly, McClinton recalls in the book, it was “just a bunch of us hanging out with guitars and spending more thinking of a great band name than actually practicing and getting better.”


But his group, later known as the Straitjackets, got gigs at restaurants and parties and gained experience and exposure. Before long McClinton and bandmates were fronting for performers who later would become big-name stars, such as Jerry Lee Lewis.


Exposure can work the other way, too. In 1962, McClinton played harmonica on a recording that became a big hit, Bruce Channel’s “Hey! Baby!” A record producer took McClinton to England for Channel’s tour. And, McClinton recalls: “The Beatles were opening for us on a couple of the shows, in Liverpool and New Brighton.” One of the then-barely-known group’s members, John Lennon, got some harmonica tips from Delbert.


The Lubbock native won his first Grammy in 1991 for his duet with Bonnie Raitt, “Good Man, Good Woman,” in the category Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group. His second Grammy came in 2002 for Best Contemporary Blues Album, “Nothing Personal.” He won his third in 2006 for “Cost of Living,” also in the Best Contemporary Blues Album category.


Delbert McClinton: One of the Fortunate Few delivers fascinating tales of the famed singer-songwriter’s achievements in Fort Worth, Los Angeles, Austin, Nashville, New York, and beyond, while not shying away from the dark moments that threatened, but failed to derail, his life and career.



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Si Dunn is an Austin novelist, screenwriter, and book reviewer.


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