Nine O'clock Blues: Delbert McClinton
Having been born in Lubbock and raised in Fort Worth, Texas, Delbert McClinton inherited that distinctly Texan ability to wander from one genre to another smoothly, obscuring the lines between them.
He started his career in his teens when he played with a Fort Worth bar band called The Straightjackets who were good enough that they backed-up Sonny Boy Williamson II, Howlin' Wolf, Lightnin' Hopkins, and Jimmy Reed. McClinton himself recorded a number of regionally successful singles before having his first national release playing harmonica on Bruce Channel's "Hey! Baby."
Clearly McClinton got used to working with big names at an early age. While touring England in the mid-1960s he instructed John Lennon on the finer points of Blues harmonica.
In 1972 McClinton moved to Los Angeles and spent most of the ‘70s working in more of a Country vein, playing with fellow Texan, Glen Clark and writing Emmy Lou Harris’ No. 1 hit of 1978, "Two More Bottles of Wine."
Delbert McClinton’s fame spread beyond Blues and Country when The Blues Brothers recorded his “B Movie Boxcar Blues” on their first album and famously performed it on Saturday Night Live. Despite that, McClinton spent most of the 1980s on hiatus, re-emerging in 1989 with an appearance on Austin City Limits which was released as the album “Live from Austin.” You don't have to take my word for it though, check out Delbert McClinton peforming "B Movie Boxcar Blues" on Austin City Limits.
McClinton won a Grammy Award in 1991 for his duet with Bonnie Raitt, "Good Man, Good Woman." He also broke into the Top 5 of the Country chart with the Tanya Tucker duet, "Tell Me About It." "Weatherman," the opening song for the Bill Murray film Groundhog Day, was also a McClinton recording. After all that, in 2011 he was inducted into the Texas Heritage Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.
At age 72, Delbert McClinton still performs, but not as much as he once did and I highly recommend catching him live if you can.
Also on this week’s Nine O’clock Blues we’ll hear from 1930s singer Merline Johnson who was known as the Yas Yas Girl. That bawdy nickname comes from an early Blues euphemism for a woman’s posterior. Despite the fact that Johnson was the aunt of the famous R & B vocalist LaVern Baker and was also one of the most prolific Chicago recording artists of the 1930s, surprisingly little is known about her.
She was most likely born in Mississippi, possibly in 1912, though the exact location and date are unknown, and after her brief but productive recording career she sank into obscurity. The frequent references to copious alcohol consumption in her lyrics may go a ways towards explaining our lack of information about her.
When I think about people like Merline Johnson it reminds me of how many people have worked many long hours to track down what we do know of the Blues masters of the distant past and the debt we owe those dedicated people. The Smithsonian Institution, Arhoolie Records, and Yazoo Records are three very good resources for checking out the results of those people’s extensive research. Two other good sources are the archives of the English magazine, Melody Maker and the sadly defunct American magazine Broadsides.