Learning From The Past, Rocking The Future

Vail Daily
Vail, CO
May 3, 2008
By Charlie Owen

Learning From The Past, Rocking The Future

Clay McClinton is a humble man, much more humble than his roots should allow him to be. The son of legendary country-bluesman Delbert McClinton is laying his own tracks in the music world, writing his own songs and touring with a new band. In conversation, he could be your mechanic or high school janitor. There’s no cockiness in his voice when he talks about his childhood, even though many people who grow up under the same roof as a Grammy Award-winning musician might harbor a superiority complex. Not Clay McClinton though – he knows where he comes from and is thankful for the boost, but he realizes the rest is up to him.

McClinton just kicked off the Colorado leg of his tour with his backing band. He plays tonight at the Wolcott Yacht Club, where he hopes to build upon his already growing fan base.

Answering the call:
Raised in Texas, a state brimming with musicians, McClinton was steeped in blues, rock and soul long before he even knew it. Nevertheless, he didn’t realize he wanted a music career until mismid-20s, after he had gone to college with hopes of becoming a lawyer. He’s also been a bartender and a carpenter, but his calling waited for him until he found it. “I just kept coming back around to music, you know, that’s what makes me feel good,” McClinton said in his this Texas drawl.

A piece of the past:
Armed with his Fender Telecaster and creative drive, the 33-year-old McClinton knows he’s on the right path. Having played in a couple of other bands and moved to Nashville to hone the craft of songwriting and learn the business side of the industry, he now holds the reins of his own band. Taking his father’s advice, McClinton fused elements of his favorite artists to find his own distinct sound. He spent years studying artists like Bob Dylan, Willie nelson, JJ Cale and of course, his dear old dad, until he know which direction to go. “You just listen and sock up what makes you feel good, and then you try to put it into the form of what’s inside you,” McClinton said.

Even though McClinton pays music in the same genre as his father and many of his idols, he has worked hard to stand out. He gives credit to his band – Nick Litterski on piano, Dave Carroll on drums and Zeke Benenate on bass – for much of his progress. “I guess I want to take a piece of the past, but I want to create something new at the same time, and I just have so many different influences from different people that you hear a little bit of everything in the music. It seems to all work together, too. People keep telling me to keep doing what I’m doing,” McClinton said.

Sending a good message:
McClinton just released his second album (“Son of a Gun”) and hopes to begin recording a third in September. He said his next album will have more acoustic songs as well as a heavier Latin flavor than his previous work – what McClinton calls “Tex-Mex”. But don’t expect heavy political agenda or songs about saving the world. “I like a groovy feel, and I like to make people feel good, and I like to send a good message, for sure,” McClinton said.

That doesn’t mean that he’s afraid to take chances or look at all the angles. McClinton has traveled across America, Africa and Europe with open eyes, trying to understand the world with more clarity and add fuel to the fire of his songwriting abilities.

Recently, McClinton settled back into his home state of Texas and said feels much wiser for his travels and musical studies. Once again, modesty kicked in as he talked about the importance of family, how small his guitar collection is and what success looks like to him. “I’ll be honest with you. Fame is something I’ve never craved, but to make some good money and be a well-respected artist and not have to want and worry about paying the bills, that’s great, that’s what I would like. But to not be able to walk down the street, I’m not looking for that,” McClinton said.

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