BUDDY: The Original Texas Music Magazine
Clay McClinton releases his fourth album, Bitin’ at the Bit
By Tom Geddie
If Clay McClinton sounds a little bit like his father, it shouldn’t be surprising. He grew up listening to the music his dad, Delbert McClinton, makes and to the music his dad liked, too. Not that he’s a copy, at all, of his dad’s sound; it’s just natural.
“My style is just what feels good to me,” McClinton says. “I’ve never been into categorizing art, but I would say it falls somewhere between country and blues with a dash of Tejas and a side of jazz.”
While Delbert started young and got more consistent over time – his own – Blind, Crippled and Crazy last year with long-time friend Glen Clark is the latest proof of that – it took Clay a little longer to even get started professionally. McClinton the younger’s been at it for 10 years now, “turning pro” when he was 29.
On his fourth album, Bitin’ at the Bit, Clay has even covered one of his dad’s songs, bringing his own slightly more country feel to “Victim of Life’s Circumstances”. Clay also covers Mickey Newbury’s “Just Dropped In (to see what condition my condition was in), and co-wrote seven songs with Grammy-winning producer and songwriter Gary Nicholson; two of those also with Tom Hambridge, who is one of Nashville’s finest songwriters and a longtime collaborator with Delbert. He rounds out the album with Nicholson and Stephen Bruton’s “What a Little Love Can Do” and Elmer Laird’s “Poison Love”, closing with his own and George Ensle’s tribute to Woody Guthrie, “Bound For Glory”.
Delbert gets co-writing credit on two of the songs. “This was the first time I ever covered one of dad’s songs,” Clay said. “It’s a tribute to him and it was kind of a tradeoff; he recorded one of my songs, “Oughta Know”, on Blind, Crippled and Crazy, and I thought his song would go with the others on my CD.”
Clay’s sound is a mix of country, blues, rock ‘n’ roll, and Tex-Mex; he calls it “Texas gumbo”. This time around, the sound is Joel Guzman’s contributions plus Nashville players Kenny Vaughan, Dan Dugmore, and Colin Linden on guitar; Lynn Williams and Hambridge on percussion; Steve Mackey on bass; and touring band members Jon Sanchez on guitar and Ed Friedland on bass.
Co-writing with Nicholson was fun, Clay said. “It’s just a character thing. Sometimes with two great writers it just doesn’t work, but the first day we wrote three songs together. ‘A Woman That Can’t Be Explained’, ‘Wildflowers’, and then ‘Nobody Knows My Baby’. It just flowed. It was a magical day where everything fell in place. Even Gary looked tickled at the end of the day. I would say this is some of my most ambitious writing yet, and we’re going to throw it out hard.”
Those are three of the excellent songs on the album. “A Woman That Can’t Be Explained”. ‘She was tall but short-tempered, young but old fashioned, ragged but ready to go. She’d been everywhere but was getting nowhere on the fast track moving too slow. He wanted to believe her, but doubted every word.”
“Wildflowers” Anything so beautiful is bound to break your heart, wildflowers, dancin’ in the wind, wildflowers, they always come back again.”
“Nobody Knows My Baby (better than me).” ‘We’re together when we’re apart...it’s so easy when you don’t have to try and there’s never any question why, some kind of love is just meant to be.”
He’s been playing the Newbury song, which Kenny Rogers and the First Edition had a hit with, and which was also on the soundtrack of “The Big Lebowski” live for quite a while, and put it on the album when fans began asking for it.
There’s also a Lebowski connection – through actor Jeff Bridges – with the Nicholson/Bruton song “What a Little Love Can Do”. “No one had recorded it but Jeff Bridges,” Clay said, “Gary wanted me to do it right off the bat.”
“We kinda took a different approach, Tex-Mexed it up a bit. I was a little hesitant at first, but then I just loved it and now I perform it all the time. It’s just a good song, written well, a happy feel good song.”
Clay has been touring for 10 years now, performing with his band at clubs, festivals, and concert halls from Colorado to Norway.
“Before that, I played music, too, but I just didn’t get paid for it. I was a bartender and did a lot of carpentry. I kinda grew up doing carpentry and always enjoyed working with wood.”
Comparisons to his dad’s roadhouse blues, outlaw country and honky-tonk are natural.
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “Even when I try to be different, I have some of my dad in me. It’s in the genes.”
“But I want to be natural, I make it a point to have my own voice and do my own thing, but I was raised around his friends and country and blues, and old Hank Williams and old jazz and what he listened to.”
Clay spent time as a youngster on a tour bus and backstage with his father.
“Dad used to open for Willie all the time in the late 70s and early 80s, and it was normal for all of us kids to be running around backstage.” Clay said. “It was like a big family of friends – and still is.”
Father and son sometimes perform together.
Clay said he remains both amazed and humbled at the successful Kickstarter campaign for Bitin’ at the Bit. Clay went into debt on his first three CDs, which cost $8-10,000 each. This time, he wanted to do it right.
“We raised $43,000 for recording, manufacturing, website, promotion, and packaging,” he said.
“When you’re working with producers like Gary Nicholson and good people, it costs money,”
The Austin resident returns to his old stompin’ grounds on March 8 for is Fort Worth CD release party at Magnolia Motor Lounge.
“I keep hearing it’s the new place to be,” he said. “We had a gig scheduled there during the big freeze, but there were two inches of ice on the parking lot, so we rescheduled.”
While Clay McClinton will sound something like his father did in the early days along Jacksboro Highway and at other Fort Worth clubs, know that they are not the same artist. To his father’s roadhouse blues, outlaw country and honky-tonk; add in some of the Tejano sound and even bits, from time to time, of jazz.
And, with the Guthrie tribute, maybe even a bit of folk.