Delbert McClinton’s many fans will find One of the Fortunate Few (Texas A&M University Press) reaffirming, shedding light on a truly selfless, generous soul. Those unfamiliar will Delbert will be instantly drawn to him and will undoubtedly seek out his music and touring schedule. When you realize McClinton was playing at the birth of rock n’ roll in the ’50s, shared some harmonica tips with John Lennon, and has played just about every kind of American music in every conceivable venue from dives to the world’s biggest stages, you can’t help but admire this living legend. His story is of endurance, sacrifice, perseverance and ultimately success in the unforgiving, often cruel music business.
Author Diana Finlay Hendricks cites 66 interviews in her bibliography, including fellow musicians Marcia Ball, Joe Ely, and Bonnie Raitt to name just a few. The story unfolds with very direct, unadorned prose, not unlike the lyrics of a Delbert song. Including both the prologue and afterward, the book plays out in just 203 pages, making it a quick read. McClinton’s friend and instrumental force in his career, radio personality Don Imus, contributed the foreword. Here are a couple memorable lines: “When we have Delbert on Imus in the Morning, the crew loves Delbert. They love Delbert because he is not an asshole.” Later, Imus adds, “Delbert is a great songwriter, God gave him a voice and phrasing as good as anyone who has ever made a record. He is funny and smart and doesn’t make singing look like work. Or an exercise class.”
McClinton’s loyalty to bandmates, his confessions about his three marriages, his relationships with his children, and partnership with lifelong friends like the late Stephen Bruton and Gary Nicholson are all delivered straight up as his is passion for his life work. For example, Delbert talks about his struggling days in L.A. in the early ’70s, a period where he was lying to himself frequently. “I wasn’t a good husband. I wasn’t a good father. I was a pretty bad son…But I wasn’t lying when I told myself I had to this. I had to live in Los Angeles and make music and make these records. I had to do all I could in this music business. It was all I really knew how to do. It was survival. I rationalized it. For me to deny what I had to do was as futile as a tear in a glass eye. There was just no other way.”
Toward the end of the book, McClinton, his wife Wendy and partner Gary Turlington talk about the tremendous financial sacrifices and losses they took to get the now mega-successful Sandy Beach Cruise established. Yet, there’s an earlier passage that speaks volumes as well. During a time of financial struggle for Delbert and the entire band. Guitarist James Pennebaker had just learned that his electricity was about to be turned off. He relates Delbert’s response, “Delbert said, ‘What do you need for electricity?’ I told him we would figure it out. He asked me again. I told him. He walked out of the bathroom and came back with an envelope, handing me twice what I needed, plus my pay for the gig.”
The book is filled with little nuggets like this. You’ll learn about how the music of Texas is unique unto itself and how McClinton unbelievably was at some of the key stages not only of music but of historical events in the sixties. But, mostly, in just a few hours, you’ll gain insights into Delbert’s remarkable character.