"I had a sky blue ragtop Mustang, 1964/ she drove it off into the night/ till it just wouldn't go

No more/ she caught a ride on into town/ bought some gas and laid the top down/ she burned

That pony to the ground/ on the desert in New Mexico."
- 'When Rita Leaves' - Delbert McClinton.

When Lubbock born honky tonker Delbert McClinton released 16th album Nothing Personal
in Australia in 2001 he received airplay on Nu Country FM for the song, 'When Rita Leaves.'

The evocative tale was a graphic account of a wild woman scorned and resorting to summary justice.

And a highlight of Nothing Personal on New West, distributed here by Shock Records.
Delbert produced the album with prolific Fort Worth born singer-songwriter Gary Nicholson, a long time recording artist and frequent writing partner of fellow Texan Lee Roy Parnell who toured here in 2002 with his band 'The Hot Links'.

Nicholson was also co-writer of the former Seven Network AFL TV footy theme 'If The House Ain't Rockin', Don't Bother Knockin.'

Both songs received widespread airplay on Nu Country.

We also played Delbert's originals of Birmingham Tonight, Livin' It Down and Squeeze Me In, later cut by former superstar Garth Brooks, and several other songs from Nothing Personal.


Garth heard Squeeze Me In on Nothing Personal, which won Delbert a Grammy for best blues recording.

Brooks and famed award winning squeeze and duet partner Trisha Yearwood had already recorded Squeeze Me In before the writers knew about it.

''I told Allen Reynolds (Garth's producer), I could have had Garth at my house for a sleepover for a week and never played him that song,'' said Nicholson, who co-produced Nothing Personal with McClinton.

''It was not like anything I ever thought he would do.''

McClinton and Nicholson aimed Squeeze Me In directly at McClinton.

''I have never have anybody else in mind,'' Delbert later confessed, "we were sitting here trying to come up with something, and during the course of conversation, one of us said something about 'Squeeze me in.'

''I remember locking in on it and saying 'Let's write that.'

''And just like the magic that always happens between us, it all came forward in one huge rush.

Then we went to lunch. Actually, we did write it pretty fast, once it got started it just started feeding upon itself.''


Nu Country also played tracks from Delbert's 1997 album, One of The Fortunate Few, which
sold a credible 300,000 albums on the long defunct Rising Tide label.

Specialist shows featured re-releases of his seventies country albums and retrospectives on Glenn A Baker's famed Raven Records.

But the singer's most requested songs was U.K. chart topper You're The Reason Our Kids
Are Ugly - a duet with Kinky Friedman's producer Kacey Jones.

The song was originally a sixties hit for Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn but his version was on Kacey's third solo album Every Man I Love Is Either Married, Gay Or Dead.
Delbert also performed Autograph on the Jones produced Kinky Friedman tribute disc, Pearls
In The Snow.


"I chose the title Nothing Personal because it is so personal," thrice wed Delbert revealed at the time, "a title like that is set up for just about anything."

Delbert funded recording and hired an A team of musicians - Benmont Tench, Rick Vito, Ricky Fataar, George Hawkins and Hutch Hutchinson.

He also had vocal support from Iris De Ment (second wife of Greg Brown) and Bekka Bramlett - daughter of Delaney of Bonnie & Delaney Bramlett fame.

But it's the strength and sequencing of the songs - he wrote all 13 alone or with Nicholson and other peers - which make this such a joyous gem.

The wry word play from intro track Livin' It Down - "my ship came in and she sunk it/ I was the toast of the town and she drunk it" - to the finale Watchin' The Rain is a major strength.

Delbert may not have toured here but he milks the imagery - "I threw her out of the house/ she was back like a boomerang/ I guess some times you get the honey/ some times you get the sting."

There's no soppy positive love songs - Gotta Get It Worked On builds on the entrée.
And Squeeze Me In is another sardonic plea by a spurned lover.

Even the pathos primed Tex-Mex tale, When Rita Leaves, enables the vanquished victim to exact revenge on the villain when she torches his sky blue rag top 1964 Mustang in the desert. The narrative nature of the songs, giving them more of a country than blues focus, peaks in the co-write with the recently deceased Doodle Owens on Birmingham Tonight, featuring De Ment as the harmony vocalist.

McClinton works the leaving metaphor with gusto - Baggage Claim, Don't Leave Home Without It and Desperation are evocative examples.

And he drops the knees into the major record labels and power brokers in his punchy closure - "I spent a lot of time in the past/ kissin' other people's ass/ now I'm here where I want to be/ sittin' here watchin' the rain."


This is long after Delbert arose from chicken wire caged kicker bars such as the Bucket Of Blood, City Dump and End Of The Road on Jacksboro Highway in the killing fields of Fort Worth, also known as Cowtown.

Delbert and his brother, sons of a railway switch man and a beautician, bought a $3 guitar shortly after moving from Lubbock at 11 and performing with some mates as the Mellow Fellows.

The boys were encouraged by their uncle Earl, whom they visited and sang with in the West Texas town of Sweetwater in their school holidays in 1952, after working his milk run. Delbert made his live professional debut in 1957 at Big V Jamboree in Liberator Village while driving trucks during the day.

By the late fifties the teenager, who also worked kicker bars with a younger John Denver who was still Henry John Deutchendorf, had ascended to the Straightjackets.

They played Jack's Place on Mansfield Place on the south side of Fort Worth as well as kicker bars on Jacksboro Highway.

"Jacksboro Highway was like desolation row," McClinton told me backstage at a gig at the Austin Aqua Festival in 1983.

"The bars were dens for outlaws and gangs and knives were regularly used in brawls while we played behind the chicken wire. Guys would be found dead in shallow graves and burnt out cars. I've seen the bullets in the chamber at the other end of the gun. You become humble real quick."

It was at this stage in the interview that an edict was delivered to Delbert's band that no booze was to be drunk backstage because headlining wowsers, The Statler Brothers, were about to arrive and perform.

It was a far cry from Jack's Place on the south side of Fort Worth, where young Delbert had a residency when he made his recording debut.

"Jack's was outside the city limits of Fort Worth and they paid off the police so it was always a popular place for kids to go and drink," Delbert confessed.

"They had a neon sign with a mule kicking out there, and every Friday and Saturday if the mule wasn't kicking that meant there was supposed to be a raid that night."


In 1960 Delbert became first white act to win airplay on local blues station KNOK when he released Sonny Boy Williamson's Wake Up Baby on Major Bill Smith's indie label Le Cam as Mac Clinton & The Straitjackets.

He also recorded with his band the Ron-Dels who had the 1965 hit If You Really Want Me To I'll Go, also cut by the late Doug Sahm and Waylon Jennings.

Delbert also formed a duo with another Fort Worth songwriter, Glen Clark, and they cut two vinyl albums Delbert And Glen and Subject To Change for Clean Records in 1972-3.

The duo had a minor hit with the song I Received A Letter but split after a dispute with the label. Clark toured here as pianist for Delbert's Grammy winning duet partner Bonnie Raitt in the eighties.


"I'm a victim of life's circumstances/ I was raised around bar-rooms and Friday night dances/ singing them old country songs/ half the time ending up some places, I didn't belong."

Delbert made his debut solo LP 'Victim of Life's Circumstances,' in 1975, Genuine Cowhide (1976) and Love Rustler (1977) - all for ABC.

ABC folded in 1977 so McClinton cut Second Wind (1978) with a remake of 'B Movie Box Car Blues' and Keeper Of The Flame (1979) for Capricorn which also went under.

Then, in 1978, Emmylou Harris had the first of several hit versions of his tune - Two More
Bottles Of Wine.

McClinton had fled Texas for L.A. in 1970 in a Chrysler driven by a beautiful divorcee who
had come into a pile of cash but dumped him two months later near Hollyweird.

The abrupt split gave him the impetus for his first song to be a hit for a peer.

"I'm 1600 miles from the people I know/ been doing all I can but opportunity sure comes slow/ thought I'd be a star by today/ but I'm sweeping out a warehouse in West L.A./ but it's alright, because it's midnight/ and I got two more bottles of wine."

Soon a brace of artists including The Amazing Rhythm Aces, Parnell and Blues Brothers
covered his tunes.

"I'd hate to think I'd have to suffer like that every time I wrote a song," Delbert confided.
But the singer, produced by Barry Beckett, emerged from the Capricorn ashes and recorded
for Muscle Shoals Sounds Records, distributed by Capitol.

McClinton had his first #7 hit with Giving It Up For Your Love in 1981 after releasing the
albums The Jealous Kind (1980) and Plain' From The Heart (1981) through Capitol.
History repeated when Muscle Shoals Sounds Records had its budget slashed and Delbert
was dumped again.

"We were forced back into the studio straight after a 250 day Jealous Kind tour and had to record a fresh album," Delbert told me.

"It was just rushed through and we were back on the road again without a proper break. The budget was slashed and we couldn't afford to tour Europe and Australia where we got plenty of airplay."

The singer then suffered a brace of aborted recording projects and unreleased albums before a Grammy nomination for his 1988 Alligator Records disc, Live From Austin.

In 1990 he released a new album I'm With You on Curb and in 1992 he bounced back with
Never Been Rocked Enough.

He also had a hit with Melissa Etheridge on a duet of Every Time I Roll The Dice and won a
Grammy award in 1992 for another with Bonnie Raitt on Good Man/Good Woman.
It was the same year he scored a country hit With 'Tell Me About It' - a dynamic duet with
Tanya Tucker.


"At a truck stop in San Angelo I saw a billboard about this rodeo/ last weekend out in El Paso so I signed up to ride/ I drew a bull called Original Sin, heard he'd killed a couple of men/ I figured this was something I could win/ because the devil was on my side." - Lone Star Blues - Delbert McClinton-Gary Nicholson.

Delbert McClinton taught John Lennon the harmonica licks for Love Me Do on a 1962 English tour when The Beatles opened for Bruce Channel who was promoting his big hit Hey Baby. The venue was the Castle Club in New Brighton and Delbert had a willing young pupil in Lennon.

Delbert's song, 'B Movie Box Car Blues,' was also chosen by Dan Ackroyd and the late John Belushi for their 'Blues Brothers' movie and CD.

"I've been on a roll with songwriting for the last five years," McClinton, now 63, revealed when he released dynamic 17th album 'Room To Breathe' (New West-Shock) in 2002.
"If you don't write your songs and you've got a record deal the record company says 'we want you do it with this producer.' The producer puts out the word here in town to all the writers - there's a sheet that goes around here - that so-and-so's looking for songs."
The Lubbock born star recalls when a major record company tried to persuade him to cut covers and another prevented him recording for half a decade.

"I had three Kroger sacks full of tapes and nine out of 10 of them were hideous. It got to the point where I would think about it all the time. I'd get up in the morning and go, 'Oh, God, I gotta listen to some of those.' And you try to listen to them, and it's just awful. I got up one morning, and I picked up all three of sacks, and dropped them in the garbage, I said, 'To hell with it, I'm gonna write 'em myself. By taking that step, I think it enabled me to write 'em myself."


Delbert wrote 12 new tunes - seven with co-producer Gary Nicholson - and enlisted an 18 piece celebrity choir for his 2002 album 'Lone Star Blues.'

Billy Joe Shaver, Lee Roy Parnell, Guy Clark, Emmylou, Kimmie Rhodes, Flatlanders,
Ray Benson, Joe Ely, Butch Hancock, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Steve Earle were in the

And for the video Delbert played a bar tender in a Texas honky tonk and hired Pam Tillis, Kix Brooks, Suzy Bogguss, Parnell, Rodney Crowell, Jim Lauderdale and late NASCAR racer Dale Earnhardt's widow Teresa.

Delbert, like Parnell, consummates country-blues-soul nuptials without upsetting either genre purists and dedicated the disc to Earnhardt and Waylon.

It was no surprise this rollicking requiem for the most neglected music on radio topped the Billboard blues charts on debut.

From the entrée tune 'Same Kind Of Crazy' and 'Smooth Talk' there's a joyous groove that climaxes in fiery finale 'New York City.'

There's vast humour in Lone Star Blues, a duet with Bekka Bramlett on 'Smooth Talk,' boogie in 'Blues About You Baby' and a tear stained 'Don't Want To Love You' and 'Everything I Know About The Blues.'

And, in a refreshing rarity for blues soaked music, you can feel smiles in joyous tunes
'Money Honey' and 'Ain't Lost Nothin'.

Previous disc 'Nothing Personal' also topped Americana charts for 12 weeks.
And this album, boosted by extensive touring, videos and TV exposure, is even better and
deserves a break down under.

The singer also plans to release a double live CD, recorded in Norway, this month.


McClinton now lives with third wife Wendy and a daughter, 10, in Nashville when not on
the road.

Wendy rescued Delbert from battles with dope, booze and bankruptcy after a stormy life
which threatened to end his career and life.

Although the singer turned many personal traumas into song there's one that is unlikely
to be recorded - 'I Think I'm Gonna Call, Tomorrow's Sunday.'

Delbert wrote the song about his son Monty who was born two years after the singer and his first wife Sandra Sue wed in 1959.

The couple split after about a decade and Monty, now aged 32, was raised by his mother who died of an aneurysm in 1989.

This time the pain of separation from his son during those missing years was just too much to exorcise in song.

top / back to diary