“The older I get, the more I recognize that in music, you make your own luck,” says Delbert McClinton on this week’s episode of the National Podcast of Texas. Last month, the three-time Grammy winner released Tall, Dark, and Handsome, which he describes as a celebration of his Texas roots. It features entirely new songs, either written or cowritten by McClinton. Rolling Stone writes, “It’s not a stretch to say that McClinton, at 78, is making the best music of his career,” and indeed he’s enjoying something of a renaissance. There’s a stack of terrific reviews for the new album, an ambitious tour to support it, and in January, he’ll embark on the twenty-sixth edition of his annual Sandy Beaches Cruise with the Mavericks, Marcia Ball, and Shinyribs. In our sprawling conversation, we discuss his place in Fort Worth’s musical legacy, his role in Austin’s cosmic country and early blues scene, and what motivates him to still work as hard as he does.
Three takeaways from his appearance:
1. As a child growing up in Fort Worth, McClinton traded a World War II knife for a crystal radio receiver, an inexpensive do-it-yourself kit popular in the early days of radio.
“I thought it was God’s radio. Late at night, you could pick up the border radio, but also stations from Tulsa, Oklahoma City, and Nashville that played great music. That radio and the music I found from those stations set the stage for my whole life.”
2. At 78, McClinton doesn’t deny that he spends a fair amount of time thinking about the wear and tear of a life onstage and on the road.
“I have to weigh how long it’ll take me to get from here to there. I’ve recently had a ruptured disc in my back, which makes me walk like an old man, and I’ve got two sliding vertebra on my spine that do surprise attacks all the time and sometimes take me to my knees. So I’m aware of limitations, but that comes with the lunch. You’re not gonna be A1 forever.”
3. McClinton no longer worries about the trajectory of his career; he says a thriving touring business and getting to make records on his own timetable are their own rewards.
“I don’t have to worry about anything. I’m no superstar money-maker, but I don’t really need anything. And I’m not the kind of guy that goes and buys cars and stuff. I’m trying to have things that if I walk off and forget it and leave them behind, it’s okay.”