The Austin Chronicle

Delbert McClinton Oughta Know

By Raoul Hernandez, August 19, 2013, 6:37pm, Earache!

Countless films, Rancho Deluxe to Road House, have courted the sheer euphoria of a perfect honky-tonk pairing. Soup to nuts – Songwriter to Honeydripper, locally – what Mssrs. Jimmy Buffett, Jeff Healey, Willie Nelson, and Gary Clark Jr. bottled (respectively), Delbert McClinton brewed Saturday at Gruene Hall.

One of my dominoes leading to Austin was a cassette of Joe Ely’s 1990 barn-burner Live at Liberty Lunch, which I plucked from a newspaper refuse pile at the student publication during graduate school. The only thing I knew about Ely was that he’d opened a volcanic Kinks show in Berkeley in the early Eighties. Two young local teens ignored his set until he closed with “Not Fade Away.”

That song we knew.

Flash forward a decade, and not only did said Ely tape get sampled immediately afterward in my Datsun, it practically shattered the glass. It still lived there a year later when Ely’s band lit up some backwoods, tree-house-looking shack outside San Antonio called the Cibolo Creek Country Club. That night proved my hunch about Texas, and 20 years later, Delbert McClinton revived the whisper in my ear brought about by fellow Lubbockian Joe Ely:

This is why I moved here.”

From the moment the Panhandle-born/Fort Worth-reared firebrand hit the stage, rock & roll’s mythic triangulation of the right rocker in the right roadhouse on the perfect night was in full effect and remained as such for the better part of the next two hours. World’s best intoxicant? Every last ache and pain of my week disappeared into the vortex of McClinton’s workout.

Looking mid Sixties, performing as if mid Fifties, but actually 72, the singer’s post-war soul – rhythm meets country-blues – not only found its groove from the first golden note, it hung in the air as naturally as the beams supporting the arched ceiling. Gruene Hall’s ancient wood had somehow been regenerated, its bark, its sway, its lifeblood sap of trees long felled. McClinton didn’t just sound divine. It was like he invented acoustics themselves.

Opener “Old Weakness (Coming On Strong)” into “New York City” belonged in a movie – the lights, the initial sold-out crush at the stage front, cowboys at the bar at the back. It felt hyper-real, because it was. Here was quintessential Texana in a burg old enough to remember a single town square on a Saturday evening.

And when McClinton and his backing sixpiece (guitar, bass, drums, piano, and two horns) lilted Gulf Coast on “One of the Fortunate Few” and “Back to Louisiana,” I ached in knowing I could never relive this magic moment. Part of me stayed behind in Gruene Hall. Add my faded cries among the echoes of a building built in 1878.

“Shotgun Rider” – so lithe, so tight, such bounce and vocal buoyancy – more NOLA with “Squeeze Me In,” and the muscled strut of “People Just Love to Talk: McClinton and crew fired them off with ease. His shirt betrayed the effort expended on this unseasonably cool August evening, but his countenance cried poker or pool. His singing, supple as cowhide, cupped the group’s g-spot pulse, his mouth opening wide but never to yell or even raunch – just coat. So much crackle from so little obvious exertion.

At the 40-minute mark, the bandleader welcomed the other half of his new keeper, Delbert & Glen reunion Blind, Crippled & Crazy. Fellow Fort Worth stockyards veteran Glen Clark only made the whole scene better, the two men leading the band through rough and ready versions of LP blues dues “Been Around a Long Time,” “Whoever Said It Was Easy,” “Somebody to Love Me,” “Sure Feels Good,” and “Peace in the Valley.”

Near the witching hour, McClinton let the horn players lead the group through a couple numbers, and just when the crowd began to thin out, Marcia Ball appeared for a trio of tunes including “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu.” As the drive back to Austin began to nag, McClinton and Clark whipped out my new personal favorite, “Oughta Know.”

“I made some mistakes
And I try not to make any more
Still sometimes I say ‘yes’
When I oughta know.”

Delbert McClinton & Glen Clark at Gruene Hall. I knew it.

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