Interview: Delbert McClinton Returns With a Bounty of Blues on 'Tall, Dark & Handsome'

Delbert McClinton
Todd V. Wolfson

Delbert McClinton

Delbert McClinton chuckles when asked about the title of his 26th album, Tall, Dark, & Handsome, out Friday (July 26) via Thirty Tigers. The idea had been stirring in him since he bought artwork overseas some two decades ago.

“Have you tried to name anything these days? Think about it,” he tells Billboard, noting the album cover features not only the name but a replica of the actual artwork that McClinton bought in Sweden in the 1990s. “I’ve had them in my house ever since. I was walking by them one day, and thought “Tall, Dark, and Handsome.” I don’t think that’s a title that people won’t forget.”

Musically, the legendary 78-year old Texan has been making unforgettable music for decades. He credits the vitality of the new project to his collaborators and a little South of the Border mojo. “A lot of that goes to the guys I’ve been working with the last five years. We also used some different writers here. On ‘Ruby and Jules,’ that piano is Dennis Wage, and he gives it a totally different style. I love the ‘Pink Panther’ feel to it. I’m a big fan of all of these guys. I’ve got a home down in Mexico, and we’ll get three or four people at a time, go down there and spend a week-to-10 days, eat a lot of good food, enjoy the weather, and sit and make up stuff, which makes for a pretty good gig.”

Mexico has held sway over McClinton since his teens.  “When I was in high school, my plan was to get out of school, get a job and enough money to buy a jeep and drive to Mexico. It’s always been a magic place for me. It’s like walking around in a piece of art. People are so nice there. The culture in Mexico is so beautiful. I feel safer there than I do here.”

Tall, Dark, & Handsome runs the musical gamut from McClinton’s trademark roadhouse blues to jazz and swing. Lyrically, the set is chock full of story songs. 

“That’s what music is about from the beginning – telling people’s stories,” he says. “That’s just the way they came out. I enjoy singing and the emotion that it invokes, and have my whole life. I don’t work for this. I happen to work because of it.”

Making music is something that McClinton feels as strongly about as always. “I think my passion is better than ever,” he says, adding that having a clean bill of health helps his creative mind. “I had heart surgery about three or four years ago. I had never gone two or three weeks of my life without working, so it was awkward for me to have so much time off. I began to wonder if I could still do this. That took me to a place of melancholy, which isn’t fun….but it wasn’t awful. It was just an experience that I had never gone through before. I felt like I had been kicked out of my life. But since all of that, I’ve been better than ever.”

McClinton can’t wait to take his new songs on the road – a love affair that has lost none of its luster. “We leave tonight, and are headed for Ann Arbor, [Mich.],” he says. “I’m getting on the bus with the people I admire the most. That, in itself, is a pretty good trick.”

The performer, who has topped Billboard’s Blues Albums chart five times is looking forward to seeing what the public reception will be to the new music, but adds he’s already looking at what’s next.

“We’ve already wrote six great songs, and I’ve got a few more that we are working on. I’m not getting any younger, so if I’m going to do it, I can’t wait forever,” he says. “I’m really looking forward to the next project. I think it’s going to have a lot of different parts to it. I’m excited.”