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Learning from the past, rocking the future

Charlie Owen
Vail CO, Colorado
Clay McClinton, son of legendary country-blues man Delbert McClinton, said that he hope to win over more fans while on his Colorado leg of the tour. He plays The Wolcott Yacht Club tonight.
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WOLCOTT, Colorado ” Clay McClinton is a humble man, much more humble than his roots should allow him to be. The son of legendary country-blues man Delbert McClinton is laying his own tracks in the music world, writing his own songs and touring with a new band. In conversation he could be your mechanic or high school janitor. There’s no cockiness in his voice when he talks about his childhood, even though many people who grow up under the same roof as a Grammy Award-winning musician might harbor a superiority complex. Not Clay McClinton though ” he knows where he comes from and is thankful for the boost, but realizes the rest is up to him.

McClinton just kicked off the Colorado leg of his tour with his backing band. He plays tonight at the Wolcott Yacht Club where he hopes to build upon his already growing fan-base.

Raised in Texas, a state brimming with musicians, McClinton was steeped in blues, rock, and soul long before he even knew it. Nevertheless, he didn’t realize he wanted a music career until his mid-20s, after he had gone to college with hopes of becoming a lawyer. He’s also been a bartender and a carpenter, but his calling waited for him until he found it.

“I just kept coming back around to music, you know, that’s what makes me feel good,” McClinton said in his thick Texas drawl.

Armed with his Fender Telecaster and creative drive, the 33-year-old McClinton knows he’s on the right path. Having played in a couple of other bands and moved to Nashville to hone the craft of songwriting and learn the business side of the industry, he now holds the reins of his own band. Taking his father’s advice, McClinton fused elements of his favorite artists to find his own distinct sound. He spent years studying artists like Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, J.J. Cale and of course, his dear old dad, until he knew which direction to go.

“You just listen and soak up what makes you feel good and then you try to put it into the form of what’s inside you,” McClinton said.

Even though McClinton plays music in the same genre as his father and many of his idols, he has worked hard to stand out. He gives credit to his band ” Nick Litterski on piano, Dave Carroll on drums and Zeke Benanante on bass ” for much of his progress.

“I guess I wanna take a piece of the past but I wanna create something new at the same time and I just have so many different influences from different people that you hear a little bit of everything in the music. It seems to all work together too … People keep telling me to keep doing what I’m doing,” McClinton said.

McClinton just released his second album (“Son of a Gun”) and hopes to begin recording a third in September. He said his next album will have more acoustic songs as well as a heavier Latin flavor than his previous work ” what McClinton calls “Tex-Mex.” But don’t expect heavy political agendas or songs about saving the world.

“I like a groovy feel, and I like to make people feel good and I like to send a good message for sure,” McClinton said.

That doesn’t mean that he’s afraid to take chances or look at all the angles. McClinton has traveled across America, Africa and Europe with open eyes, trying to understand the world with more clarity and add fuel to the fire of his songwriting abilities.

Recently McClinton settled back into his home-state of Texas and said he feels much wiser for his travels and musical studies. Once again, modesty kicked in as he talked about the importance of family, how small his guitar collection is and what success looks like to him.

“I’ll be honest with you. Fame is something I’ve never craved but to make some good money and be a well-respected artist and not have to want and worry about paying the bills, that’s great, that’s what I would like. But to not be able to walk down the street, I’m not looking for that,” McClinton said.

High Life writer Charlie Owen can be reached at 970-748-2939 or cowen@vaildaily.com.


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