After a lifetime spent playing the blues, Delbert McClinton is finally beating the Cost of Living, the title of his latest album (available at his Web site, www.delbert.com). He’ll be wailing at the Sarasota Blues Fest at the Sarasota County Fairgrounds on Oct. 29 (for ticket info go to www.sarasotabluesfest.com); we spoke to him recently while he was taking a break in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Q. You’ve been playing and singing the blues for almost 50 years. What is it about the blues that almost everyone responds to?
A. The blues is the voice of the struggle of mankind. Some people think it’s slow or depressing, but the blues is actually a celebration; it’s getting over the blues. I started playing harmonica at 18 or 19 and was fortunate enough to work with some of my heroes: Jimmy Reed, Sonny Boy Williamson. It was on-the-job training.
Q. You worked in some pretty rough places. Ever have to defend yourself?
A. More like defending the equipment. The band can sometimes be in the way. We used to play after-hours clubs, where it all comes to a boil. One time I was singing my heart out with my eyes closed and somebody was chasing somebody else on the dance floor. They ran into me and the band ended up getting knocked off the stage.
Q. Is there a lot of bad blues music out there?
A. There’s a lot of that in any genre. When I was a kid we played cowboy; now they play band. Everybody can be a celebrity, and you’ve gotta dig through a lot of crap these days.
Q. What music do you listen to?
A. I’m a little bit of a dinosaur when it comes to modern music, and that’s the way it should be in a sense. I don’t relate so well to rap, although I try and listen to it with my 12-year-old daughter. It really is the voice of displeasure of today’s youth, but I want to sing about things that make you feel happy, make you want to move.
I listen to early jazz and blues guys, who came from a place and time that gave them that vocal urgency. I listen to everything T-Bone Walker ever did; you can hear every guitar player that came along later in his playing. And Percy Mayfield, who wrote Hit the Road, Jack for Ray Charles.they have these specific, pronounced techniques that you can only learn by living the way the blacks had to live back then. It’s familiar to me and I can relate to it.
Q. Do you still have your own record label?
A. Yep, I own my records now, and it’s great.
Q. And you’re still doing your Sandy Beaches music cruises?
A. The next one will be the 12th. I get together with friends and we sit in with each other and hang out and eat and drink too much. It’s taken on a life of its own now.
Q. What pursuits do you enjoy aside from music?
A. Well, I’m an amateur archaeologist. Next week I’m going to a place in Central Mexico to see some pyramids that are at least 1,000 years old. Archaeology and anthropology have been an interest all my life.