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McClinton Heard it On the X

Texas troubador reared on raw border radio

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Looking for a goat gland implant for your scrotum? A bottle of snake oil guaranteed to cure cancer, clear up acne or get rid of piles? Border radio offered all that and more, healing your body and cleansing your soul while exposing you to the best music this side of the border, broadcast from the other side. From the 30s to the 60s, megawatt AM radio blasted the late night religion of rock & roll worldwide from stations like XERF just across the Rio Grande in Mexico. "It was outrageous," says Delbert McClinton, a fan and practitioner of the stuff he heard growing up in Fort Worth, Texas. "You could buy autographed pictures of Jesus Christ on there. That's where all the great music was heard before it was popular. All the early rock & roll stuff and old blues was on border radio."

That sound has been immortalized on the latest Los Super 7 release, Heard It On the X. The supergroup, comprised of Joe Ely, Freddy Fender, Flaco Jimenez, Raul Malo, Ruben Ramos and Rick Trevino are joined for their third outing by McClinton as well as John Hiatt, Rodney Crowell, Lyle Lovett and Clarence Gatemouth Brown.

McClinton was sold on the idea from the minute it was pitched to him in the form of Little Willie John's "Talk To Me," a song he's performed millions of times, but first heard by a Mexican group, Sunny and the Sunliners, on border radio. "Music that was a little bit too ragged and raw and funky and over the top for rock & roll at that time, which eventually became standard fare on regular radio; you heard it first on the X."

McClinton got to work with a lot of performers he first heard on border radio, including Sonny Boy Williamson, Joe Turner, Jimmy Reid and Freddy King, soaking up all he could about their music by talking to them. But the talks were not about the business of music.

"They didn't know anything about the business," McClinton says. "This was a time when artists got fucked out of everything. They played music for the sake of playing music. They played it because it was in 'em and had to come out."

McClinton soaked up what Joe Turner was putting out when his band backed him in the early 60's. "His singing is all the advice you need. My vocal style has got an awful lot of Big Joe Turner jump blues feel to it."

The singer backed R&B greats throughout the 60s before getting a break in '65 when his group the Ron-Dels had a hit with his "If You Really Want Me To I'll Go," covered by Waylon Jennings and Doug Sahm. In '72, Delbert moved to Los Angeles, teaming up with fellow Fort Worth native Glen Clark to form a country-rock band called Delbert and Glen.

McClinton returned to Texas in '74 and put out several solo albums. Emmylou Harris picked up "Two More Bottles Of Wine" in '78 and had a number one hit with it. John Belushi picked "B Movie Box Car Blues" for the Blues Brothers debut Briefcase Full of Blues album. Then for nearly a decade, every label that McClinton signed with went out of business. In the mid 80s, things started to turn around. He was nominated for a Grammy for '89's Live From Austin LP, then won in '91 for his duet with Bonnie Raitt on "Good Man Good Woman." 2001's Nothing Personal won a Grammy as well, and Room To Breathe was nominated in '02. His '03 two CD set, Delbert McClinton Live, recorded in Norway, is a great retrospective, a good representation of his high-energy marathon shows that pack halls with rock, soul, blues and country fans together for a sweaty, raucous good time. New West has just released Heard It on the X, featuring McClinton on the Willie John tune as well as a Willie Dixon song, "I Live The Life I Love." He has a new album coming out in August, with a slew of McClinton originals and one Jimmy Reed cover, "Change My Style." The singer calls the record "a labor of love."

Ironically, with all of McClinton's awards and cross-over appeal, he still can't get on mainstream radio. But as befits a man who grew up on border radio, he's got an attitude to match. "Ah, fuck 'em," says McClinton with a laugh. "I don't care. I'll do allright."

Delbert McClinton plays Amos' South End in Charlotte on Friday, April 15, at 8:30pm. Tickets are $25. Teresa James opens.

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