Still Giving It Up

Delbert McClinton has something better than a record deal a sound all his own

Many of McClinton's peers have blamed the musical assembly line in Nashville, his adopted hometown, for contributing to the decline in the art of tunesmithing, but he'll have none of that. "It's not just Nashville," he insists. "Don't say that, you hear? It's everywhere. The problem is, everybody in the world is a songwriter, and how many of those are going to be good? But the music business is big business, and people are packaging things just like they sell toys to kids for Christmas. They don't expect these to endure: There will be billboards all over the country for a month, a year, or two years, and after that, you end up saying, 'Who was that? I kind of remember that song. Whatever happened to them?' But after it's all said and done, the cream still comes to the top."

Despite his belief in this maxim, McClinton's had plenty of downs to go along with his ups -- so he's come up with a way to smooth out the ride. He and his wife run an operation called Sandy Beaches Cruises, which allows lovers of hot heartland music to take to the ocean alongside him and pals such as Steve Earle, Marcia Ball, and the members of Asleep at the Wheel. "Everybody on the cruise is a good friend of mine," he says. "It's really an opportunity for me and my friends to spend a week together and play music, which is something that we don't get to do all year long. It's a big jam session with 16 different bands and music going constantly. It just doesn't get any better than this."

He says the same about his career as a whole. He may not have a recording contract right now, but he has everything else he needs. "I love doing this. I'm not a superstar but I'm doing OK, and I've really got no complaints. I'm a guy who's been around a long time who people respect, and I'm very comfortable with that. Jeez, all I can do is think, 'My God, things are wonderful,' because things could be a hell of a lot worse. I really am one of the fortunate few.

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