Music legend’s son sings the blues in Thomasville
On a Friday night at Connelly’s bar in downtown Thomasville, a small crowd gathers to hear Clay McClinton and his band pump out two hours of high-energy Texas contemporary roots rock and blues. Connelly’s patrons and fans of McClinton, Curtis and Cinde Ingram helped get the band to town. The Ingram’s had been on a cruise put on by Delbert, and there they met Clay.
On the cool, breezy, abandoned sidewalk outside the club the black silence of the night is deafening. But walking inside the warm brick interior painted with neon lights and colored par cans and sitting down to watch McClinton play is like stumbling across a hidden treasure that rewarded those lucky enough to find it.
Clay McClinton is the 31-year-old son of the legendary Delbert McClinton, the Nashville musician who recently had two Grammy nominations for his latest Cost of Living CD.
The young Clay admits that following in his father’s footsteps has been tough, with high expectations from Delbert’s fans. But it’s been even more rewarding and he’s thankful for the opportunity. He admires his father both as a fan and an artist.
‘“I’m a big fan of my dad’s,’” Clay says.
Growing up in Ft. Worth, Texas and around his father’s music, Clay began playing guitar himself around age 12 and started taking it more seriously just a few years later. At 19 he began playing the Austin music scene and later went to Europe for four months of writing and traveling. After returning to the states Clay moved to Flagstaff, Ariz., a small American city where he believed he could make his mark. And he did.
There he started the Clay McClinton Band playing blues and bluegrass, making a name for himself and improving upon his musical skills. But at age 29 Clay felt it was time for another move and left Flagstaff for the place where all great country and blues musicians eventually find themselves ‘— Nashville, Tenn. His father had made the move 15 years earlier, and there the two would find themselves bonding as father and son again, and playing and writing together from time to time. Then just last year Clay played guitar with his father on his cruise.
Clay started another band in Nashville about a year ago with bassist Jeff Beam, drummer Jim Evans and pianist Andrew Bett. This year Clay is taking his own band on the cruise and playing his own music along with his father.
Clay has become well respected in Nashville in his own right and there’s a healthy buzz about the band. Still, Clay insists Nashville is filled with so many great musicians that being there is ‘“like being another brick in the wall.’”
Tonight though, he’s more than just a brick. Tonight is the chance to meet the son of a legend and the chance to get the autograph of another soon-to-be legend. Tonight’s stop in Thomasville is one of those rare opportunities where Connelly’s guests get to interact with the musicians on a personal level. This gig is one of many for McClinton and his band, some of which will be played before hundreds of guests.
Tonight the atmosphere is intimate and personal. Curtis and Cinde Ingram dance in front of the stage where Clay stands sliding his worn boots back and forth to the rhythm of his guitar. His head back and eyes closed, he belts out an upbeat blues song in a Texas drawl that has a hint of Bob Dylan. Other patrons bob their heads and lift long necks into the air in approval. Another guest, Stephanie Arnold, obtains a large pink bra that is hidden behind the bar and throws it onstage. Bassist Jeff Beam laughs and nods at Clay who, without missing a beat, picks up the bra with the point of his boot and kicks it toward pianist Andrew Bett. But it misses Bett, flying over his head and landing behind him ‘— he is so intent on the music that he never notices the whole drama playing out in front of him. It’s not ’til the end of the song that Clay points and Bett turns to look behind him that he sees the bra with a look of ‘“How did that get there?’” on his face.
The band plays through several of Clay’s own songs and mixes up the set with a Bob Dylan tune, a Sam Bush number, one by JJ Cale and a rocker by Eat My Dust.
Tomorrow it’s back to Nashville where Clay spends his time writing new music with other Nashville musicians, and next week it’s back on the road again for him and the band. For Clay there is no other career. Like his father, he’s always seen himself playing music and doing nothing else. The guitar he wears looks as natural on him as the shirt on his back, and the smile he wears is evidence of things being the only way they should.
To comment on this story, e-mail Lee Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org.