Bethlehem, Pennsylvania—He can do it all: honky-tonkin’ red-blooded Americana soulful R&B alt-country jazzy balladry backwater blues rock ‘n’ rollin’ hillbilly Tex Mex gritty funky horn-laden party music. To actually see this 75-year-old legend sing without having to go on one of his cruises is a rare and wonderful thing. He commands a stage. He prowls like a lion. He looks 60-something. The women still scream. Texan Delbert McClinton, who taught John Lennon how to play harmonica, has never reached the level of fame and fortune commensurate with his talent. He’s a singer/songwriter multi-instrumentalist who plays guitar, piano and harmonica. His highest charting hit single, “Giving It Up For Your Love,” reached #8 in 1980. But to hear him sing songs like “Two More Bottles Of Wine,” “Standing On Shaky Ground,” “New York City,” “When Rita Leaves,” “Read Me My Rights,” or any of about two dozen other songs we were all hotly anticipating, is to be in honky-tonk heaven dancing with the fallen angels.
His voice is a black man’s voice housed in a white man’s body. He oozes soul. It’s a gruff, phlegm-filled, sandpapery whisper that can barrelhouse into an over-the-top Otis Redding-styled Memphis bark. Ragged at the edges, it’s the voice of experience, of one too many late-night bar-room drinks, of millions of cigarettes already having done their damage, of days into weeks into months on the lonesome road where men get drunk and fight and the women flirt, dance and sometimes take their tops off.
Of course, it’s not like that at The MusikFest Café at Steel Stacks, the gorgeous club where the drinks are strong, the sound system is oh-so-perfect, with room-to-move and the backdrop of those old Bethlehem Steel stacks to gaze at through the glass wall behind the stage. Now they’ve even erected a walkway so one could walk up up up and all the way through. Right outside the venue—which is on the third floor of a complex that houses a movie theater, restaurant, comedy club, two bars and clean bathrooms—is The Levitt Pavilion outside venue where, during warm weather free concerts of every imaginable genre go on almost every night.
“Yeah, they were so well-behaved,” Delbert told Rant ‘n’ Roll after the set. “I’m used to folks being a little more rowdy. But I know they were listening. Serious listening! I like that. Hell, some of the roadhouse gin mills I’ve played had barbed wire between the bandstand and the dancefloor!”
This reporter couldn’t take the good manners after a while. Hell, I’ve been booted from a few venues in my day. I’ll never forget when I wasn’t allowed to dance during The Family Stone’s “Dance To The Music.” I absolutely refused to sit down. That’s when security got physical. And you know what you’re supposed to do in instances of being physically removed, don’t you? Go limp. Let them work. But smile. I did not have to be escorted out on this occasion but I did dance over to the sound board and then right in front of the stage just to get a good look at my hero.
Upcoming is the Selwyn Birchwood Band June 10, Mingo Fishtrap June 30, Ben Folds July 14, Summerland Tour 2016 with Sugar Ray, Everclear, Sponge and Lit (outside), The Hooters August 24, Dave Alvin with Phil Alvin and the Guilty Ones Sept. 1, Robert Cray Band Sept. 6, The Subdudes Sept. 26, Judy Collins Oct. 21 and Jimmy Webb Nov. 4.
Upcoming outside for free at Levitt will be Bronze Radio Return June 9, Shirley Austin Reeves June 10, Cedric Burnside Project June 11, Ambrosia June 12, Lotus Land June 16, Pancho Bongo June 17, Horencia Jibara June 18, Allentown Symphony Orchestra June 19, Barleyjuice June 23, The Mulligan Brothers June 24 and Ernie & Neal June 25.