Delbert McClinton sets record straight on teaching John Lennon blues harmonica

Delbert McClinton sets record straight about teaching The Beatle how to play harmonica

wtatangelo@bradenton.comSeptember 27, 2012 

Delbert McClinton has released four CDs that have reached No. 1 on the blues albums chart, has been inducted into the Texas Heritage Songwriters Hall of Fame and won a Grammy Award.

And that's just since 2001.

Go back a couple more decades, and there's the Top 10 single "Giving It Up For Your Love," the popular country duet with Tanya Tucker "Tell Me About It," and another Grammy Award for his duet with Bonnie Raitt, "Good Man, Good Woman."

McClinton also wrote the Emmylou Harris No. 1 hit "Two More Bottles of Wine."

And gave harmonica lessons to John Lennon.

Yes, THAT John Lennon.

McClinton, a Texas roots music hero who first tasted international fame in the early 1960s, has finally started to slow down a little.

He scheduled just a handful of shows this month, including his headlining spot at the Sarasota Blues and Music Festival on Saturday.

"I just don't care anymore about being out there eight days a week," McClinton said by phone while vacationing in Mexico earlier this month. "I work just enough to satisfy the jones."

That "jones" has been part of McClinton's life since pretty much the beginning.

Born in Lubbock, Texas, the hometown of Buddy Holly, McClinton grew up in Fort Worth earning his chops playing blues bars backing such greats as Jimmy Reed, Howlin' Wolf, Bobby "Blue" Bland and Lightnin' Hopkins.

In 1961, McClinton got his big break playing harmonica on Bruce Channel's No. 1 hit "Hey! Baby." This led to a tour of England with Channel.

And meeting Lennon.

"Playing one night at a place called The Castle in New Brighton, this girl who had been following Bruce said, 'You gotta hear this band that just got back from Hamburg, they're the hottest band in England,' " McClinton recalled.

The Beatles "were on the show we were on," he continued. "We all hung out backstage as we always did. It was a magic time. John was one of the guys who came back to our dressing room and wanted me to show him how I played on 'Hey! Baby.' "

Lennon thought McClinton played the passage on a chromatic harmonica, but that wasn't how the Texan achieved the signature sound.

"We shot the breeze," McClinton said. "He came out to three shows, and we hung out maybe 18 to 24 hours total during two weeks. Then I came back and about a year or two later in an interview he said he was influenced by 'Hey! Baby.' Now, it's morphed into 'I taught John Lennon how to play harmonica!' "

The 71-year-old McClinton laughed.

"It's been romanticized a bit," he said.

Perhaps.

But listen to "Hey! Baby" (1961) and then The Beatles' "Love Me Do" (1962).

Sounds like Lennon sure did learn some blues harmonica riffs from McClinton.

Wade Tatangelo, features writer, can be reached at 941-745-7057. Follow Twitter.com/wtatangelo.

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