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Feat of Clay

Texas bluesman Clay Melton teases a new album ahead of Maryland gig July 23
Clay Melton performing live on guitar - Photo courtesy of Miguel Martinez
Clay Melton performing live at The Rustic - Photo courtesy of Miguel Martinez

Clay Melton hails from a long line of Texas bluesmen. ZZ Top and Stevie Ray Vaughan were both on his radar growing up, and he also grooved to the strains of Buddy Guy. But it was a sonic encounter with Jimi Hendrix’s take on Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” that inspired Melton to chase the rock dream.

“I remember hearing that when I was kid, and it just blew my mind,” Melton, who is originally from Louisiana but now resides in Houston, reflected on that formative experience. “I got a guitar when I was about 11 [and that] sent me [to] older styles [including] lots of New Orleans funk and jazz.”

But it’s that Texas blues that’s called his name as an aspirant. With Melton on lead guitar and vocals—backed by Zach Grindle on drums and Zack Cox on bass—he will be coming to our area for a gig at Stages Arts Music in Cockeysville, Maryland, on July 23.

“It will be a genuine rock show,” Melton said of performing with his three-piece ensemble. “We all come from cutting our teeth in the live clubs, so there’s a lot of roots and blues influence, but at our core we’re a rock n’ roll band.

“We’re loud, we’re energetic. It’s a party.”

That festive spirit can indeed be heard on “Alive on a Wire,” released in February. The tune is a fist-pumping, thrashing exercise from Melton and Co.—and is sure to get anyone sitting on their hands up and out of their seats pronto.

“It’s one of those songs we don’t play until at least halfway through the set,” Melton said.

And with its upbeat tempo and rip-roaring good-time guitar solo, “Runner,” which dropped in April, would make Buddy Guy proud. That’s perhaps not surprising given that the 86-year-old blues legend is one of Melton’s heroes.

“‘Runner’”, our latest single, was originally released on our live album in 2022. And it was one of those songs where everybody at the shows was asking about it afterwards,” Melton explained, adding that he and his group eventually decided to record a studio version of the popular live jam. “Those two versions are massively different. And that’s partially us wanting to try different things—and also seeing and hearing different things in the song we didn’t hear before.

“I think songs never die as long as we’re playing them.”

Of his songwriting process, Melton said before locking in with Grindle and Cox in his current trio, he would bat around song ideas all on his own before showing them to anyone. That’s largely changed, he said, though the songwriter adds he almost purposely eschews a routine in how he composes new material. Rather, he applies a true-and-true arbiter of quality.

“These days, really the litmus test is does it feel good once I bring it to the band?” Melton said.  “I started bringing more real ideas to the band in rehearsals [and] if we feel compelled to keep jamming it, that’s a good enough sign to me that it’s worth working on more.”

An entire album of new material may be forthcoming later this year, but the bluesman says it’s been tough to lock that down given his furious pace of touring at present. He shared plans the three have to travel to Barranquilla, Colombia, where his producer Sebastian Cure now lives after leaving Austin. Though Melton has recorded at his own house in Houston before, he believes Cure’s sure hand can truly get his music to that next level—even if it requires a flight to South America.

“He moved to where he’s from in Colombia during the pandemic and opened up a studio and finally has it up and running,” Melton said of Cure. “We’re looking to make the trip at the end of this year, and hopefully we can get some loud brass players and percussion in on the project.

“We’re really looking forward to being back in a studio,” he added. “We get to take time with the product and explore the songs and ideas as much as we want to—re-tracking drums three days later if we feel the need.”

lay melton performing live on stage
Clay Melton performing live - Photo courtesy of Miguel Martinez.

During this discussion, Melton’s dog made its barking presence known. The songwriter giggled and apologized as if this were anything other than a vestige of the last three years of remote and hybrid work. Melton took in the animal during the pandemic, while figuring out his new life without live music. He tutored private students via video conference and also moved into his grandparents’ old home, where he wrote his EP “Back to Blues,” released in 2021.

“The silver lining is that once everything started opening again, everybody had a new album,” Melton said of pandemic times. “All your favorite artists had something you could listen to, which was cool.”

During covid he also gorged himself on Jazz Festing in Place, in which the mothballed in-person event opened its vaults to broadcast archived performances going all the way back to the ‘70s.

“I think there’s a lot to learn from those traditional roots styles,” Melton said of those old recordings. “There weren’t any flares as far as how they were capturing and performing it.  It was real musicianship.”

Melton’s ensemble followed the “Back to Blues” EP with “Live in Texas” last year, which featured a rather spirited cover of the ZZ Top tune “Jesus Just Left Chicago.” Melton’s rendition even hit the top of the Roots Music Blues Rock chart last summer.

When he plays the Stages Music Arts on July 23, Melton says he may try to get down to the capital city for some sightseeing given he has never been to D.C. before. But, rather, you should probably head up north of Baltimore to catch his set.

“It’ll be my first time playing there,” Melton enthused about the Stages Music Arts gig, adding that he will bring his unique mix of Louisiana jazz roots and Texas blues to the stage. “I think people will never get tired of seeing that live.”

Clay Melton will perform at Stages Music Arts in Cockeysville, Maryland, on July 23. *Tickets are available at EventBrite.com. To learn more, head to ClayMelton.com. *

Eric Althoff

A native of New Jersey, Eric Althoff has published articles in “The Washington Post,” “Los Angeles Times,” “Napa Valley Register,” “Black Belt,” DCist, ScreenComment.com and Luxe Getaways. He produced the Emmy-winning documentary, “The Town That Disappeared Overnight,” and has covered the Oscars live at the Dolby Theater. He lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia, with his wife, Victoria.

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