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COVER STORY - Mike McClure: The Red Dirt Rockstar
by Gina Stricklin
Mike McClure - Photo by Tessa BlackwellAfter many years of hard work and dedication to what he believes in, Mike McClure is one of the most talented Red Dirt/Texas musicians today. With his unflinching persona and his diligent ways, Mike knows what he wants and goes after it. His impressive songwriting talents and his incredible producing abilities, has enhanced many artists wanting to work along side him.

Beginning at the ripe young age of 10, Mike McClure wrote on of his very first songs. He admits it was somewhat funny, something he and his dad wrote together about a bull. “Nothing special, just goofing around”, Mike says. However, that song writing would someday pay off, and pay off in a big way.

Mike McClure and his band perform at a recent show at the John T. Floore Country Store.

Mike, married, and a father of two, came from a small town where he admits, the music influence was not much to talk about. His influences and the honing in on his sound would come about in the college town of Stillwater, Oklahoma. This was the place where Mike would first take part in the music known as “Red Dirt”. Along with others, he would hang out at the notorious “Farm”, where he met some of the greatest influences of his music career. The Farm was a great time for Mike. He speaks of it as some of the best times in his life. He has stated that the “Bohemian” lifestyle that was ever so present at the Farm, was so much different than he was used to. Coming from a small town in Oklahoma, this was an exciting time for him. He would hang out with Bob Childers, Jimmy LaFave, Tom Skinner, Scott Evans, and Brad James. He and the rest of the guys would crowd around the campfire and sing songs, play their guitars, and occasionally write a song or two. They often sat by the old piano that was a big part of the Farm. It’s where most wrote songs that would someday be heard by word of mouth, and eventually grow to become some of the best classics of this movement. One friendship would later grow into band mates in the Mike McClure Band.

Tom Skinner is the bass player for Mike’s current touring band. Tom is a person that Mike says helped him throughout his career in so many different ways. “Tom was one of the older guys that who was cool to me,” Mike would later claim. “He taught me how to use the capo and learn a lot of songs that I could not figure out how to play.” Mike credits Tom with tremendous influence in the movement. Mike says that Tom, Eric Hansen (the band drummer) have a great time. They don’t take things to seriously and it helps make the road that much easier.

Like Tom Skinner, Eric Hansen is also a much needed and respected part of the band. Eric at one time played for the Medicine Show and later for Jimmy LaFave, but later decided to retire from music and concentrate on his academics. However, before he could do that, Mike asked Eric for “one more shot” at the music business. Eric agreed and the Mike McClure Band (MMB) emerged.

After forming the MMB, Mike would endure the fans questioning leaving The Great Divide and going on his own. Mike has used the phrase, “Twice as Loud, Half as Popular”, and for a time it was true. Nevertheless, Mike stood his ground and kept his direction, and with each new show, gained more and more recognition for his soon to be very popular new band. Fans voiced their own opinion and made the MMB one of the more popular bands in the circuit with music purists. McClure fans are discriminating and they know great songs and a great band. For his part, Mike has made some of his best music, puts on some of his best performances, and produced some of his best work since forming the MMB. Whether Mike is rocking out, or singing one of his old favorites, a MMB show leaves the audience amazed and glad they came.

Mike has strong opinions at times. Concerning the music and the business that goes along with it, he has said that he doesn’t really care for labels but realizes that a label gives a genre a marketplace. The label Red Dirt for example leads to a support system for the music, but he hopes that it doesn’t turn into another “Nashville”. Texas and Red Dirt musicians support each other. The help that Mike says he received in his early years, made a big impact on his music. Lloyd Maines comes to mind when he speaks of big impacts. Mike says, “Most everything I do in the studio is a result of watching him”. Of course, Tom is always on that support list as well when Mike talks of people who helped along the journey.

Mike prefers to write alone when drafting songs. He says, “I like to get into a stream of consciousness and let the words flow”. He doesn’t like to analyze the words and writing alone is easier in that respect. However, there are times when collaboration works. Mike recently wrote with Adam Odor and feels the songs turned out great. Adam Odor and Joe Hardy are just a few of the people that will be a part of new things to come Mike’s studio called the Dirty Bird near Oklahoma City. Nevertheless, when asked about the album that he is most proud of, he will tell you “Dirt and Spirit”. A loan was taken out to make the record and friends like Susan Gibson, Tom Skinner, Bob Childers, The Red Dirt Rangers, Cross Canadian Ragweed, Jason Boland, were a few of the artists that were involved. Mike enjoyed having all of the artists together and being able to work on their songs one day at a time in the studio. The record is now out of print but will be available again soon.

Producing is also one of Mike’s passions and he says he owes it all to Anthony “Wern” Aquino, a friend, who used to be in a band called “Texas Ride”. Anthony called Mike one day and wanted him to produce. Mike had no idea if he could do it and half of the band wanted him there and half of them did not. It was a difficult project. However, he thoroughly enjoyed the whole concept and wanted more. The next project was with Cross Canadian Ragweed. The record became Ragweed’s “377”. After that, things just took off and eventually led to a partnership with Travis Linville. Travis and Mike worked together before. Mike listened to some of the things that Travis was working on, like the Briar Branch Road and the Burtschi Brothers. Mike thought it was great. Travis, at the time, had been recording at his own house for awhile and Mike was getting tired of the drive all the way from Austin to Oklahoma every time he needed to record, so they hatched the plan of going in to business together. The Dirty Bird was born. The studio is in Norman near Lake Thunderbird. The name Dirty Bird comes from the lake itself because the lake is so red and nasty looking.

Working in the studio may slow down the MMB tour schedule. “It wears you out on the road every weekend. I’m 35 now. It was great when I was 21, but the lure of tinkering around the studio and not having to pound the pavement all the time, is appealing. I still like playing live though, it’s about finding a comfortable balance now”, relates Mike when asked about touring and the studio work. Eric Hansen and Tom Skinner will also be part of the studio project. Their instrumental talents as studio musicians were already used on some of the first projects. Mike says that, “Sometimes a singer needs a band or the drummer isn’t studio ready, so I bring in the fellas”. However, it looks like they are all going to be busy. Mike says the schedule is “slammed”, and that is a good thing. They just finished up Tyler McCumber, Boyce Edwards, and Mama Sweet. They are also putting some finishing touches on a MMB recording in Houston with Joe Hardy. They hope to have it out sometime this fall. Mike is also working on a book of short stories and rambles.

When asked of the trend of using home studios, he had this to say, “It is a lot easier. The big studios are going to be a thing of the past. You will still need good equipment, mics, and talent and the mix is critical. If the studio can get good, clean tones, then whoever mixes it can put on the bells and whistles”. Mike says, “The dirty bird is investing in microphones and is trying to build an arsenal of guitars and amps for those bands that can’t afford it on their own”. Mike feels that this is one area that he would like to see expanded.

Most bands contact the studio for recording time. Mike jokes, “The fellas say with me that most people get groupies, and I get demos”. He listens to songs and if he thinks he can stand sitting in there with them for a week or so, he takes on the project. Even if he is not crazy about all songs, it still gives him the chance to play with different tones and at the end of the day, he adds, “hopefully their songs are the best that they can sound”. When asked if he could give any advice to the new artists, he responded, “Do your own thing, write from your gut about your life. Trends come and go, but good tunes last a lifetime”.

Watching Mike recently, I was caught up in the fact that he pays so much homage to other rockers like Neil Young, Tom Petty, The Stones, Dylan, and Van Morrison. He told the crowd, he gets tired of hearing his songs so he sings songs of other musicians. Watching and hearing Mike do a Dylan song is truly something worth seeing. Whether it’s a show with his electric guitar whaling through “Wild Child” with the MMB, or a solo acoustic of an old classic, the listener comes away with a sense that Mike’s music will also last a lifetime.

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