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Fairmont’s Got the Blues with Dennis McClung

By Staff | May 7, 2008

Musician Dennis McClung is proud to live in the same town as Chuck Berry’s original pianist, the late Johnnie Johnson: Fairmont. McClung has won many awards, including being inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame and being selected as Blues Ambassador for West Virginia. When he recorded his first CD in 1998, BluesWax called it, “tasty blues, served up hot and intense.” He’s been at it ever since.

With his latest CD, “Live! Out of the Ordinary,” he purposely recorded it low-tech, with only two microphones hung above the crowd. So don’t look for it to be one of those super-sanitized recordings — he revels in its roughness. For more info, check out www.dennismcclung.com.

Graffiti: What are your latest projects?

Dennis McClung: My current projects include finishing the home recording studio we’ve been working on. Midsummer is the target for completion. Once the studio is complete and functional, we will begin recording new material. We have written enough music for about three or four separate CD projects and we hope to have at least one brand new blues CD out by Fall 2008. Interestingly enough, not all of the new music we’ve written will be classified as blues. So, at least one of these new CD recording projects will be a surprise for our fans and listeners.

In February, we shot a video for a car dealership in the southern part of West Virginia. It should be airing on TV/cable in the southern part of West Virginia and surrounding states, I’ve been told. I’m waiting for the production company to give me air time dates.

This year, we’re scheduled to open up for Shemekia Copeland and Sonny Landreth at FestivALL in Charleston, on June 27. Incidentally, I have also been contacted by a group of folks who are talking about sponsoring a Blues Festival in Morgantown. I can’t say anymore about that right now. We’ll see what happens.

Graffiti: What instruments do you play?

Dennis McClung: The guitar is my passion. I have a small collection of them. I also play and love the piano. I love to bang around on the drums and percussion too but I try to save that for when no one else is around. My first real guitar, the one that I actually learned to play the blues on, was one my parents had bought/traded from a friend of theirs. Their friend had a bad back, so holding this particular guitar while sitting down caused his back to hurt. Unfortunately, he cut a couple of pieces off of the guitar to make it more comfortable to hold while he was playing it. This was the condition it was in when I started playing it in the early 1970s. As time went by, I discovered the guitar was a Fender Stratocaster. In fact, it was an original 1959 Fender Stratocaster. Of course, at that time Fender Stratocaster guitars were not so highly valued as they are today. Regrettably, I gave the guitar to a friend of mine. Needless to say, he won’t part with it. He keeps it under his bed and doesn’t let anyone play it.

Graffiti: Do you come from a musical family?

Dennis McClung: Yes. There was always music in my mother’s house when I was growing up. She played piano, guitar and mandolin. A couple of uncles also played instruments and so did my grandfather.

Graffiti: How did you end up living in West Virginia?

Dennis McClung: I was born in Baltimore, Md. When I was 11 my Grandmother became ill and we moved to West Virginia to be with her, been here ever since. I really do love West Virginia, it’s a great place.

Graffiti: What venues in West Virginia do you play?

Dennis McClung: Heritage Blues Festival, Wheeling; Colors of Fall Blues Festival at Snowshoe; Waterfront Wednesdays, Wheeling; Red, White and Blues Festival, Marietta, Ohio; Mountainfest, Morgantown; Rhythm & Brews, Morgantown; West Virginia Black Heritage Festival, Clarksburg; Snowshoe Mountain Resort, Snowshoe; WV Brewing Co., Morgantown; Winston’s Bar and Grill, Fairmont; Blue Angel Cafe, Parkersburg; Little Moe’s, Philippi; Stratford Springs, Wheeling; The Ordinary, Clarksburg; 212 Pub, Clarksburg; Coolfont Resort, Berkeley Springs; Chief Logan Lodge Hotel and Conference Center, Logan; National Road Riders and Main Street Rib Fest, Cambridge, Ohio; Main Street Station, Bridgeport; Stonewall Resort, Roanoke; Harper McNeely Auditorium, Elkins; Oliver’s Upstairs, Marietta, Ohio; Headliners, Bridgeport; Pickin’ in the Park, Wheeling; Gibby’s, Morgantown; Christopher’s Banquet Center, Fairmont; Westchester Village, Fairmont; Annual Shinnston Concert in the Park, Shinnston; Apple Butter Festival, Salem; Forest Festival, Elkins; Strawberry Festival, Buchannon; Purple Fiddle, Thomas; and FestivALL, Charleston.

Graffiti: What CDs are you listening to these days?

Dennis McClung: I’m very impressed with Clapton’s Crossroads Festival 2007 DVD. There were many great performances at that show and Bill Murray is killer on the guitar. Also, I’d like to mention James Taylor’s “Pull Over” concert DVD. Man, that’s one of the finest performances I have ever seen. As far as naming CDs that I’m actually listening to right now, here’s a couple: Ray Charles, “Genius Loves Company,” Chris Cain, “Live At The Rep,” Gregg Allman, “Searching for Simplicity,” B.B. King, “Blues On The Bayou,” Albert King, “LoveJoy,” Belushi Aykroyd, “Have Love Will Travel.” I must say that I still put on the Beatles “Abbey Road” just so I can set back, listen and enjoy some great song writing.

Graffiti: You are active with the West Virginia Blues Society … what is your role with that?

Dennis McClung: I am doing a fundraiser for them called “Blues Night Out” in celebration of Muddy Waters birthday this year. If that works out and I think it will, we probably will do more fund raiser events for the WVBS. I like to help out any organization that’s trying to promote blues music. That is, as long as the organization is really promoting blues music and not trying to control blues music. In my opinion, blues music should be inclusive, not exclusive.

Graffiti: There’s always talk about “this one should, or shouldn’t” play the blues. Did you come from a tough background?

Dennis McClung: I can only tell you what I know from my own experience. I would say that the blues is born out of adversity, and which one of us hasn’t had some of that? Blues music is therapeutic! It gets into your soul. So, by singing, playing and listening to blues music, you are in fact turning something bad into some thing good. Yes, I do come from a tough background. However, I don’t think any human being is a stranger to the blues. It’s just that some folks don’t know it or just won’t admit it.


Contact Tamar at tflieshman@graffitiwv.com