The “Dune Doctor,” Darrell Clanton, is back in Tampa Bay, living in Largo and playing in the tiki bars on the beaches he loves.
LARGO – After touring the U.S. as a star with a “Top 10” recording and sharing the stage with the biggest names in recorded music, the “Dune Doctor” is now happy just making music in area tiki bars.
The self-proclaimed one-hit wonder said he escaped the bottomless pit that has swallowed other artists who find sudden fame followed by rejection and poverty.
Darrell Clanton grew up in South Pasadena, the son of an area musician. After graduating from Boca Ciega High School, Clanton toured the bay area with several bands, never really believing that one day he might share the stage with Hank Williams Jr.
Clanton earned the name “The Dune Doctor” while in high school because of his affinity for the nearby Gulf of Mexico beaches. But, he was consumed just as much by music.
Clanton liked to write songs.
“I’m always motivated by the lyrics,” Clanton said in an recent interview. “A lyric always comes first. I’ve always admired poets.”
“I was also looking forward to a career as a guitarist,” he said. “In 1975 our band made its first album, and the producer suggested that, rather than re-arranging other band’s hits, we record some original songs.”
The producer, after seeing the reams of songs Clanton had already written, said that he had talent but that he’d have to go to Nashville to be a success.
“When I was 21, I decided to move to Nashville to take his advice,” Clanton said.
He then worked for three different record companies. He said he went to work every day and for about eight years sat at a desk producing songs. He started with Window Music, then Cumberland and wound up his salaried writing career with Global Music, a company created by the noted performer “Sting” who wanted to break into the “crossover” trend of the 1980s, Clanton said.
Well-known performers such as Bobby Vinton and BJ Thomas have recorded Songs written by Clanton. Although none were written as gospel songs, Clanton said, gospel artists recorded many of them.
The best mistake
Perhaps the most exciting event for Clanton, he said, was the recent induction of country artist Charlie Louvin into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Louvin’s solo album “Stars of the Grand Ole Opry” included a song written by Clanton “The Best Mistake I Ever Made.”
“This is a life-long dream of mine, come true,” Clanton said. “I can’t believe it has happened to me. I am just a guy from Treasure Island. I never dreamed a song of mine would ever go this far.”
Singers Stonewall Jackson, Jean Shepard, Ray Pillow and The Willburn Brothers have also recorded his songs.
Ironically, Clanton’s biggest break came when Justin Tubbs, son of the Hall of Fame country artist Ernest Tubbs, hired Clanton to sing some of the younger Tubb’s music for a demo tape. He said this tape was used to determine which of Tubbs’ songs should be used in recordings by the star. After hearing the demo, Tubbs told Clanton he should strike out on his own, as a singer.
A well-known record producer also was impressed by Clanton’s vocals. The Warner Brothers executive arranged for Clanton to produce a record for the company.
One of the songs was a classic hit written by Tubbs that topped the country charts in the 1960s and, again in the 1970s “Lonesome 7-7203.”
Singer hits it big time
“It was like a miracle,” Clanton said. “It kind of exploded in our face. It broke the Top 20 in four or five weeks and Warner Brothers signed me to a full deal, including a road tour with Hank Williams Jr.”
Three times Clanton walked onto the stage at the Grand Ole Opry.
“This changed my life,” he said, noting how he suddenly found a seemingly endless supply of money and fame. “I went from being moderately well off to making some real money. I was only 27 years old.”
In 1984, Clanton was nominated as the best new artist by the Academy of Country Music in Los Angeles, and he signed with famed personal manager Jack McFadden to guide his new career.
“Then it hit. I was a classic “one-hit wonder,” he said. “We tried over and over to re-create the magic of that first album in the studio, and we just never got another fire to light.
Industry decline sends him home
“When I left for Nashville I promised myself that one day I would return,” he said. “The motivator came about two years ago after music piracy via the Internet started bankrupting music companies and leaving artists and writers with bounced paychecks.
Clanton’s dream, he said, was a simple life on the beaches, writing songs in the sand and performing for the beachfront clubs and tiki bars. After moving to Largo, Clanton met a popular area singer, Chuck Cobb, whose partner had just left to pursue his career in Arizona.
“He asked me to fill in and we just clicked,” Clanton said. “Now, Chuck and I are booked solid through the rest of the year and we’re appearing every other week at The Shack, The Thunderbird Resort and other local clubs.
“Chuck’s a little older than me and he’s a really great talent in the ’60s music. He also does real good music from Sinatra and Bobby Darren. We do current stuff, too, just no hip-hop or rap.”
Clanton and Cobb are scheduled to appear through April at Philthy Phil’s Beach Bar and at Ferg’s Beach Shack, both in St. Pete Beach.