The easygoing singer, songwriter and freeskier with long, brown hair and a laid-back accent was born in Manhattan and grew up in Oyster Bay, Long Island.
“It’s the same town as Billy Joel,” says the rootsy folk rocker. “But our music couldn’t be any more different.”
The son of financial consultants, McClean received formal music training at Green Vale School in Glen Head, N.Y., and Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts. Everything changed when he heard Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin on his school-bus driver’s eight-track tape player.
“I had my first rock-star moments and I told myself I’m never gonna do a job that I don’t believe in again.” –Chi McClean
“His name was Big Mike,” says McClean with a tear in his eye. “He played great music, but one day we convinced him to take us through the drive-thru at Burger King and he got fired.”
Feb. 20 | 6 p.m.
Resort at Squaw Creek | Olympic Valley
Feb. 21 | 3 p.m.
22 Bistro | Olympic Valley
Feb. 22 | 2:30 p.m.
Martis Camp | Truckee
Feb. 22, March 1 | 6 p.m.
Sunnyside Restaurant & Lodge | Tahoe City
March 2 | 3 p.m.
Sugar Bowl Ski Resort | Norden
March 8 | 6 p.m.
FiftyFifty Brewing Company | Truckee
March 9 | 2 p.m.
Village at Squaw | Olympic Valley
Meanwhile, the able youngster had learned to played “Hey Joe,” “Purple Haze,” “Stairway to Heaven” and other classics on a black and white Stratocaster. His middle-school garage band, Feedback, was paid in Chinese food for its first gig at Golden Wok.
Following graduation from Colgate University, where he once opened up for Coolio at the spring fling with college group Flat Soul aka The Chi Tones, McClean dreamt of skiing in Bariloche, Argentina, before blowing out his knee on the professional freeskiing circuit.
“I relocated to San Francisco, cut my hair, got a good job and worked in the financial sector,” he says. “I felt lost.”
When his stake at the next big thing in music startups (Liquid Audio) tanked, McClean was already playing more and more gigs in the San Francisco Marina. He’d go surfing at Pacifica Beach in the afternoon before putting on the popular Chi Time show in the city at night.
“I had my first rock-star moments and I told myself I’m never gonna do a job that I don’t believe in again,” he says.
McClean’s 2009 debut record “Something Out There” was released to a sold-out crowd at S.F.’s Café du Nord. A one-off performance on CBS’s “The Early Show” led to several years of songwriting and performing in Nashville where his original songs appeared on television shows such as “Hart of Dixie.”
“The whole process not knowing anybody in the music business, it is this whole journey of discovery,” he says. “If you’re [in Nashville] and you’re a halfway decent guy, a good musician and a fun hang, you can get along in this town. But in some ways, it’s this hollow, soulless place.”
On tiring of unproductive writer’s rounds and low-paying gigs, McClean moved back to California to ski and play his Southern-tinged folk rock on the resort circuit nearly 200 days a year.
“I love the lifestyle up here,” he says. “While it might not be the best place for my music career, I can make a living, ski and be just a few hours away from world-class surf.”
After riding all day on the mountains or ocean, McClean heads to any number of local watering holes to croon and strum for the après-ski crowds.
“It’s a fun continuation of an already fun day,” he says. “The music is just the icing on the cake.”
In the springtime, he mellows down to Sonoma County where he makes a decent living performing at local wineries.
“People say I’m living the dream, but I do everything on my own,” says the musician based out of his 2014 Dodge Sprinter Van. “I’ve worked an office gig for a long time. This is what I consider my day job. I show up, I load in and I make people happy.”
During the ever-brighter days of midwinter, McClean is dreaming up bigger things, writing more than ever and working on a fourth album with engineer Richie Biggs, who is known for his work with neo-folk group The Civil Wars.
“All the co-writers in Nashville, they always say to write what you know,” he says. “What I know about is spending a lot of time alone on the road, failed relationships, things that haven’t gone as planned. It’s just real life stuff. If you’re on the road and music is your mistress, other things fall to the wayside. It’s not necessarily negative or positive, but that’s how it is. I think if I ever had a chance to do something with my music, this [album] is going to be the one.” | chimcclean.com