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Guitarist Val McCallum has his own story as part of the Jackson Browne-James Taylor tour

Headed to Fort Worth with two singers, McCallum is an accomplished musician in his own right. And he comes from a family of stars.

Val McCallum has a pedigree destined to impress almost any American baby boomer.

He’s the son of famed British actor David McCallum (who played Illya Kuryakin in the 1960s smash-hit television series, The Man from U.N.C.L.E) and the late Jill Ireland, a model and actress known for playing Mr. Spock’s love interest on another huge hit — the original Star Trek. His parents divorced when he was 4, and Val grew close to his stepfather, action movie hero Charles Bronson.

But in recent years, the younger McCallum has forged his own identity, as one of the most appealingly versatile and dynamic guitar players in all of music.

He’s provided memorable stringed solos for Sheryl Crow, Lucinda Williams, The Wallflowers, Bonnie Raitt, Harry Nilsson and Loretta Lynn, and for years has been a fixture in the band of Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Jackson Browne. On the current national tour headlined by Browne and fellow Hall of Famer James Taylor, McCallum has given concertgoers from the East Coast to the West “Something to Talk About,” to borrow the title of a song made famous by Raitt.

He’s among the virtuoso talents being showcased on the Browne-Taylor tour, as North Texans will see for themselves Oct. 19, when the caravan shows up at 14,000-seat Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, where the show sold most of its tickets two years ago, before the pandemic triggered not one but two postponements.

McCallum co-wrote one of the singles on Browne’s new album, a song called “My Cleveland Heart.” The video stars McCallum and Browne and features a laugh-out-loud cameo from millennial superstar Phoebe Bridgers, who’s 27.

McCallum’s grandfather, David McCallum Sr., served as first violinist of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. McCallum Sr. also played on the Beatles’ hit, “A Day in the Life,” which appears on the Fab Four’s 1967 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

So, the gift of excelling at a stringed instrument appears to have skipped a generation.

Born in Los Angeles, Val, 57, says he and Bronson, who died in 2003 at 81, “were very close. I was raised by Charlie.” And yet, Val remains close to his biological father, David McCallum, who, incredibly at 88, is still a regular on the CBS series, NCIS.

When Val was in his 20s, his mother developed breast cancer, inspiring her to become one of the earliest activists for women with breast cancer. Val has recorded tribute songs to Bronson (“Charlie’s Coal”) and brother Jason (“Deal with It”), who died of a drug overdose. His co-writer for that one? His mom, who died a few months later.

From left to right: Actor Charles Bronson; actress and model Jill Ireland; Jason McCallum; and Val McCallum. Bronson was the McCallum boys' stepfather, and Jill Ireland was their mother. Val McCallum (on the far right) is a guitarist in the band of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Jackson Browne. Val is the only one in the photo who's still alive.
From left to right: Actor Charles Bronson; actress and model Jill Ireland; Jason McCallum; and Val McCallum. Bronson was the McCallum boys' stepfather, and Jill Ireland was their mother. Val McCallum (on the far right) is a guitarist in the band of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Jackson Browne. Val is the only one in the photo who's still alive. (Courtesy of Val McCallum)

Perhaps it’s no coincidence then that his riffs on some of Browne’s saddest songs — “For a Dancer,” an elegy for a friend who died, “In the Shape of a Heart,” about a lover who died, and “Fountain of Sorrow,” about seeing a former lover after a breakup — are what make McCallum’s guitar solos so memorable.

McCallum has released three solo albums — At the End of the Day in 2012, Chateauguay in 2019 and Beau Bow de Lune in 2021, which he co-wrote with songwriter Bow Thayer. One of the highlights of Browne’s 2013 live concert DVD, I’ll Do Anything, is McCallum performing his solo, “Tokyo Girl,” about how and where he met his wife, Shelli, whom he married 26 years ago and with whom he shares a 14-year-old daughter named Stella.

Playing in Browne’s band off and on for 20 years has been a nice way to make a living. Heading up your own band is a bit more challenging.

“It’s hard to get a recording contract or have somebody release these records if you’re not going to get in a van and head out across the country and play in front of trash cans. I have a fantasy that at some point I will put together a group and do it.”

In the meantime, he heads up a terrific L.A. band called Jack----, whose second syllable cannot be printed. But Jack---- would bring the house down at the Kessler Theater.

Jackson Browne's band performs during a taping of "Austin City Limits," which will air on PBS in November 2021. From left to right, guitarist Greg Leisz, background vocalists Chavonne Stewart and Alethea Mills and guitarist Val McCallum, who will appear with Browne during a Fort Worth concert on Oct. 19, 2021.
Jackson Browne's band performs during a taping of "Austin City Limits," which will air on PBS in November 2021. From left to right, guitarist Greg Leisz, background vocalists Chavonne Stewart and Alethea Mills and guitarist Val McCallum, who will appear with Browne during a Fort Worth concert on Oct. 19, 2021.(Scott Newton / Austin City Limits/Austin PBS)

He’s also on the road again, with Browne and Taylor, even though keeping the caravan afloat hasn’t been easy. The entire traveling party is fully vaccinated and still gets tested “multiple times a week.” They wear masks backstage, where, for the moment, the traditional post-show meet-and-greets are suspended.

“It’s terrible in the way it’s terrible,” he says, but so far, it’s working. In the end, it’s worth it, because he gets to be part of the marquee lineup of Taylor and Browne.

“Jackson’s band is my second family. It’s a fantastic hang with these people.” And as for the headliners, “There’s something beautiful about those two guys up there. They love each other,” McCallum says. “The whole show is great.”

David McCallum Sr., left, was a famous violinist who played with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. He also played on a famous song by the Beatles. His son, David McCallum, right, starred in the 1960s TV series "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." The younger David McCallum is the father of Val McCallum, a guitarist who plays in the band of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Jackson Browne.
David McCallum Sr., left, was a famous violinist who played with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. He also played on a famous song by the Beatles. His son, David McCallum, right, starred in the 1960s TV series "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." The younger David McCallum is the father of Val McCallum, a guitarist who plays in the band of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Jackson Browne.(Courtesy of Val McCallum)

Details

James Taylor and Jackson Browne will perform at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 19 at Dickies Arena, 1911 Montgomery St. in Fort Worth. For more info and ticket prices, visit dickiesarena.com.

Michael Granberry, Arts Writer. Michael Granberry was born and grew up in Dallas. He graduated from Samuell High School in Pleasant Grove in 1970 and from Southern Methodist University in 1974. Between his junior and senior years, he interned at The Washington Post during "the Watergate summer" of 1973. He spent 19 years at the Los Angeles Times before returning to Dallas.

mgranberry@dallasnews.com @mgranberry
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