Thursday, February 7, 2019

Delaney Bramlett - Among Friends

Delaney Bramlett may not be the first name that pops into your head when you think of singer/songwriters, but he and his first wife, Bonnie, fronted one of the great bands of the 1970's. The band was called Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, and they had some fantastic friends – folks who thought D & B were so good, they just wanted to hang around among friends and play as sidemen.

The "Friends" part included such rock luminaries as Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Duane Allman, Dave Mason, Leon Russell, King Curtis, and others. How do you do that? How do you get rock royalty like Clapton, Harrison, and more to play as your backing band? You give them a dose of blue-eyed soul and stomping rock and roll, is what you do. You show them that you're a first-class showman, singer, songwriter, and guitar player.

Delaney Bramlett had a gift – he could sing, play, write, and he knew how to make the best of friends. Most of all, Delaney knew how to rock and put on a great show. It's funny to think of Eric Clapton and George Harrison content to sit back and play in a backing band, but that's exactly what happened when they met Delaney. The guy was a great bandleader and he inspired many well-known musicians to play with his group.

Delaney learned guitar young, and as a young man, moved to Los Angeles. It wasn't long before he was doing session work and playing in the house band for the popular television show Shindig! Along with major players like James Burton, Leon Russell, Glen D. Hardin, Larry Knechtel, and Glen Campbell, the young Delaney showed off his vocal and guitar chops on television and a number of recordings.

He met in 1967, Bonnie O'Farrell, a singer who had worked with Albert King and Ike and Tina Turner as one of the Ikettes. They married a week after meeting and began performing and recording as Delaney & Bonnie. The duo signed a record deal with Stax Records in Memphis, and released an album in 1969, Home, that was not commercially successful. They switched to Elektra Records later that year, recording The Original Delaney & Bonnie & Friends (Accept No Substitute). Although this album did not make them rich, it caught the attention of Beatle George Harrison, who offered them a contract with Apple Records. Because they were already under contract, this deal fell through, and later, they were released from their Elektra commitment.

Harrison liked their sound and style, and so did his friend Eric Clapton, then with Blind Faith (post-Cream.) Clapton booked them as the opening act for his own band, as well as recording with them as part of Delaney & Bonnie & Friends. Clapton helped the duo land a deal with his own U.S. label, Atco (Atlantic) and the album On Tour with Eric Clapton followed in late 1969. The band was off and running as a major force, with a spectacular assortment of sidemen like Clapton, Harrison, drummer Jim Gordon, bassist Carl Radle, and keyboardist Bobby Whitlock (all three later of Derek and the Dominos.) This album was D & B's most successful, reaching #29 on the Billboard album chart, and achieving gold record status.

Clapton said in his autobiography and quoted in Bramlett's 2008 New York Times obituary by Bruce Weber:

"For me, going on [with Blind Faith] after Delaney and Bonnie was really, really tough, because I thought they were miles better than us."

After Clapton broke up Blind Faith, he continued to appear onstage with D & B, and he asked Delaney and the band to back him on his first solo record, Eric Clapton, recorded in late 1969 and early 1970. In addition to providing guitar work, Delaney produced the album and co-wrote seven of the 11 songs, five of them with Clapton. Clapton was reportedly not happy with the sound of his own singing voice, and he credits Delaney with urging him to sing and teaching him the art of singing. 

Said Clapton:

"Delaney taught me everything I know about singing."

Delaney & Bonnie continued to tour and record, having some success in the early 1970's with the song Soul Shake (#43 on the Billboard singles chart) from the 1970 album To Bonnie From Delaney, and their biggest hit, Never Ending Song of Love (#13 on the singles chart and the #67 Billboard song of the year) from Motel Shot (1971.)

Although the duo made some great friends and enjoyed commercial success, things began to come apart in 1971. Atco refused to release their next record, Country Life, citing poor quality, and then the company sold Delaney & Bonnie's contract and the master tapes of the album to CBS/Columbia. Columbia released the album, called D & B Together, in 1972, the couple's last record of original songs. They filed for divorce the next year and did not record or collaborate again.

Over the next thirty some years, Delaney continued to record, tour, produce, and do session work. His efforts included artists as varied as Elvin Bishop, the Crickets, (as producer) Eric Clapton, Leon Russell, Dave Mason, Duane Allman, the Everly Brothers, Jerry Lee Lewis, Commander Cody, Hank Thompson, T. Graham Brown, and many more.

Delaney died on December 27, 2008 at age 69 from complications of gall bladder, surgery. His former wife wrote:

"My heart is broken. This morning my soul mate, the father of my children, and my Partner in Musical History crossed over into the Light. Delaney Bramlett has left the building. Long Live the King."

Delaney's legacy is the body of recorded work and the memories of those he influenced, including Clapton and Harrison. His effect on those two specifically was noted by writer Pat Thomas in the Motel Shot liner notes:

"Clapton and Harrison heard their music, and it turned them around."

Delaney Bramlett was a force in the music business, with his engaging blend of blue-eyed soul and stomping rock and roll. He and Bonnie were memorable performers, fronting an impressive band that could rock with the best of them. No matter what he was doing, Delaney was always among friends.

Larry Manch is an author, teacher, guitar player, freelance writer, and columnist. His books include: 'Twisted Logic: 50 Edgy Flash Fiction Stories''The Toughest Hundred Dollars & Other Rock & Roll Stories','A Sports Junkie''The Avery Appointment''Between the Fuzzy Parts', and 'Jonathan Stephens Is Just A Kid'. His books are available in paperback and e-book.
He writes about sports for Season Tickets, food and travel on Miles & Meals, and music/guitars on The Backbeat.

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