by Michael Buffalo Smith
Bonnie Bramlett is the true Queen of Southern Rock. A true soul singer if ever there was one, Bonnie has performed and recorded with the best of the best, not the least of which was her former husband and singing partner Delaney Bramlett. Along with Duane Allman, Gram Parsons, George Harrison, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Little Feat, The Allman Brothers Band, Dave Mason, Charlie Daniels, Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker - and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. She has recorded a stack of truly great albums with Delaney as well as solo, and has lent her voice to hundreds of albums, including one by your’s truly.
This year Bonnie has released what may be her best album ever. Now I realize that’s a tall order, but just have a listen and then we’ll talk. The CD is called Beautiful, and it is.
We caught up with Bonnie to talk about her new Rockin’ Camel release, working with Johnny Sandlin again and acting with Kevin Costner.
You guys couldn’t have picked a better title for your new album than Beautiful. I mean, it is just that and you are too.
Oh, thank you honey. That means so much to me. I really got to embrace the songwriters on this one, Buff. There are none of my songs on there. They are all just incredible songwriters.
How was it working with Johnny Sandlin again?
Well, I worked with him through the years on other people’s stuff, like Walter, Jr. and stuff. Of course we were wanting to do a project, but it just didn’t come up. Then it came into the universe, and it all just fell together. And Johnny and I work absolutely great together. I mean, I believe in him as a producer like I believe in God. He can do anything. (Laughs) I mean, those horn lines prove it don’t they?
Who picked the musicians that played on the record?
Well, Johnny did. We got together and he said, wouldn’t it be good if we could get David Hood and Spooner Oldham and all those, and I said “Yeah, get all the boys!” And they all just flocked it. I mean they came a runnin’ honey. They were ready to play. And we just whipped that CD out, truthfully. I was in the session three times, two to cut tracks and one to do master vocals. And then he overdubbed the background vocals with Bekka and with Scott Boyer, and then he did the horns, and the slide guitar and all. You know, he’s a producer and I’m a singer. I let him do his job and he lets me do mine and we do real good together that way. (Laughs) You know what I mean?
For sure. He’s the best. How did you choose which songs to cut?
Well, for instance, “Some of My Best Friends” - that song I’ve been trying to cut for ten years. When I first came to Nashville, I was in a meeting with the songwriter Gary Cotton, and I said play me your baby. Play me the one nearest to your heart that probably won’t ever get cut. So he played me “Some of My Best Friends,” and I went to the ground. I said, I want to cut this so bad. And nobody would touch it with a ten foot pole. So when me and Johnny got together, I said hey John, do you want to take a risk? He said, well I will if you will. So we decided to do it, and Johnny suggested “For What it’s Worth.” So we had those two. And then “Beautiful” was just in a stack. I didn’t know the writer before, but Johnny submitted a file with his songs and “Beautiful” was on it, and I went, oh God, I can eat this one alive! (Laughing) This is like raw meat to me. That and “It’s Gonna Rain All Night.” I was in Heaven.”
When I first heard “Some of My Best Friends” I thought you had written it.
Well I must be doing my job, because if I can make you think I wrote it then it must be coming from my gut and soul. That’s great.
It sounds like your philosophy.
It is! When I first heard it my heart embraced it. I thought, I couldn’t have said that better myself. I feel that from the marrow of my bones. When I sang it at SXSW in Austin, it just came out Buffalo, I swear it, I sang “Some of my best friends are gone, I’m thinkin’ about Stevie Ray Vaughan.” I brought the house down. I swear to God it was not planned. It was totally channeled.
Do you have any personal favorites on the album?
Well, I loved “Witness for Love” because I got to sing with Randall Bramblett, and doesn’t he have a sexy voice? It’s hot. And of course I like “My Strongest Weakness,” my kid and Gary Nicholson wrote that. And I like “Shake Something Loose,” that’s another Randall Bramblett song. Those are the up tempo songs. But really I’m going with “I Do Believe,” that one makes me cry. And “Some of My Best Friends.” And I love “Bless ‘Em All, Y’all.” But I’m glad I ended with the Dan Penn song “He’ll Take Care of You,” because it’s a spiritual. It’s a different kind of spiritual. My spirituality comes from a Christian basis because that’s what I was taught, but I believe in many different spiritual beliefs. So my expression is a little different than the average. (Laughs)
It don’t matter which road you take as long as you arrive at the right place.
That’s right! Bless ‘em all, y’all.
I love your rendition of the Stephen Stills song. ("For What It's Worth") Do you feel it’s a good time to revive that one? I sure do.
It’s perfect. Look what’s going on it the world. Stop children, what’s that sound? It’s the same thing as in the sixties, except our young ones are not as willing to step up like we were. Of course we had better drugs than they do. Their drugs are killing them right away. Before they can do anything. I’m sorry. That sound’s awful but it’s true.
I was looking at your resume online. You’ve sang on so many great albums from Joe Cocker, to Eric Clapton, Little Feat - I have to admit it was a rush to see my name in the credits.
(Laughing Loudly) Oh, yeah! I love it. I love what we did. That was great fun, and the duet was great. (“I Don’t Want to Say Goodbye,” Southern Lights, Michael Buffalo Smith)
Well thank you. It was sure an honor for me. You sure sang on a ton of records.
I always say I’m like cow shit in Texas, you can dang near find me anywhere.
How did you feel about working with your daughter Bekka again on this album?
Oh honey, I just love working with her. She’s so good. It’s not just because she’s my kid. She's just amazing. But I didn’t give birth to no princess honey, I had another queen.
I saw several albums on there I didn’t know you sang on, like John Lennon’s Some Time in New York City.
We were on “War is Over if You Want it” with John and Yoko.
And one album I loved back in the ‘80’s was Hank Williams, Jr’s Born to Boogie.
Oh yeah! Let me tell you something cool. I sang “Honky Tonk Women” with Hank on that album, and later on Bekka sang the same song with Travis Tritt. How cool is that? They should be back to back somewhere.
And you sang on a Public Image Limited album with Johnny (Rotten) Lydon?
I just went crazy on that one. It was fun. And I just recorded on the new John Oates (Hall and Oates) album with Bekka. It’s coming out and it’s going to be great. And I really enjoyed working with Shooter Jennings on his album.
I haven’t had a chance to talk to you much since The Guardian. How was that, working with Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher?
I love the acting. I love the whole process. The dialog I had, I meant it from the bottom of my heart. I was the perfect vehicle for that character. And I learned so much from Costner. He was always showing me things like how to not let somebody get in my light. But I don’t go out reading for parts. People call me up and say 'will you do it.' Because I’m not good with rejection. (Laughs) I can’t go audition. That’s all ego I know, but what can I say?
We just thought that the monologue you did at the bar with Kevin was just so like you, it was almost like you wrote it.
Well I meant it. I didn’t go upstairs and lie down with that man, but I am proud of every wrinkle in my face. I laid under Hawaiian suns, Palm Beach - I mean, I may have had a rough life, but it was in a limo. (Laughing) So don’t cry for me, Argentina.
Do you have any other movie projects lined up?
Well you know, the director Andrew Davis has a project that is in his heart and he is trying to make it manifest, and you know you have to look for money and all that. That’s the only one I’m thinking of on the horizon. I don’t go out and hustle the bushes you know, but a hit record wouldn’t hurt.
I think you have one, for sure. What’s the most important thing in life?
Education. I mean, it’s important to be a nice person, and da da da - but that’s all taken for granted, do the right thing and blah blah blah. But if you’re going to be in any kind of business, just know how to count your own money, okay? And keep track of where it is. You can’t do that without an education. Especially if you’ve never had any money. People who know how to keep their money will take your money. They know you don’t know how to handle it. Just be able to handle your own success. That’s brilliant. I just made that up. (Laughs)