by Michael Buffalo Smith
Delaney Bramlett was born on July 1, 1939, in Pontotoc County, Mississippi. His mother taught him the guitar, and he moved out to Los Angeles in 1959 where he became a session musician, later joining Shindogs, the house band for the ABC-TV series Shindig! (1964-66), which also featured guitarist/keyboardist Leon Russell.
Bonnie Lynn O'Farrell of Alton, Illinois, an accomplished singer who had performed with blues guitarist Albert King at age 14 and in the Ike & Tina Turner Revue at 15, moved to Los Angeles in 1967, and met and married Delaney later that year.
Delaney soon formed a band of solid, transient, musicians to back he and Bonnie. The band became known as "Delaney & Bonnie and Friends" due to its regular changes of personnel. They secured a recording contract with Stax Records, and released their first album, Home, on Stax in early 1969. The album flopped, likely due to a serious lack of promotion for this white act on a decidedly black record label.
Delaney and Bonnie went on to record several more succesful albums, and on a tour opening for Blind Faith, they caught the ear of Eric Clapton, who asked to join the band.
They soon recorded a live album, On Tour with Eric Clapton (Atco; recorded in the UK December 7, 1969, released March 1970). This album would be the most successful of Delaney and Bonnie's career, reaching #29 on the Billboard album charts. Clapton also recruited Delaney and Bonnie and their band to back him on his debut solo album, recorded in late 1969/early 1970 and produced by Delaney.
By 1971, Delaney and Bonnie's relationship began to show signs of strain. Their next album was rejected by Atco, who decided to sell Delaney and Bonnie's recording contract - including the new album's master tapes - to CBS as a result. Columbia/CBS released this album, as D&B Together in March 1972. It would be their last album of new material, and the couple divorced in 1973.
Delaney continued onward as a solo act. His most recent appearances on record include the solo album Sweet Inspiration (2003) and Jerry Lee Lewis's Last Man Standing (2006). In 2008 he released an all-blues outting called A New Kind of Blues.
SWAMPLAND spoke with Delaney from his Los Angeles home
I really love your latest album A New Kind of Blues. Give me your thoughts on the album and the people that played on it.
Other than the old masters, I hadn’t heard any old style blues lately. And I had never had a chance to do a blues album before. Blues or country or anything like that. So I thought it was about time. I just started writing some blues songs and that’s how it came about. I had no idea how I was going to get it put out because most record companies have pretty much folded. Some subsidiaries and indies are still hanging on. So I started a corporation and did it my way, started my own way. It’s run by me and my wife Susan. Of course she does all the hard work and I just write the songs and do the music. (Laughs) She does all the typing and stuff with computers. I can turn mine on, that’s just about it.
Who all played on the album? I know our mutual friend Greg Martin played some on it.
He sure did. John Molo played drums, and Chad Watson on bass, John Thomas on keyboards, and David Scott Cohen played some keyboards, and David Morgan - I got a lot of Davids in my band (Laughs) - played some keys and sang some backgrounds with the girls. When we overdubbed the backgrounds it was me and David and then all the girls, so it was a lot of fun. (Laughs)
No doubt. And there are a lot of great songs on the album. Do you have any personal favorites?
“What Do You Do About the Blues” is a favorite. And “Cold & Hard Times,” where I play a solo I thought was kind of nice. Sounds like I was copying a little bit of Duane Allman on there. Everybody asks me what is my favorite song, the answer is it’s the one I’m writing right now. (Laughing)
I really love “Moanin’ Blues.”
Oh yeah, me too.
And the gospel tune, “I’m Gonna Be Ready.”
My mother told me to always put a gospel song on every album. She taught me to play and sing from the time I was a little bitty boy. And there was a black guy that lived with us named R.C. Weatherall, and he taught me about the blues stuff. But I would play in church every Sunday, and Mamo was a big Christian woman, she was very steadfast on it. I just lost her, by the way, about three weeks ago. That was hard on me. But she taught me one time to put a gospel song on every album, and I did every time except once. And I guess I could carry all the records that that one sold in one hand. (Laughs) It didn’t have a gospel song on it. She said “I told you.” It was one of the best albums, on Stax.
Tell me a little bit more about your Mamo, and hoe she influenced you.
Her and her sister and their first cousin sang. They had the most beautiful harmony I ever heard. And her and her sister both play guitar. They were with The Chuckwagon Gang for a while and they sang on their own, but I don’t believe they ever put out a record. Of course she sang on a lot of mine. On that acoustic album we did, Motel Shot, she was all over that one. My aunt got sick, and Mom was feeling pretty good and I wanted her to see her sister before she passed away, so I took her down to see her sister and their first cousin came by. I took a camera down and filmed them all singing one more time. Of course it wasn’t what it used to be but it still had that beauty to it. So I got that captured. I wouldn’t take anything for that.
Speaking of family, didn’t your daughter Bekka sing on the new album?
Yeah, she’s all over it. And I’ll say this in front of anybody, she’s the best singer on the planet. She’s amazing. All of my girls wanted to be singers, and they would say ‘Daddy be hard on us, because we want to be good,’ and I’d say I’ll be hard on you, but if you don’t want to do this just let me know and you can run off and play anytime you want to. I didn’t want to be one of those stage mother type things. So I taught them about being a lead singer, and about harmonies and what they meant, and how to hit them little ol’ licks that I do if they wanted to. And at some point the other girls would say, I’m tired, I want to go play. Bekka would get tears in her eyes and say “I don’t want to go play Daddy, I want to learn.” So I’d tell her okay, and to just let me know when she got tired. By the time she was four years old she could sing three part harmony or sing the 7th or the 9th or whatever you wanted. I used her on a song called “California Rain” when she was just four or five and the harmonies were just great. She had to hold her headset because she was so little it kept flopping down. (Laughs)
I was just watching a video online of Bekka at a table with some folks singing acapella and it was amazing. But of course, she got it honest from both you and Bonnie.
Yeah. That video might have been here at the house. Every Christmas we’d have singing. Sometimes Jerry McGee would be here and others and we’ sit and pick and sing. We did that on my Mom’s 91st birthday as well. Sure did. She would have been 92 on this past March 12th if she had lived. She was just two weeks away from it.
Just to close out the section on Bekka, I have always enjoyed seeing her backing up Faith Hill, but I always maintain that Bekka herself should be out front.
Well, if you’ll notice, Faith Hill is now hitting a lot of vocal licks she was taught by Bekka. They weren’t quite as up to par as Bekka’s, but I knew Bekka had been working with her. And Bekka has perfect pitch, you won’t ever see her go flat or sharp.
I love her voice. I listen to the album she did with Billy Burnette all the time. (Bekka and Billy)
I wrote a song for them one time, and ended up getting to play on it withmy daughter. And Billy is like a son to me. I was hoping that duet would last a while. I really loved they way they sounded together. I don’t know what happened. I guess they were both singing so much with other people. But I loved that album and their presentation onstage was great. And the first time they played The Ryman Auditorium they wanted me to sing a song in their show and I did. I remember when I walked out there I said I can’t believe it, I’m standing right where Hank Williams stood. It gave me chill bumps. (Laughs) So I got to play at The Ryman with my daughter. And their show was incredible. I mean, Bekka is the kind of girl who can walk into a room full of strangers and light it up. In thirty minutes she’ll know every one of them. She’s just got that personality. And Billy has that same personality. I never really found out what happened with that duet.
I know you have had some health problems. Tell me about the esophagus incident a few years back.
That was just before I started recording the album that is out now. And I didn’t even know what an esophagus was. But I wanted to get me a tan, you know. I looked like Mary White, I had a studio tan. (Laughs) So I said well, all that grass out there needs cutting. And I have a big place. I couldn’t get the tractor to work, so I just used the push mower, and it was 115 degrees. And for some reason there wasn’t anybody here but me. And I started seeing fuzzy things and felt like I might pass out. I was sitting here on the porch steps and a taxi cab drove up and a young man got out. He was a young man I had been producing named David Rosston. I said David, what are you doing here? And he said “I don’t know. Something told me to get on a plane and come see you.” He said I looked really hot, and I said yeah, I think I got myself a little too hot. And I asked him if he’d do me a favor and go into the house and get me some ice water.
He brought it to me and I just downed that water, boom! When it hit my esophagus, I started throwing up blood and clots of blood. I lost seven and a half pints of blood before I got to the hospital. I was lucky, he said, are there keys in that car? And I said yes. So he drove me to the hospital. He drove 100 miles an hour. I never passed out, and they said if I had it would have been the end of it. His car looked like somebody had committed a murder in it. The doctors all got together and decided it was my esophagus. So they immediately ran two tubes down my throat and hey put my esophagus back together. It took four hours, and they couldn’t put me to sleep. I couldn’t breathe. I thought for sure I was going to die from not breathing.
Finally the doctor told me they had me back together, but they were going to have to go in and do a clean up because of splattering I had blood all over the inside on my heart and liver. When I finally got back home, I looked good. I had lost all my baby fat and everything. (Laughs) I had two tubes hanging out of me and had gotten blood on my t-shirt. One of my daughters, Suzanne came by and saw me and screamed. She went into the kitchen and lit up all four eyes on the stove and started cooking. She said Daddy I have got to put some weight back on you! I said honey we can’t do it all in one day. The next day I told somebody to bring me a guitar and I had my little cassette recorder I still write on. I wrote down everything I wanted to write and I started recording. (sings) “Come on and lay me down on a big ol’ lumpy bed.
Put your hands all over me and let me lay down my head.” And that was the old “Moanin’ Blues.” I wrote that one, and then Jerry McGee came over. I asked him to set up the recording studio for two guitars. I told him I was still weak, and I was going to do one take, that’s all I could do. I had two people help me in there so I didn’t stumble or something. I sat down and we took one, and that’s what’s on the record. They asked me if I was going to make it through the song and I said, “of course I am.” Then I started writing all of those other songs, “What Do You Do About The Blues,” “A New Kind of Blues.” So we just went in the studio and did the album, nd now I feel fantastic.
So my word of warning to anyone reading this is, don’t get yourself too hot and then drink ice water, because that’s what they say did it. Like I say, I didn’t even know what an esophagus was.
You thought it was some kind of effects pedal. (Laughing)
(Laughing) Yeah! Where is it at, my feet?
One of the first times I ever saw you was in the 1971 film Vanishing Point. Tell me a little about that experience and how you ended up in that movie.
Well, we were doing the Festival Express train tour up in Canada. We went all the way across Canada, and on July 1 it was my birthday and they had told the crowd about it, but I had forgotten it was my birthday. So when i walked out onstage there were 40,000 people singing “Happy Birthday.” I asked someone, do we wait until this song’s over before we start, and they said “That’s for you, dummy.” I said, oh. (Laughs) And then bombs started going off all over the city- boom! Boom! I said come on, that can’t be for me. They said, “No, that’s because it is Canada’s Independence Day.” Ours is July 4th and theirs is the 1st. But that was really something.
Then I had a few days off, and my manager got a call asking if we could fly down to Nevada, that they had a part in this movie for me. They said we were going to be performing in the movie, so I asked him what song. He said I could just pick one, or write one. So on the plane on the way down there I wrote “Wade in the River of Jordan” on the way down. So we flew down to Burbank in the Lear jet, and then we had to get in the little puddle hopper over the mountains to the desert in Nevada. Flying in that little puddle hopper plane you could see the oil shooting out, it was a little scary. Leon (Russell) had gone to do something else and David Gates was there so I asked him if he’d do it.
David Gates that had the band Bread?
Yeah. Uh huh. My Mom was in it. She was holding Bekka, who was just a baby. And Rita Coolidge and Patrice Holloway. After that we got back on that little puddle hopper, and I was afraid we were going to hit the tree tops. That thing was sputtering and carrying on.
Would have scared me to death.
It did me! And I had my kids with me too. Then I got the news that we were booked on The Smothers Brothers Hour in about three hours. I said well, I am supposed to get back to Canada. They told me not to worry, they’d get us back to Canada. So after we did The Smothers Brothers, we got back on that Lear Commander, and I asked that pilot just how fast we were going. He said well, I ain’t supposed to tell you, but we are shittin’ it and gettin’ it. (Laughs) I said are we breaking the sound barrier? He said, we did that a long time ago. Then he said, do you want to fly it? I said yeah. So I sat down in the co-pilot chair and let me fly for a second. So we got to do the movie and the guy liked the song. It was a lot of fun.
Speaking of your songwriting, I heard a bootleg of The Black Crowes from an Australian gig a week or two ago and they sang “Poor Ol’ Elijah.”
Somebody told me that Chris Robinson liked our songs.
Yeah, and Gram’s as well. Among other things.
I heard the other day that Gram (Parsons) recorded “Never Ending Song of Love” before he passed away and it was in the can for years and that it had just been released. I need to get a copy of that and hear it. Gram was a great friend. Every time I was about to tour, he’d call me up and tell me to have a good trip. I always asked him, how do you know when I am going to leave? And he’d laugh and say, “I’m not gonna tell you.” And he never did.
He’d say, “I’ll be hanging out with Mamo. Gram was a happy fellow, but he was also a very sad man. His Dad and Mom both got killed in a car wreck when he was small, and they left him millions of dollars, but he never would touch it. He never did. He said no, I am going to be a musician and write songs. He said if i start spending their money, then I won’t know what it’s like to do it on my own. So he did everything on his own. But he had some real kind of sadness about him and my Mom picked up on it. He would come over every morning while I was on tour and sit and have coffee with her. He didn’t miss a day. And he told me “She saved my life.” I asked her when she was in the hospital, “Do you know how many lives you’ve touched or saved?” She said no. But Gram called her Mama, because he never had one. He was a real friends. You’ve got friends and then you’ve got friends, and Gram was a real friend.
We were about the same age. We had some great times. When we did that Motel Shot album it was on a little six track recorder and they hung microphones everywhere in the house so they’d pick up whoever was playing- me and Leon Russell, Duane Allman, Eric Clapton, Stephen Stills - whoever was playing. The reason I called it Motel Shot was because we used to wind down from our shows and I’d say, let’s go back to the motel and have us a motel shot. So they’d know I had written a couple of new songs and we’d go back to the motel and jam on ‘em. So when we did the album, I said this is going to be a take one situation. There would be no take twos. So in the middle of the session, Gram walks in and he’s had him a few too many beers. He walks in while Leon was taking a solo and just says real loud, “Hey Delaney! You ought to be recording this. This is great!” I looked over at him and said (whispering) “I am!” He finally figured it out, then came over and started singing. But you can hear the door slam and him talking on the album. (Laughs)
In Part Two, Delaney reminisces about Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Duane Allman, a never before printed story about Janis Joplin’s death and much more.