The Delaney Bramlett Interviews: Part Two
by Michael Buffalo Smith
Tell me about the time Jimi Hendrix played in your band.
I had Jerry McGee for a guitar player, and we were getting ready to do a tour. The first stop was the Hollywood Palladium. Jerry said “Man, I just forgot. I signed a contract to do a tour with (Kris) Kristofferson. That was when Kris was getting popular as a writer and was getting into acting. So I said, what am I going to do? Because I always hated trying to play rhythm and lead at the same time, you know? It cuts down on my fun with the audience and the band. I love to play rhythm and do some twin guitar stuff like me and Duane did and all that stuff. So I was sitting in the dressing room and it was kind of dark, and I saw this shadow of a man with a guitar slung over his shoulder, and I said “Jimi? Is that you?” He said “Yeah. I heard you don’t have a guitar player.” I said “I sure ain’t.”
And he said, “Well I’m here to be it.” I said “Ain’t you on tour?” And he said, “No, I’m gonna work with you until you find a guitar player. I know all your stuff. He said, now, when you do twin stuff like you and Duane do, I know both parts. Do you want me to play the lead or the harmony?” I said “You play the lead and I’ll take the harmony, so I’ll have time at the end of the lead to crank up and get ready to start singing again. I said “You take a bunch of solos too, so I’ll have time to play around and have some fun. The first night at the Palladium, you could look at peoples faces and they were like, “Is that...no, that can’t be him.” So after a while I said “Hey, sing one of your songs.” So he played an old blues song. And he could play a guitar a little bit, you know (Laughing)...but he just played it straight. At the end of the show I introduced him and the crowd went crazy. He played the next show with me too. It was great fun, and at the end of the set we did a duet on “Yonder Wall.”
What stories are you willing to share about Janis Joplin?
With Janis it was what you see is what you get. She didn’t believe much in her singing. That’s why she was a screamer and all that stuff. She liked to party, but not as much as people thought she did. They expected her to so she did. But one time I sat down with her and I said “Janis, I want you to sing this song. I just wrote it. Just straight, me and you and the guitar.” and she said okay. Actually she had come by the house and asked me if I’d write her a song, so I did. So she came over and I sang her the song and then I said “Now you sing it.” She said “I’m gonna take it down to the studio and cut it right now. Do you want to go down there with me?” And I said yeah.
It’s the weirdest thing. The song goes like this. (Singing) “Five o’clock in the morning. I’m the only one around. Lord it’s Five o’clock in the morning. I’m the only one around. I need a little bit of that Southern comfort. Some place to lay my body down. I don’t want it but I just can’t help myself. Sometimes if feels so hard, guess I’ll wind up in a grave yard.”
She said “That’s my song." It got to be real late. Of course in those days it didn’t matter what time it was. We didn’t have times. So about three in the morning Paul Rothschild called and said “Okay, the track’s done, do you want to come on down?” She said “Yeah, Delaney’s coming with me, but I’ve got to go by my apartment first for a little bit. But Delaney’s coming on down and I’ll see you guys down there."
She was getting real popular and people bothered her a lot at that time, so she had to let him know to let me in. So I went down there an Paul let me in and we were sitting there, and sitting there. And Paul said “Where’s she at?” I said “She said she’d just be a minute, she was going by her apartment.” And she had this one girl that kind of looked after her, like a personal assistant so she wouldn’t be the only girl out there with all those guys. So we called the assistant and told her to run by Janis’ apartment and tell her we were waiting on her and we’re little worried about her. So she went over to the apartment and found Janis dead. She’d fallen between two beds and couldn’t get up and drowned on her own vomit. There was an empty bottle of Southern Comfort there, and I think she downed it before she came to the session and just tripped. That’s what it looked like. It’s really weird that I had written that song that day. Five o’clock in the morning, that’s when she died. I need some Southern Comfort. A place just to lay my body down. I couldn’t believe that.
Yeah, and soon after that her producer Paul died. Come to think of it, I don’t believe I’ve ever told that story about Janis to the media in all these years.
Well thank you for sharing it with us. A Southern man talking to another Southern man about a really special Southern girl.
I was just watching the episodes of the old Dick Cavett Show where he interviewed Janis.
(Laughs) Oh, she was something. I liked Cavett too. I did his show several times.
What can you tell me about George Harrison?
George was probably one of the sweetest men I ever met.
Seems like he would be.
Oh, he was pure. People ask me questions and they want me to say something nasty about George, but I couldn’t even if I made it up. George was constantly seeking the Lord. He was a very, very religious man. He could never find a place where he was happy though, but he was always seeking God. And that’s why he asked me at Albert Hall after a concert if I’d teach him to play slide the old Mississippi blues way. I said “George, you ain’t a bad guitar player. You’ve done pretty good with that little ol’ group you just left.” (Both laughing) I said, “You don’t stink as a guitar player.” He said no but I don’t know how to play that stuff you play." He said “I want to know and would you show me how to write a gospel song where it just praises the Lord?” And I said that I sure would. He’s heard a lot of my gospel stuff and he wanted to learn how to do that. He said “I’ve tried every kind of religion and I’m not happy, but if I could learn to write a song like that it just might set me on my path.” And I said “It just might do it.” So I came up with the first melody I thought of, which was (sings) “He’s my kind of guy. Do-lang, do-lang, do-lang.”
“He’s So Fine.”
Yeah. So we used the melody for a quickie lesson. And I started singing (sings) “My sweet Lord. I just want to feel you Lord.” And I said we’ll throw these backing singers in there singing “Hallelujah.” George’s eyes were getting bigger and bigger. The next thing I knew I was hearing that record out on the radio. And George called me up and told me “Your name’s not on it as a writer but it will be on the next pressing.” But I knew it wouldn’t be because they’d have to change the whole cover and everything. But he didn’t mean to leave my name off and it didn’t matter anyway, I was just happy to help him out. He told me “That song got me to where I’ve been looking to go.” And I said “Well, it was worth it.”
Of course every country in the world sued him and they won. They wanted me to go to these different countries and testify as to how the song came about, and I wanted to, but I had just landed a job writing music for The Stockard Channing Show. I said I couldn’t leave town because they were shooting a whole bunch of those things. He said “I’ll see if Bonnie can, because she was there.” I said I didn’t know if that would work, but I said “She’ll enjoy a free trip. She’ll take a free trip in a minute. The first court they asked her, “Did you write any of that with George?” She said “No.” The judge called it hearsay and said he couldn’t take her testimony. If she’d done what I did, then it would have been fine. But I’ve hated it ever since that I couldn’t go over there and help George. It might not have made a difference but I think that it probably would have. But you don’t break a contract with Stockard Channing. She’s rowdy enough without that. She’ll cut your eyes out. (Laughs)
Eric Clapton, Bonnie Bramlett, Delaney Bramlett and George Harrison.
How did you first meet your friend Duane Allman?
I met Duane through Jerry Wexler. I had met him before, but we didn’t get to know each other or anything like that. I’d seen him doing sessions with Aretha and stuff. But Jerry told me, “You need to get together with Duane Allman. You two would make some classic records, the way you play guitar and the way he plays. I said yeah, but he’s got a band. Jerry said “It’s worth a try.” So I called him up and asked him what he was doing nd he said nothing. I asked him if he’d play some shows with me, and he said “Yeah! Delaney I’ve always wanted to play with you.” I said, “Well I’ve always loved your playing.” Before I knew it he was at my house. From then on, The Allman Brothers would be on tour and they’d be looking for Duane and he’d be out here on tour with me. (Laughs) He’d call me from the airport and say hey bro, can you come pick me up? I’m here.
Phil Walden, who owned their record company, sued me about seven or eight times for soliciting. Duane would always say “Nope, you can’t sue him. I’m the one who solicited him.” So nothing ever came of it. But we got to be best friends, and if you saw one of us you saw the other. And King Curtis rounded out the trio. I mean, me and Duane and Curtis, we hung together and we made some real good music. You know Duane got little strung out on drugs, and I talked to him and asked him before he got any worse if he’d go to the hospital. He said, “Do you think it would work?” He got to the hospital, and it would have been easy because he wasn’t that bad off, but he was like me and had a bad temper. He told the nurse, “I need a little something to calm me down. I’m kind of hurting.” And the nurse yelled at him, “Oh all you druggie hippie musicians come here for help and just go back out and do it all again!” It made him mad, so he just got up, put his clothes on and got on his motorcycle and took off. And that’s when he hit that peach truck and died.
He was supposed to play with me the next night. We had two shows scheduled. I did the first show, looking for Duane. Then I asked my brother who was my manager at the time if he’d herd from Duane and he said no. Well just as I was getting ready to do my second show, my brother Johnny ran out onstage and told me Duane had been killed. I was stunned. I had to do the second show with that on my mind. It liked to have killed me.
Jerry (Wexler) called me and said everybody wanted me to sing at the funeral. I said, my God Jerry, do you know how hard that’s gonna be? He said yeah, but he’s your best friend. Sure enough it was hard just like I said it was gonna be. And see, just five weeks before that me and Duane had gone to Curtis’ funeral, because he was murdered, you know. Some Puerto Ricans were fighting outside his motel door and he asked them to quiet down because someone was going to call the cops, and he didn’t want to see the cops out there. Well, he turned around and got stabbed in the back. When he said “You hurt me real bad,” the guy stabbed him in the heart. He died on the way to the hospital. Duane and I went to his funeral, and five weeks later I went to Duane’s. The trio was busted up.
That’s awful man. One quote I read some years go came from Wexler, who said he once sat and listed to you and Duane playing acoustic guitars on his porch for hours. Jerry said it was some of the very best music he had ever heard.
Yeah. (Laughs) He said, here I am a recording producer, and you guys spent a week here doing that, and I didn’t record a single note of it. He said “That was the dumbest thing I ever did in my career. Because that was the prettiest music I ever heard.” We would have had enough for ten albums. I guess it wasn’t meant to be.
I read Eric Clapton’s autobiography a few week ago, and he had a lot of great things to say about you, and credits you with teaching him to sing.
Well, Eric was timid about singing. His imagination of singing came through the guitar. I told him he needed to start singing, and he said he just couldn’t do that. I told him yes, he could. So I sat with him kind of like I did with George. I taught him the importance of using the diaphragm to achieve power and the throat for tone. I’ve done shows where I could barely talk, but I got through them using the diaphragm. I got through some shows on the skin of my teeth. When I was producing his first album, some of the songs I would sing, and then he’d copy me, and he’d work on them until he was satisfied with them. If you listen closely on the record, you can hear a ghost of my voice on some of it.
The way I got to be friends with Eric was when we opened a tour for Blind Faith. He and Steve Winwood were not getting along, and Eric nd Ginger Baker. They wouldn’t even fly on the same plane. Of course we just bussed it everywhere. (Laughs) We partied and had a good time. So one night Eric said “Can I ride the bus with y’all?” I said “Yeah!” So we’d just get in the back of the bus where it was bigger and we’d just sit and write songs. Then one night he said, “Would you mind, when y’all are playing, if I came out and jammed a little bit? I’ve kind of got your songs down.” I said “Not at all!” Later he asked me if he could join the band, and at the end of the tour he quit Blind Faith to come with me. Then later after I gave George the guitar lessons, he asked me, “You hired Eric, will you hire me too?” I said, “Yeah, I’ll hire you!” (Laughs) I’ve got all kinds of pictures of us sitting in the back of the bus. (Laughs) We drove all over Europe in that bus.
Well. I have one last question, and that is, can you tell our readers what you have on the boards for the immediate future?
Well, I am working on a new album that I am mastering in the mastering lab. I’ll tell you, if you like the current album, the blues album, then the new one is gonna knock you in the dirt. I’m in love with this blues album, but this new one, I can’t listen to it without getting chill bumps myself. There’s a lot of rock and roll on the new one. I re-recorded a song me and Eric wrote called “Bad Boy” that is on there. I think it will be out in six to eight weeks. And I am getting ready to do a whole bunch of interviews in Europe, and I want to start playing out and seeing old friends and meeting some new ones.
Well, Delaney. Thank you for your time brother.
You are very welcome Michael. Just call me anytime and we’ll talk some more.
You can count on it. Thanks again.