The great white soulman and musical mentor Delaney Bramlett passed away yesterday. He was 69.
This blog is not intended to mark losses or birthdays. Yet, Delaney’s moving on to the celestial bandstand compells me to suspend this intention. For one thing, I’ve wanted to mention Bramlett | Wikipedia | and something about the miliefrom which he first served notice, and, for another thing, Bramlett ties into some of the earliest roots of my musical own enthusiasms.
In 1970, I saw a TV concert broadcast on PBS. It was Leon Russell and I went out and purchased his first record on Shelter. At the time I didn’t know gospel music or southern soul from anything, and so I couldn’t peg what moved me. However, I was struck by how much Russell and his large band of fabuloius freaks were enjoying themselves. One of my friends, in learning of my enthusiasm, turned me on to Delaney and Bonnie‘s Accept No Substitute. Great record but soon enough everybody in our musical karass is all over Delaney & Bonnie’s Atco debut, On Tour featuring Eric Clapton. Of course Clapton was the hook, yet this record resonated with me in just the same way Leon Russell and …Substitute did–no surprise–and the wonderful southern style and communal ethos laid the foundation for decades of future pleasures.
In 1971, Delaney and Bonnie released Motel Shot, and its hook was the presence of Gram Parsons. Soon enough my curiosity inspired me to connect the dots between southern styles of soul and country and gospel. Now, decades later, I’m reminded that the original thread leads back to Russell and the optimistic, stirring music of Delaney and Bonnie.
In reflecting upon all this, and figuring in my later understanding of how the music business came to work in the early seventies, the crucial point is this: around 1970 the major and small labels, having snapped up almost every extant self-contained rock band, offered their platform to sidemen and ad hoc ensembles of players. It was also the era of free form radio on which various one-ofs in this mode could earn a smattering of airplay. This opportunity was soon dissolved by rock’s success and the narrowing of radio formats during the mid-seventies and beyond.
Still, there remains the musical equivalent of a literature of sincere, front-porch style music, almost all of it provoked by the sheer love of music making, as opposed to maneuvering for huge hits. As I look back on this very brief moment, I can count all of Delaney and Bonnie, the fine records the Bramlett’s helped out on, such as Booker T. and Priscilla, the underground masterpiece by L.A. Getaway, (featuring the whiskey voiced Joel Scott Hill, Chris Etheridge, and Johnny Barbata,) and the three fine outings by Jesse Ed Davis. Similarly, across the country in Woodstock, NY, the communal ethos found advocates in the person of Geoff and Maria Muldaur, Bobby Charles, The Fabulous Rhinestones, and Paul Butterfield’s Better Days. Same vibe. The music of The Band is rooted in this ethos too. And, the southern wing is represented in the example of Duane Allman’s side man appearances, and by all sorts of invarably obscure sessions.
It should come as no surprise that all these musicians root their own musical roots in the rhythm and blues, country and gospel music of the fifties. Fold in the communal aesthetic–who shows up–and put it on the front porch or living room or hotel room (Delaney and Bonnie’s glorious Motel Shot,) or in the road house, and give it the side man’s modest to-the-side, ego, and it ends up not so different than the casual atmosphere that evokes the deep good times of casual yet devoted music making.
The following clip with David Rolston, captures the ethos and aesthetic perfectly.
I don’t know what the following clip is a trailer for, but you get the affable bear-like master reminiscing on the road in Clarksdale, Mississippi.
I’ll miss you and your music Delaney! Bonnie Bramlett, long divorced from Delaney, continues her own musical journey and she remains one of the great voices on the planet.
Delaney & Bonnie & friends, with Eric Clapton
Delaney recently released A New Kind Of Blues. It’s superb as are his other records. | See DelaneyBramlett.com | The documentary The Festival Express is great stage and back stage glimpse–on tour–of the communal aesthetic.
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