Sunday, December 28, 2008

Delaney Bramlett

Singer-songwriter Delaney Bramlett, who worked with a plethora of legendary rock musicians as well as achieving fame with his wife Bonnie in the late 60's, passed away Saturday at age 69 due to complications following gall bladder surgery.

Delaney Bramlett was born July 1, 1939 in Pontotoc, Mississippi. With little to look forward to except a life of picking cotton, Bramlett enlisted in the Navy. After his enlistment was up, he settled in Los Angeles in order to develop his skills as a musician and songwriter. This eventually led to a gig as guitarist with the Shindogs, the house band on the Shindig! TV series. During this time he met up with musicians such as Leon Russell, who was also a Shindog, and J.J. Cale.

In the mid-60's Bramlett began to blossom as a songwriter. One of the songs from that time, "Superstar", which he co-wrote with Russell, would become a major hit for The Carpenters, and was also covered by Luther Vandross and Usher in later years. He also met Bonnie O'Farrell, a native of Granite City, Illinois (Peggy's hometown) who had gained some notice as the first white backing singer for Ike & Tina Turner. They married in 1967 and soon went to work putting together a rock/R&B revue that somewhat resembled the Turner's.

With help from Leon Russell, the Bramletts used their LA studio connections to assemble some top-notch talent for their group, which became known as Delaney and Bonnie and Friends. Over the next several years, the Friends' impressive roster would feature the likes of Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Duane and Gregg Allman, Rita Coolidge, and Dave Mason. Jimi Hendrix volunteered his services for a few gigs, and a number of other stars of the day would sit in for a night or two. The ever-shifting lineup of the Friends led to many exciting and unpredictable live performances.

Delaney was perhaps most valuable in encouraging and mentoring his fellow musicians. He taught George Harrison how to play slide guitar. In turn, Harrison suggested to his friend Eric Clapton that Delaney and Bonnie open for Clapton's band at the time, Blind Faith. Clapton quickly became close friends with the Bramletts, and after the breakup of Blind Faith, Clapton joined their band. Delaney encouraged a reluctant Clapton to develop his singing skills, and helped write a number of songs for his first solo LP, including the Clapton classic "Let It Rain". Later, Clapton would form Derek & The Dominoes with Bramlett associates Duane Allman, Bobby Whitlock, Carl Radle, and Jim Gordon.

For all the respect their fellow musicians accorded them, Delaney and Bonnie's albums were modest sellers at best. The live On Tour With Eric Clapton was their best-selling LP, while the mostly-acoustic Motel Shot showcased the Bramlett's songwriting skills. They achieved hit singles with Dave Mason's "Only You Know And I Know" and Delaney's "Never Ending Song Of Love". They also appeared in the classic movie Vanishing Point as the hippie gospel band in the Nevada desert. Delaney and Bonnie's marriage had become increasingly rocky, though, and the couple divorced in 1973. Since then, Bonnie has enjoyed occasional success as a singer and actress, but Delaney's days in the limelight were through.

In his later years Delaney released a series of solo albums as well as continuing to write songs and working as a producer. He appeared on Jerry Lee Lewis' Last Man Standing disc, and in 2008 released his first CD in six years, A New Kind Of Blues. In addition, Delaney and Bonnie's daughter Bekka has made her mark in the music field as a singer, songwriter, and backup vocalist for Faith Hill.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Happy holidays from Pole Hill

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Kwanzaa, etc.

Admittedly, it's been a lot tougher to get through the holiday season than I thought it would be. I know I haven't felt like blogging much. It's been almost six months now, but I still am reminded regularly of how different things are now, and the holiday season has triggered many of those reminders.

I'm headed up to Illinois later today to spend Christmas with family and old friends. I won't have much contact with the internets over the next week; anyway, I just want to relax and enjoy myself. I'll be back next week sometime. Hope Santa brings you everything you asked for.

Monday, December 15, 2008


Captain Dubya sez: "Hey, no big deal... Laura throws shit at me all the time... she has better aim... you shoulda seen when she found the empty whiskey bottle under the couch... man, that coulda hurt..."

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Work, work, work

This morning I'm on my eighth straight 12-hour shift, with at least four more to go. I come home, and I'm just too tired to mess with the blog. I just go to bed, get up, and go to work again. Right now, I just want to get Bill Drake's mug off the top of it.


I wanted to write a bit on Odetta, the seminal folk singer and voice of the civil rights movement who passed away Wednesday. I'm not all that familiar with her work, though, as I'm not all that much of a folk music listener in general, and her moment of greatest popularity came a bit before my time. Suffice it to say that anybody who was a major influence on Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin has to rate highly. Odetta Sings Ballads And Blues is almost universally considered to be a landmark recording that inspired the folk explosion of the late 50's and early 60's. Of that album, Dylan said: "The first thing that turned me on to folk singing was Odetta. I heard a record of hers (Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues) in a record store, back when you could listen to records right there in the store. Right then and there, I went out and traded my electric guitar and amplifier for an acoustical guitar, a flat-top Gibson. ... (That album was) just something vital and personal. I learned all the songs on that record."


How 'bout a quiz to keep you occupied this weekend?

You Are a Maine Coon Cat

You tend to be loving and playful around your family and friends.

But when you're around strangers you tend to be a bit reserved.

You are intuitive. You understand human emotions well.

You do best when you are around people. You don't like being left alone.

I'll be in and out the next few days.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Bill Drake

Legendary radio programmer and executive Bill Drake passed away Saturday in Los Angeles at age 71. His name likely doesn't ring a bell, yet most of you are familiar with his accomplishments, as Drake is arguably more responsible than anybody for how your radio sounds today.

Drake was born Philip Yarbrough in 1937 and grew up in Georgia. Landing a job at WAKE in Atlanta in the late 50's, he took on the air name Bill Drake because the station wanted him to use a name that rhymed with the call letters. He moved to San Francisco to become program director of KYA in 1961, where his career as radio's most influential programmer took off.

According to legend, Top 40 radio came into being when Todd Storz, who at the time owned a station in Omaha with his father, noticed how the waitresses at a diner he frequented played the same songs on the jukebox over and over. In the early 60's Drake would refine this format by tightening playlists, limiting commercials, and reining in DJ chatter. Drake was also a pioneer in market demographic research. He took stations in San Francisco, Stockton, San Diego and Fresno to #1 in their markets. In Fresno, Drake met Gene Chenault, who became his business partner, forming the Drake-Chenault consulting firm that spread his programing ideas nationwide.

In 1965 Drake and Chenault were hired by Los Angeles' KHJ to turn that struggling station around. KHJ became their biggest success, becoming the #1 station in Southern California by the end of the year. Soon, the Drake-Chenault consulting firm was spreading their energetic "Boss Radio" format to stations throughout the country, and competitors were doing their best to copy Drake's ideas.

In the 70's Drake-Chenault spread their influence to the FM band. They also produced radio specials and created automated radio formats in a variety of music genres, eventually becoming responsible for programming on hundreds of radio stations. Drake and Chenault sold their company in 1982; by that time the damage had been done, and consultant-driven programming was choking the life out of American commercial radio. Drake retired to his mansion in Bel Air, where he would continue to occasionally work as a radio consultant up until his death.