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.