Bram­letts gave root to Amer­i­cana

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - STYLE - EL­LIS WIDNER

Af­ter-show jam ses­sions in ho­tel rooms, bars, on the bus, air­planes and else­where gave birth to one of rock’s most or­ganic, loose al­bums, one that is nearly un­struc­tured.

De­laney and Bon­nie Bram­lett wanted to give fans the ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing at one of these ses­sions, to share the essence and feel­ing that in­spired them. So they gath­ered their ever-shift­ing cast of mu­si­cians — friends such as Duane All­man, Leon Rus­sell and Gram Par­sons — at pro­ducer/en­gi­neer Bruce Bot­nick’s Los An­ge­les home and set up in the liv­ing room to make an al­bum.

That’s the ver­sion of the al­bum Mo­tel Shot that the Bram­letts wanted you to hear. But their record la­bel at that time said the record­ing was too rough and raw, and asked them to go into a proper record­ing stu­dio and re-record it.

The al­bum that was re­leased in 1971 was mostly the cleaned-up, fuller-sound­ing ver­sions of songs from the record­ing stu­dio with a few from the orig­i­nal ses­sions at Bot­nick’s home. He recorded those ses­sions on a two-track recorder with two mi­cro­phones.

The re­vised al­bum still had an or­ganic, loose vibe, but most of the edges were smoothed over.

Still, the re­cent re­lease of Mo­tel Shot Ex­panded Edi­tion (Real Gone) is es­pe­cially wel­come. It has the 1971 al­bum’s 12 tunes plus eight bonus tracks from the orig­i­nal ses­sions recorded in Bot­nick’s liv­ing room. (Bot­nick was the en­gi­neer on The Doors’ al­bums.)

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, while Amer­i­can pop­u­lar mu­sic and cul­ture was in thrall of the sights and sounds of the Sum­mer of Love, the Bram­letts were work­ing with a shift­ing ros­ter of mu­si­cians, a di­verse col­lec­tive that be­came known as

De­laney & Bon­nie & Friends. The group was a soul/rock/ coun­try/gospel pow­er­house, play­ing rootsy, sweaty and blues- soaked mu­sic that re­flected the spec­trum of Amer­i­can mu­sic. They were the open­ing band for a tour by Blind Faith and toured Europe a cou­ple of times.

De­laney & Bon­nie & Friends’ al­bums gen­er­ated mod­est suc­cess. Mo­tel Shot pro­duced the group’s big­gest hit, “Never End­ing Song of Love” (which on its own is a fine song, but sounds a bit out of place here). Mo­tel Shot peaked at No. 65 on Bill­board’s al­bum charts, while “Never End­ing Song of Love” reached No. 13 on the mag­a­zine’s sin­gles chart.

Other hits came along, such as “Comin’ Home” with Eric Clap­ton on gui­tar; “Only You Know and I Know,” and “Soul Shake.”

Mo­tel Shot came on the heels of the group’s most suc­cess­ful al­bum, a 1970 live record­ing ti­tled De­laney & Bon­nie & Friends on Tour With Eric Clap­ton.

D& B’s mix of elec­tric and acous­tic sounds (along with the mu­sic of The Band) drew Clap­ton away from the band Cream and, for a time, Ge­orge Har­ri­son from The Bea­tles. Both played on tours with D&B. De­laney & Bon­nie & Friends On Tour With Eric Clap­ton be­came the group’s best-seller. Har­ri­son is heard on a four-CD boxed set of the tour re­leased by Rhino in 2010.

Rus­sell was part of the Friends lineup un­til he left to or­ga­nize Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and English­men tour of 1970. Rus­sell took most of the core mem­bers of D&B’s band with him — only Bobby Whit­lock re­mained as Carl Ra­dle, Jim Gor­don, Bobby Keys, Jim Price and Rita Coolidge de­parted. (Ra­dle, Whit­lock and Gor­don later wound up in

Clap­ton’s band; Coolidge be­came a suc­cess­ful solo artist.) Rus­sell re­turned to the Friends fold to par­tic­i­pate in the ses­sions at Bot­nick’s home.

The mu­sic of D& B & Friends re­flected the Bram­letts’ up­bring­ing and ex­pe­ri­ence. Mis­sis­sippi-born De­laney Bram­lett (who died in 2008) was a gui­tarist and record­ing ses­sion musician. He was a mem­ber of the Shin­dogs, the house band for the mid-1960s ABC se­ries Shindig!, where he met and worked with gui­tarist and key­boardist Rus­sell.

Bon­nie (O’Far­rell) Bram­lett started per­form­ing with blues gui­tarist Al­bert King at age 14 and joined the Ike & Tina Turner Re­vue at age 19 as the first white Ikette.

The Bram­letts mar­ried in 1967 and re­leased their first al­bum, Home, in 1969 for the Mem­phis soul la­bel Stax.

The sounds of Mo­tel Shot feel fa­mil­iar to many of us. Its un­mis­tak­able South­ern roots are re­flected in the Bram­letts’ im­mer­sion in gospel and blues mu­sic. The ru­ral fab­ric of the South emerges in the tracks, in­clud­ing that of white and black churches, in songs such as the rous­ing “Where the Soul Never Dies,” the Carter

Fam­ily’s “Will the Cir­cle Be Un­bro­ken,” and tra­di­tional songs “Talkin’ About Je­sus” and “Rock of Ages.”

The al­bum also of­fers blues pioneer Robert John­son’s “Come On in My Kitchen,” the Bob Wills & His Texas Play­boys hit “Faded Love” and the tra­di­tional “Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad.”

Guests on the 1970 liv­in­groom ses­sions helmed by Bot­nick in­clude Rus­sell, Par­sons (ex-Byrds; then part of Fly­ing Bur­rito Broth­ers), All­man, Cocker, singer/song­writer John Hart­ford, ses­sion drum­mer Jim Kel­ter and others.

A high point of the bonus tracks is “I’ve Told You for the Last Time,” writ­ten by the Bram­letts and Steve Crop­per (Booker T & the MGs). Clap­ton recorded the song for his self-ti­tled solo al­bum de­but, but this ver­sion shows the song’s gospel roots. An al­ter­nate take of “Come On in My Kitchen” is mostly the Bram­letts singing over slide gui­tar, prob­a­bly All­man’s.

The per­for­mances are spir­ited and of­ten in­spired. Bon­nie Bram­lett’s voice is pas­sion­ate and driv­ing; the in­stru­men­tal in­ter­play is loose and im­pro­vi­sa­tional.

As Pat Thomas points out in his en­joy­able liner notes, De­laney & Bon­nie & Friends are the “god­fa­thers and moth­ers” of the mu­si­cal col­lec­tive, an ap­proach that would man­i­fest in Cocker’s Mad Dogs and English­men tour and al­bum with, it must be pointed out again, core mem­bers of D&B & Friends. (The col­lec­tive re­curs in pop­u­lar mu­sic, in­clud­ing the Bri­tish soul group Soul II Soul, best known for the 1989-1990 hits “Back to Life” and “Keep on Movin’.”)

De­laney and Bon­nie Bram­lett’s de­vo­tion to blues and gospel helped make Mo­tel Shot one of their best. They would record a few more al­bums, though none reached the same level of ex­cite­ment or cre­ativ­ity.

Their pro­fes­sional and per­sonal part­ner­ship came to an end with the cou­ple’s di­vorce in 1973. How­ever, the in­flu­en­tial Bram­letts left an in­deli­ble mark on Amer­i­can mu­sic. They, along with The Band and Par­sons, laid the foun­da­tion and a tem­plate for what would later be­come known as Amer­i­cana or Amer­i­can roots mu­sic.

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