Bonnie Bramlett: Forty Years On Fire

C. Michael Bailey By

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Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett were a key building block in popular music development in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Between their 1969 debut album Home and D&B Together, made shortly before their divorce in 1972, the couple prepared the ground for acts like Steve Miller, Steve Winwood, Boz Scaggs, Hall & Oates and George Michael.

Despite their seminal importance, Delaney & Bonnie are remembered today more for their session and touring work with other musicians—Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Duane Allman, Bobby Keyes, and the ubiquitous rhythm section of Bobby Whitlock, Carl Radle and Jim Gordon—than for the string of fine albums they made under their own names. Once divorced, Bonnie Bramlett, retaining her married name, went on to make several notable solo recordings, including It's Time, Lady's Choice and the recent I'm Still The Same.

Today, fortune smiles with the re-release of Delaney & Bonnie's Home and the release of Bonnie Bramlett's newly recorded Roots, Blues & Jazz. Rarely can a 40 year (and counting) career have been so magnificently book-ended.

Delaney & Bonnie
The Concord Music Group

Delaney Bramlett and Bonnie Lynn O'Farrell married in 1967 following a whirlwind courtship. Bramlett was an up and coming guitarist, born in Ponatoc, Mississippi, while Illinois-bred O'Farrell had gained attention as the first Caucasian Ikette in the Ike & Tina Turner Revue. She was also associated with Stephen Stills and the Allman Brothers Band. In 1968, Delaney & Bonnie joined the Stax family, whose aristocracy included Booker T. and the MGs, Isaac Hayes, William Bell, The Staples Singers, Rufus Thomas, Sam & Dave and John Lee Hooker.

Home was recorded between February 27, 1968 and July 2, 1969 at the Stax Studios in Memphis and the Skyhill Studios in Hollywood. The album was released in late 1969 with very little fanfare, but it was, and remains, a fine recording. Part of the problem was the competition—as well as Home listeners were being invited to buy great albums like Solomon Burke's Proud Mary, Wilson Pickett's Hey Jude, Aretha Franklin's Soul '69, Carla Thomas's The Queen Alone and Dusty Springfield's landmark Dusty In Memphis. Those albums took no prisoners.

Home brims with vintage Stax-fueled R&B and soul music, topped with Bonnie Bramlett's soulful voice—rivalled in potency only by Dusty Springfield's—and Delaney Bramlett's strong guitar playing. The arrangements, for both the rhythm and horn sections, are more complex and challenging than those on many contemporary albums, and listening to Home remains a very refreshing experience.

Southern soul references were used throughout the album. The "Things Get Better introduction rings of the famous intro to Otis Redding's "Respect, but the song remains compelling despite that. At the heart of the set is Bonnie Bramlett's near-gospel performance of "Piece Of My Heart. Recorded first by Aretha Franklin's sister Erma in May 1968, and more or less contemporaneously by Janis Joplin in a particularly torrid version, the song is here transformed into a hymn of love.

After Home, Hall & Oates and their peers were simply inevitable.

Bonnie Bramlett
Roots, Blues And Jazz
Zoho Music

Fast forwarding to 2006, and the release of Roots, Blues And Jazz, it's good to find Bonnie Bramlett still cooking and soul stirring. Recording with the Mr. Groove Band, a funky, Hammond-organ flavoured sextet, she goes hard on the roots and blues, and blows a kiss in the direction of jazz.

Bramlett opens with a hard funk interpretation of Stephen Still's classic anthem "Love The One You're With. This is no lame performance, and the superb recording pulls all instruments to the front with crisp separation. Bramlett's voice is not the same youthful instrument found on Home—it's now deepened and distinguished by experience, much as Nina Simone's voice changed as she aged. Bramlett makes Chuck Berry's "No Particular Place To Go playful, and "I'm Confessin' That I Love You vulnerable.

A major highlight of the album is the performance of Joe Zawinul's funk-gospel masterpiece "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy. Bramlett cuts loose and mows down everything in her path. Pianist Steve Willets and guitarist Roddy Smith light a fire fanned into an inferno by saxophonist Tim Gordon. It's an inspired vocal interpretation of an instrumental classic, and 3:45 minutes of pure listening heaven. Bramlett follows with committed versions of Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come and Nate Adderley's "Work Song.

Roots, Blues and Jazz is a breathtakingly fine recording, and bound for my end-of-the-year list for sure.

Tracks and Personnel


Tracks: A Long Road Ahead; My Baby Specializes; Things Get Better; We Can Love; All We Really Want To Do; It's Been A Long Time Coming; Just Plain Beautiful; Everybody Loves A Winner; Look What We Have Found; Piece Of My Heart; A Right Now Love; I've Just Been Feeling Bad; Dirty Old Man; Get Ourselves Together; Pour Your Love On Me; Hard To Say Goodbye.

Personnel: William Bell: vocals; Bonnie Bramlett: vocals; Delaney Bramlett: guitar, vocals; Steve Cropper: guitar; Donald "Duck" Dunn: bass; Eddie Floyd: vocals; Isaac Hayes: vocals; Al Jackson, Jr.: drums; Booker T. Jones: keyboards; Bobby Whitlock: keyboards, vocals.

Roots, Blues and Jazz

Tracks: Love The One You're With; I Can Laugh About It Now; No Particular Place To Go; I'm Confessin'; Gotcha; That Lucky Old Sun; Mercy, Mercy, Mercy; A Change Is Gonna Come; Carefee; Work Song; Love Hurts; Harlem Nocturne.

Personnel: Bonnie Bramlett: lead and background vocals; Robbie Montgomery, Jessie Lucas: background vocals; Tim Smith: bass; Roddy Smith: guitar; Steve Willets: piano; Mark Stallings: Hammond organ; Tim Gordon: saxophones and flute; Ronnie Marshall: drums and percussion.

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