Remembering Delaney Bramlett

July 1 would have been the 75th birthday of Delaney Bramlett, the great writer and guitarist who, with his wife Bonnie, made some of the best rootsy American music of their generation — and made solid bonds with such stars as Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Gregg and Duane Allman of the Allman Brothers and Leon Russell.

Delaney, from Pontotoc County, Mississippi, moved to Los Angeles around his 20th birthday and soon became an in-demand session guitarist, working frequently with Russell in the Shindogs, the house band who played on the pop TV series ‘Shindig.’ By then, Bonnie O’Farrell, as she then was, had already sung as a teenager with Albert King and with Ike & Tina Turner in the Ikettes.

The couple married in 1967, and were soon underlining the sophisticated racial integration policy at black-owned Stax Records, where the white couple landed a deal. Their first album ‘Home’ was released by the label in 1969, produced by Don Nix and Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn, from Booker T & the MGs.

The whole of that band played on it, along with Russell, Isaac Hayes, William Bell and Carl Radle (later with Clapton in Derek & the Dominos). The album wasn’t a hit, and the couple moved to Elektra, expanding to the group name ‘Delaney & Bonnie & Friends’ and welcoming Harrison, Clapton and others into their expanding list of admirers. They co-wrote ‘Superstar’ with Leon Russell and ‘Let It Rain’ for Clapton’s first album under his own name in 1970.

Harrison even offered D&B a contract with Apple, which they tried to accept, but the upshot was that they neither recorded for Apple nor continued with Elektra. Clapton made them the opening group for Blind Faith’s 1969 tour, and helped them win a deal with Atco. More well-regarded albums and tours followed, before the couple divorced in 1973. Both continued in show business, Delaney releasing the album ‘A New Kind of Blues’ shortly before his death in 2008.

Bonnie remained busy as a backing vocalist and as an actor, with a frequent role in ‘Roseanne’ in 1991 and ’92. The couple’s daughter, Bekka, was briefly in a 1990s line-up of Fleetwood Mac, and, like her mother, continues her singing work. Bonnie will turn 70 this November.

That debut Stax album ‘Home’ may not have torn up the charts, but it’s a great slice of southern soul with flavours of Americana, both in its original compositions and covers of R&B gems like ‘My Baby Specialises’ and ‘Things Get Better.’ 45 years on, it’s still well worth your time.

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