The idea for the series came to me three weeks ago when I had the sad task of reporting the news of Donald “Duck” Dunn’s passing. Since, by chance, the first installment was two weeks ago, I will try to make it a bi-weekly event. No promises, but I will try! That way, if you’re not a regular reader of this column, (and why wouldn’t you be?), and you find this series interesting, then you can just check in every two weeks and see who I’m profiling that week (and don’t worry, it won’t be Cat Stevens!)
Before we get to who the subject of this week’s profile is, I just want to quickly mention that Bob Dylan was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom last week, which I reported to you a few weeks ago, and the great Doc Watson passed this week, 89 years young! Go toward the light, Doc!
Okay, now it can be told! This week’s profile is of Delaney and Bonnie and Friends, one of the most influential bands of all time! Never heard of ‘em you say? Well, you’re about to learn something!
Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett were a husband and wife songwriting duo who put together an ass kickin’ rock and soul band that wound up being bigger stars than their bosses, and, in the process, attracted some of the biggest names in the music world! But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.
Delaney Bramlett moved from Mississippi to Los Angeles at the age of 20, in 1959, and quickly became accepted into the world of session musicians in LA. He then parlayed that into The Shindogs, who were the house band on ABC-TV series, “Shindig”, and also included Leon Russell as a member!
Bonnie O’Farrell was almost a child prodigy, performing with Albert King at the tender age of 14, and becoming the first white Ikette at 15! In 1967, she moved to Los Angeles and met and married Delaney.
Delaney and Leon Russell put together a backing band and they were signed to Stax Records, where they worked with Duck Dunn, Isaac Hayes, Steve Cropper, and the rest of the Stax crew. Their initial release didn’t sell well, probably due to poor promotion, and they moved to Elektra Records, where their second release created a buzz! After hearing it, George Harrison wanted to sign the band to Apple, but they were locked into Elektra. That didn’t stop George from recommending them to Eric Clapton, who took them on the road as opening act for Blind Faith in 1969! Clapton would often sit in with them on that tour, and has famously said that playing with Blind Faith afterwards was pretty discouraging, because, he thought, Delaney and Bonnie “were miles better than us”!
When Blind Faith broke up at the end of their only tour, Clapton continued to tour and record with Delaney and Bonnie and Friends, eventually brokering a better record deal for them with his label, Atco. Their first release on Atco was a live record featuring Clapton, George Harrison, Dave Mason, and others, and needless to say, it went gold! Clapton then snagged the entire band for his debut solo album, which Delaney produced!
In 1970, they went on the infamous Festival Express Tour with The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, The Band, Buddy Guy, Fling Burrito Brothers, and a bunch more! The next year they did a live show in New York that was broadcast on the radio, backed by Duane and Gregg Allman, and King Curtis!
After Delaney and Bonnie and Friends broke up, Leon Russell recruited most of the band for Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen recording sessions and tour. The one guy Leon didn’t hire, Bobby Whitlock, was hangin’ out with Eric Clapton at his home in England, jamming and writing songs. When they decided to form a band, they recalled bassist Carl Radle and drummer Jim Gordon from the Cocker tour to form a little unit you may have heard of called Derek and The Dominoes, who also formed the core band for George Harrison’s masterpiece, “All Things Must Pass”, along with Dave Mason, Bobby Keys, and Jim Price, former Friends all!
Clapton has said that Delaney taught him how to sing, and he’s also credited with teaching George Harrison how to play slide guitar!
Delaney and Bonnie were divorced in 1973, and she became a backing vocalist for Stephen Stills, Elvin Bishop, and The Allman Brothers Band, later turning to acting, where she had a recurring role in the TV show, “Roseanne”!
Delaney died in 2008, but not before selling a guitar that George Harrison had given him for $567,500 in 2004, which presumably allowed him to live out his final years in style!
Oh yeah, their daughter, Bekka, was a member of Fleetwood Mac in the early 1990’s and later, backing vocalist with Vince Gill and Faith Hill, as well as having a vibrant solo career! The fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree, as they say!
The Tribute to Delaney and Bonnie and their Famous Friends takes place at The Highline Ballroom in Manhattan on June 8th!
Other live musical events for the week:
Wednesday, June 6 – THE ORIGINAL WAILERS are at BB King’s in Manhattan tonight, and since there’s nothing else going on, it’s a no brainer!
Thursday, June 7 – VICTOR WOOTEN has long been considered one of the top bass players in the world. Tonight he’s working at The Brooklyn Bowl. JAMES MCCARTNEY will be performing at The Gramercy Theater in Manhattan tonight. Now, I’ve never heard anything he’s done, but he’s Paul McCartney’s son, so for that reason alone, IMHO, he’s worth checking out! And tonight marks the start of a 5 day musical event called MAX’S KANSAS CITY ALUMNI REUNION 2012 at Bowery Electric! Max’s was one of the premier New York clubs from 1965 through 1981, and hosted everyone from The New York Dolls, Blondie, and The Ramones to Gram Parsons and Dave Mason. It was a watering hole for anyone who was anyone and is fondly remembered by anyone who was ever there, which was everyone! Made famous in song by Lou Reed and Wayne County and The Backstreet Boys, but when will they make a movie? Pick of the Week!
Friday, June 8 – Tonight, NEIL YOUNG makes an appearance, along with director JONATHAN DEMME, at the 92nd Street Y, for a screening of the Demme directed concert pic, “Neil Young Journeys”, that was shot at Toronto’s Massey Hall in May 2011. The original concert is already the stuff of legends, and one would think that Neil might play a few tunes for the faithful! The aforementioned TRIBUTE TO DELANEY AND BONNIE AND THEIR FAMOUS FRIENDS is at The Highline Ballroom in Manhattan, my second Pick of the Week! And EILEN JEWELL and LOS STRAITJACKETS, last week’s Pick of the Week, are at City Winery, and are my third Pick of the Week, marking the first time a show was Pick of the Week two weeks in a row, at two different venues! Two fine Americana acts are also in town. RHETT MILLER AND THE SERIAL LADY KILLERS at The Bowery Ballroom, and SOUTHERN CULTURE ON THE SKIDS at Maxwell’s in Hoboken. And the MAX’S KANSAS CITY REUNION continues at Bowery Electric.
Saturday, June 9 – Former Texas gubernatorial candidate, renowned novelist, and former Texas Jewboy, KINKY FRIEDMAN is at The Highline Ballroom and GARY US BONDS is at BB King’s, both in Manhattan. BUDDY GUY and JONNY LANG will be wailing the Blues at The Wellmont Theater in Montclair, NJ, and the MAX’S REUNION continues at Bowery Electric.
Sunday, June 10 – For you upstaters, my fourth and final Pick of the Week, SKOLLIE, is at The Falcon in Marlborough. For background information on this supergroup of sorts, see my archived column from January 11, 2012. Max’s Reunion continues, and concludes tomorrow night, June 11.
Have a great week!