Posts Tagged ‘Delaney & Bonnie’

Saturday Single No. 688

May 9, 2020

I woke this morning to the sad news that Little Richard has died. The cause was cancer, said his son, Danny Jones Penniman, in the Rolling Stone report.

That report covers Richard Penniman’s career and influence better than I can, so I’ll leave that alone. I’ll note that in a long ago (and long abandoned) book and website project with a friend, we tabbed Little Richard as one of the five biggest trees from which the rock ’n’ roll forest descended.

(The other four, for what it matters, were Elvis, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, and Fats Domino. I think we likely nailed it, with the possible exception of Bo Diddley, unless one wants to go further back into late 1940s and early 1950s jump blues and R&B.)

Anyway, I’ve never said much about Little Richard here, and I’m not sure why. I’ve written some about his 1970s comeback albums on Reprise and his stuff has popped up occasionally in random draws. But as much as I respect his influence, for some reason, he’s never seemed central to my musical universe.

And the LP and CD shelves over the years have reflected that: A few hits packages and a two-CD re-release of those Reprise albums from the 1970s. That’s a pretty sparse – if stellar – collection of one of the founding fathers of the music I love. All I can say is that when pop-rock music grabbed me in 1969 and I began to explore its different roads, none of those early explorations brought me to Little Richard.

The closest I came was through Delaney & Bonnie and their 1970 album To Bonnie From Delaney, which came to me in late 1972. I recall reading through the notes as the record played and noticing that Little Richard supplied the piano on the second track on the second side, a cover (I now know) of his own 1956 record “Miss Ann.” At that point, being nineteen and still catching up, I knew his name but had heard little, if any, of his work.

So I sat there on our green couch in the rec room and listened as Little Richard proceeded to rip it up. That memory means that “Miss Ann” by Delaney & Bonnie – with Little Richard on piano – is today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 497

May 21, 2016

We’re taking kind of a day off here today, as I’m heading out fairly early to play Strat-O-Matic baseball at Rob’s in St. Francis.* We’ve moved the annual event to his place this year (and probably for the future as well).

But May 21 is a date that sticks in my mind, as it was on that date in 1974 that I came home from my school year in Denmark. Here’s a photo my dad took that day; he caught me just as I saw him and my family (and Rick) for the first time in almost nine months.

First look, 5-21-74

As to music, well, one tune rang true to go with that picture. That’s why Delaney & Bonnie’s “Coming Home” – from their 1972 album D&B Together – is today’s Saturday Single.

*For those who are interested, I’m bringing the 2001 Diamondbacks and the 2004 Red Sox into the tournament. Rob’s selected the 1936 Yankees and the 1998 Astros; Dan has the 1924 Senators and the 1998 Braves; and Rick has chosen the 1968 Tigers and 2014 Dodgers.

Delaney & Bonnie’s Last Call

May 6, 2015

One of the quirkier books on the shelves here is The Last Time When, a 1981 volume by George Gipe. From the last play by Aeschylus (The Oresteai, performed in Athens in 458 B.C.E.) to the last words of Carl Jung (“Quick, help me get out of bed. I want to look at the sunset” in 1961), Gipe’s book chronicles endings both significant and trivial.

Opening the book at random, we learn the last day in the 834-year history of the Les Halles Market in Paris was March 2, 1969; the last empress of Russia was Catherine the Great, who passed on in 1796; the last survivor of the first World Series, which took place in 1903, was Fred Parent of the Boston Americans (later Red Sox) who passed on in 1972 at the age of ninety-six; the last of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s twenty-six “Fireside Chats” took place on June 23, 1944; the last L’il Abner comic strip appeared in U.S. newspapers on November 13, 1977; and on and on.

Many more endings have taken place, of course, than Gipe could list in his book, and I ran across one of them today. In the Billboard Hot 100 for May 6, 1972 – forty-three years ago today – Delaney & Bonnie’s “Where There’s A Will There’s A Way” sat at No. 99. It was the second week for the record in the Hot 100, and it was the last. And it was the last time that Delaney & Bonnie would be listed in the Hot 100.

The single – as noted on its label – came from the 1970 album On Tour With Eric Clapton. Since that tour, the couple had released three albums: To Bonnie From Delaney in 1970, Motel Shot in 1971, and Country Life in 1972. But that last album was withdrawn by Atco shortly after its release in early 1972, and the Bramletts’ contract was sold to CBS; the same material was released on Columbia with a different running order as D&B Together.

So the Bramletts were at Columbia by the time Atco released the single version of “Where There’s A Will There’s A Way,” two years after the release of the live album. And the track was likely reconfigured some (perhaps severely): On the live album, “Where There’s A Will There’s A Way” has a running time of 5:20; the single lists a running time of 2:28 on its label (but as I’ve noted many times, running times on singles can’t always be trusted). I’ve never heard the single, and I would guess by its two-week chart run and its peak at No. 99 that not a lot of folks did.

Here’s what the track sounded like on the 1970 album:

‘Hard Luck & Troubles . . .’

March 31, 2015

The Texas Gal came down with a cold late last week: Sneezing, congestion, body aches, the whole bit. She soldiered through it, and as she did, I figured it was only a matter of time before the cold went viral, so to speak, and wandered my way.

It did so sometime between bedtime Saturday and the alarm going off Sunday morning. So I sat at the computer early Sunday, wondering if I felt crappy enough to postpone a meeting after church that had already been rescheduled twice in the past month. I had a musical performance scheduled during the church service that could not be missed, but the idea of ending the church day there and postponing the meeting again was attractive.

I had just decided to gut it out and stay for the meeting when I heard a series of “thump-thump” sounds coming from the stairway. The Texas Gal had slipped on a step coming down from the loft and, it appeared, had sprained her ankle. I got her into the living room and settled in her recliner. She shooed me off to church, where I did my part in the musical performance. Then I begged off, postponing my meeting once more in order to get home and see to the Texas Gal’s needs.

At bedtime, she limped upstairs, and we decided that Monday morning would bring a visit with Dr. Julie. And on Monday, Dr. Julie scanned the x-rays and told us that the Texas Gal had a spiral fracture of her left fibula just next to the ankle. “Well,” said Dr. Julie, “if you’re going to have a broken leg bone, that’s the one you want to break, and that’s the way you want to break it.”

So the Texas Gal is in a boot for four to six weeks. It’s taking some getting used to, but she’s moving around far better this morning than she was yesterday, and she thinks she’ll be able to return to work tomorrow without major complications.

As for me, I’m congested and sneezing and not sleeping well, but that’s really small stuff when looking at the larger panorama. Things could be much, much worse.

And, as always, I hear music in the background of our lives. Here’s an appropriate tune from Delaney & Bonnie: “Hard Luck and Troubles” from their 1970 album To Bonnie From Delaney.

Deconstructing ‘American Pie’

December 16, 2011

Originally posted January 30, 2009

It was late January 1972, and I was killing time in the little room we used as a lounge at KVSC, the St. Cloud State radio station. In the main studio, a deejay was dutifully playing the noontime classical program and preparing for the afternoon’s offering of symphonies, sonatas and concertos; we played rock music in the evenings, but wouldn’t switch to rock fulltime until May. The other studio, however, was used to play the music we listened to in the lounge, with jocks honing their skills with the wide-ranging mix of rock and pop records that either arrived in the mail or were brought in by station staffers from their own collections.

And as I sat there, listening to the music and the idle chatter, the jock in the practice studio put on Don McLean’s “American Pie,” which was then in its third week at No. 1 on the Billboard chart. A couple of people groaned, likely because the record was already so familiar. But then, as happened every time the song was played, the speculation began as to what it was all about.

McLean’s main inspiration for the song was, of course, the deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson, known as the Big Bopper, in an Iowa plane crash during the first week of February 1959. But the lyrics of the record can also be deciphered as being a plaint of how far from the basics of rock ’n’ roll the popular music and the music business had gotten since 1959. And as we sat in the lounge and the record – already familiar but nowhere near as iconic as it would become – rolled past, we discussed the levee and the fallout shelter, the jester and his cast, the fiery devil, the last train for the coast and the girl who sang the blues.

Next week, it will be fifty years since the Beechcraft Bonanza carrying the three musicians – and pilot Roger Peterson – crashed on the Albert Juhl farm just north of Clear Lake, Iowa. What startles me when I stop to think about it is that McLean’s song was released thirty-seven years ago, meaning that the song’s creation is roughly three times more distant now than the events of 1959 were when McLean wrote about them in 1970.

Back then, as we tried to deconstruct McLean’s tightly coded history of rock ’n’ roll, we were joining in a pastime shared by, I imagine, millions. As Wikipedia notes:

“The song’s lyrics are the subject of much curiosity. Although McLean dedicated the American Pie album to Buddy Holly, none of the singers in the airplane crash are identified by name in the song itself. When asked what ‘American Pie’ meant, McLean replied, ‘It means I never have to work again.’ Later, he more seriously stated ‘You will find many “interpretations” of my lyrics but none of them by me… sorry to leave you all on your own like this but long ago I realized that songwriters should make their statements and move on, maintaining a dignified silence.’ McLean has generally avoided responding to direct questions about the song, except to acknowledge that he did first learn about Buddy Holly’s death while folding newspapers for his paper route on the morning of February 4th, 1959 (referenced in the song with the line ‘with every paper I deliver’). Despite this, many fans of McLean, amongst others, have attempted an interpretation; at the time of the song’s original release in late 1971, many American AM & FM rock radio stations released printed interpretations and some devoted entire shows discussing and debating the song’s lyrics, resulting in both controversy and intense listener interest in the song.”

As to McLean never having to work again, that’s likely true. But it’s also true that he’s kept on writing, recording and performing. He’s continued to release music, with new releases and retrospectives listed through 2008 at All-Music Guide. It’s true that he’s never quite commanded the attention of the listening public the way he did in the early months of 1972, but really, who could have expected it to happen twice?

(Websites with interpretations of McLean’s lyrics are easy to find; just Google. There are, I guess, some references in the song whose meanings are generally agreed upon, such as “the jester” being a reference to Bob Dylan. But there are interpretations that one should take with a large seasoning of salt. One such example is the inference that “American Pie” refers either to McLean’s dating a Miss America candidate in 1959 or to the name of the plane that crashed. In 1959, McLean would have turned fourteen, a trifle young to have dated a beauty queen. As to the airplane’s name, a few years ago, I called the current incarnation of the Dwyer Flying Service, now based in the Twin Cities, and asked about the plane’s name. The woman I spoke to – unfortunately, I did not record her name – told me that the company had never named its planes, and the tale of the plane’s being called “American Pie” came from the imagination of one or more interpreters of the song’s lyrics.)

Despite writing about it, I won’t post “American Pie” today. Here’s a look elsewhere in that week’s chart:

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, January 29, 1972)

“Never Been To Spain” by Three Dog Night, Dunhill/ABC4299 (No. 8 )

“Don’t Say You Don’t Remember” by Beverly Bremers, Scepter 12315 (No. 33)

“Son of Shaft” by the Bar-Kays, Volt 4073 (No. 55)

“Softly Whispering I Love You” by the English Congregation, Atco 6865 (No. 61)

“Move ’Em Out” by Delaney & Bonnie, Atco 6866 (No. 70)

“Standing In For Jody” by Johnnie Taylor, Stax 0114 (No. 94)

The Three Dog Night tune isn’t necessarily one of my favorites, though it’s not bad. And I generally don’t post in these selections records that were as high in the charts as “Never Been To Spain” was during this week in 1972. (It peaked at No. 5 for two weeks in early February.) But I couldn’t help it. A little more than two years after this chart came out, during a month-long spring break spent wandering Western Europe, I spent part of an afternoon on a train just south of the French-Spanish border. Now, for whatever reason, the Spanish rail system at the time was abysmally slow. The train crawled along, taking almost three hours to cover the hundred or so miles to Barcelona, where I could have a shower and a hot meal, both of which I needed badly. And as the train crawled, I shared the small compartment with three college girls from somewhere else – I have forgotten exactly where – in the American Midwest. That would have been fine, actually delightful, had the three of them not been inspired by our crossing the border from France to sing a twenty-minute rendition of “Never Been To Spain.”

“Don’t Say You Don’t Remember” is one of those ready-made bits of romantic regret that pop up from time to time on the charts and on the radio. A sweet slice of pop, the record has a killer hook in the title phrase and some nicely done horn accents throughout. The record was still on its way up at the end of January, reaching No. 15 during the last week of February.

The Bar-Kays of “Son of Shaft” were the rebuilt group put together by original members Ben Cauley and James Alexander after four members of the group were killed in December 1967 in the Madison, Wisconsin, plane crash that also killed Otis Redding. “Son of Shaft” – which All-Music Guide calls “a good-humored goof” on Isaac Hayes’ “Shaft” – reached the Top Ten on the R&B chart, the first Bar-Kays single to do so since “Soul Finger” in 1967. On the pop chart, the single peaked at No. 53 three weeks into February.

Here’s what All-Music Guide has to say about the English Congregation and “Softly Whispering I Love You,” which peaked at No. 29 in early March:

“The English Congregation was a short-lived outfit that achieved one-hit wonder status in the United States. Formed in Britain as simply the Congregation, they amended their name in early 1972 for U.S. releases, presumably to avoid confusion with the then-popular Mike Curb Congregation. Their sole moment in the sun came in early spring 1972 with ‘Softly Whispering I Love You,’ a track written by noted songwriting team Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway (who originally recorded it in 1967 under their David and Jonathan moniker). The merging of sweeping orchestration and choir with lead singer Brian Keith’s Levi Stubbs-like declamatory vocal produced a memorable number 29 hit, but no subsequent hit singles or albums followed. Keith went on to provide studio vocals on numerous projects, none of which sold in significant amounts.”

“Move ’Em Out” might very well have been the last single released by Delaney & Bonnie. (Does anyone know?) In the autumn of 1971, “Only You Know And I Know” had reached No. 20. “Move ‘Em Out,” also pulled from the couple’s final album, D&B Together, peaked at No. 59 two weeks in February.

Johnnie Taylor’s “Standing In For Jody” is a nice piece of Stax R&B in which Taylor bemoans his status as his woman’s second man. It’s a follow-up to Taylor’s 1971 single, “Jody’s Got Your Girl And Gone,” which went to No. 26. But the character of Jody as a woman-stealer pre-dated Taylor’s hit by many years. The Urban Dictionary notes:

“In the Marines, a ‘Jody’ is a generalized term meaning: any man who stays home while everyone else goes to war. He gets to enjoy all the things the Marines are missing, more specifically the Marine’s girlfriend back at home while the Marine is away on active duty. The reason that they’re called Jody specifically dates back to black soldiers in WWII. They took a character from old blues songs named Joe the Grinder (or Joe D. Grinder) who would steal the ladies of inmates and soldiers, and clipped his name to Jody.”

In a second citation, the Urban Dictionary cites a marching cadence used in military training:

Ain’t no use in goin’ home,
Jody’s got your girl and gone.
Ain’t no use in goin’ back,
Jody’s got your Cadillac,
Ain’t no use in feeling blue,
Jody’s took your checkbook too.

(A third citation at the Urban Dictionary lays the origin of the term “Jody” on Taylor’s 1971 song, but clearly the usage predates the song by many years.)

Edited slightly on archival posting.

‘Dancin’ With You, Baby. . .’

November 15, 2011

It was one of those “Huh! I never knew that!” moments. I was sorting and tagging mp3s the other day as the CD player over my left shoulder ran through the two-disc set Night Train to Nashville, subtitled “Music City Rhythm & Blues, 1945-1970.” Deep into the second disc of the set borrowed from the local library, I’d already heard a lot of stuff I wish I’d heard long ago, much of it on the Excello label.

A new track began: a thrumming bass with two measures of eighth notes solo, then percussion on the backbeat for two more measures. And then: “Doooo, do-do doo. Do-do-do! Do-do-do! Do-do-do.” I jerked my head around, stared at the CD player as the verse began: “Dancin’ with you, baby, really turns the soulshake on. Yeah, groovin’ with you, baby, really turns the soulshake on.”

Knowing the song as “Soul Shake” but never having heard this version, I reached for the booklet. The track was by Peggy Scott and Jo Jo Benson, recorded in Nashville in 1969 and released early that year on SSS International.

The record did pretty well, reaching No. 37 on the Billboard Hot 100 and going to No. 13 on the R&B chart. The oddly twangy instrument is an electric sitar, played – the booklet notes – by Jerry Kennedy. Others at the session included Pete Drake, Charlie McCoy, Wayne Moss and Kenny Buttrey. (Four of those names – all except Drake’s – I recognized as having played on, among other things, Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde; Drake’s I recognized from Dylan’s John Wesley Harding as well as other projects. A look at the credits of any of those gentlemen at All-Music Guide is instructive.)

But the names of Peggy Scott and Jo Jo Benson were not nearly as familiar. The duo, it turns out, met while recording in the mid-1960s at the Grits ’n’ Gravy studio owned by Huey Meaux in Jackson, Mississippi. (Meaux, a seemingly unavoidable figure in the history of R&B, popped up in this blog a few months back; a bit of his unsavory legacy was recounted in the comments at that time. If you need more, Google for it, but beware: Meaux was a nasty piece of work.) Scott and Benson signed with the SSS International label in 1968 and, into 1969, got four records into the Hot 100 and the R&B Top 40: “Lover’s Holiday” (No. 37 pop and No. 8 R&B), “Pickin’ Wild Mountain Blueberries” (No. 27 & No. 8), “Soulshake” (No. 37 and No. 13) and “I Want To Love You Baby” (No. 81 and No. 24).

(In addition, Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles lists two hits for Scott alone: “Every Little Bit Hurts” bubbled under at No. 126 in the spring of 1969, and “Bill,” credited to Peggy Scott-Adams, went to No. 87 in 1997.)

All that was interesting, and I may dig into the music of Scott and Benson, but what grabbed me – as regular readers might guess – was the song recorded by Scott and Benson as “Soulshake.” The first version I’d ever heard of the song was the 1970 cover by Delaney & Bonnie, who listed the tune as “Soul Shake” on their album To Bonnie From Delaney (an album I wrote about in early 2007; that post is here).

I’ve mentioned D&B’s version of “Soul Shake” three times here: I shared it once in a Baker’s Dozen in 2008, and later that year, I included it in a post remembering Delaney Bramlett. I also praised it when it popped up during a random search for a Saturday Single in early 2010, so my regard for the track is pretty well cataloged.

(It might be good to note the personnel on Delaney & Bonnie’s version of the tune: Listed as being involved with the album’s sessions at Miami’s Criterion were Charlie Freeman on lead guitar, Duane Allman on slide guitar, Jim Dickinson on piano, Bobby Whitlock on organ and vocals, Tom McClure and Jerry Scheff on bass, Ron Tutt and Sammy Creason on drums, Sam Clayton on congas, Alan Estes on percussion, and Andrew Love, Ed Logan, Floyd Newman, Wayne Jackson and Jack Hale of the Memphis Horns on horns.)

Having come across the original version of the song and having connected it with the D&B cover, I then went hunting for other covers. I found a few. The Angela Strehli Blues Band made the song the title track of a 1987 album; Bruce Willis included “Soul Shake” on his 1989 Motown album, If It Don’t Kill You, It Just Makes You Stronger; and blues singer Kate Meehan included it on her 2002 album, Soulshaker. I also saw a listing for a live version by the Guild. I suppose there might be a few more out there, but that’s what I saw this morning.

I know nothing about Meehan or the Guild, and listening to the samples, I’m not inclined to dig further. Willis’ version is disposable, despite the generally good review that AMG gave the album, which was the actor’s second. As for Strehli’s cover, although I like several things I’ve heard from her, her cover of “Soul Shake” isn’t one of them. Despite its tempo, the track had an almost mechanical quality about it.

Which leaves the Delaney & Bonnie version as my favorite version of the tune. And I did some checking: Despite my regard for the Bramletts and the famous and talented friends they gathered around themselves, I failed to include even one track by D&B in my 2010 Ultimate Jukebox project. I should have included at least one track and perhaps more.

I wrote a while back about my solitary dancing in the kitchen, and I’ve noticed since then that no song that I currently have on my mp3 player makes me want to move more than does Delaney & Bonnie’s “Soul Shake,” so – without going back through the D&B catalog – I’m going to put “Soul Shake” into the category of Jukebox Regrets. It should have been there.

Delaney Bramlett: The Keystone

November 9, 2011

Originally posted December 30, 2008

Picture a stone wall with an arch in it. The stones that make up wall are smaller – and less important – than those that are actually part of the arch; without the arch stones, the wall would not exist. And in the arch, there’s the stone at the top, the keystone, the piece that holds the arch together. Without the keystone, the other stones in the arch fall and the wall falls.

The man who was the keystone for a huge swath of American music in the 1960s and 1970s died over the weekend. Delaney Bramlett, 69, died Saturday (December 27) in Los Angeles following gall bladder surgery. His wife, Susan Lanier-Bramlett, said he’d had “seven hard months” of ill health, according to Reuters.

Why do I call Delaney Bramlett the keystone for any portion of American music, much less a large one? Well, start with the fact that Bramlett, along with his then-wife, Bonnie, formed in the late 1960s Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, an amalgamation of musicians that blended rock, soul, blues and gospel into a potent brew.

The 1992 edition of the Rolling Stone Album Guide said of the group: “In its toughest, 1969 incarnation – an 11-piece revue – this was southern soul-rock of a scorching expertise. Honing her R&B chops as history’s only white Ikette, powerhouse vocalist Bonnie Bramlett and husband Delaney, an ace picker and country-tinged singer, had the talent and charisma to attract breath-taking sidemen: Leon Russell, Bobby Keys, Carl Radle, Rita Coolidge, Jim Keltner – and, at various times, Eric Clapton and Duane Allman.”

(I’d add to that list Bobby Whitlock and Jim Gordon.)

The records that Delaney & Bonnie – with or without their Friends – released in the late 1960s and early 1970s are vibrant, joyous, sometimes raucous celebrations of the music that Delaney Bramlett grew up listening to in Mississippi. From Home (released on Stax, with Booker T and the MG’s numbered among the Friends) and Accept No Substitute in 1969 through 1972’s D&B Together Delaney and Bonnie’s albums were dependably good and generally well-respected, though the albums were never top sellers. (The duo had one album hit the charts: 1970’s Delaney & Bonnie & Friends On Tour With Eric Clapton, which went to No. 29.)

But it was beyond those records where Delaney Bramlett’s influence lies: It was he, according to the tales, who persuaded Eric Clapton that he could sing well enough to lead a group. Bramlett produced Clapton’s first, self-titled, solo album, released in 1970, with some of the Friends backing Clapton. I’ve read criticisms of the record that say that Clapton sometimes appears overwhelmed by the band. I don’t get that; I think that from the funk of the opening track, “Slunky,” to the extraordinary closer, “Let It Rain,” Eric Clapton is one of the great albums.

It was basically that same cast of musicians – recruited at short notice by Leon Russell – that provided the band for Joe Cocker on the tour documented on Mad Dogs & Englishmen, one of the great live albums. Many of those same players – with a few other Brits added – provided the backing later in 1970 for George Harrison and his sprawling solo album, All Things Must Pass. And the core of that group – Radle, Whitlock and Gordon – then became the Dominos to Clapton’s Derek for the recording of Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, with Allman joining in.

The direct chain ends there. Bramlett released a series of solo albums in the 1970s and then again in the past eight years. From what I’ve read about the albums from the 1970s – I’ve heard only bits of them – there’s little to recommend them. But I’ve listened to two of the three recent albums, and they’re pretty good.

But for a listener – this listener – the chain of influences that Bramlett started with the Friends goes beyond the albums and musicians listed above. We all explore music in different ways. I wrote in one of the earlier posts on this blog about discovering in 1972 an anthology titled Clapton At His Best. The bulk of the two-record set was pulled from Eric Clapton and from Layla, and that music introduced me to the Friends of Delaney & Bonnie. From there, I connected the dots, finding Delaney & Bonnie, the Mad Dogs & Englishmen album, the Allman Brothers Band, the studio geniuses at Muscle Shoals and more, moving on and on along a path of music that continues to this day to entertain, comfort, awe and inspire me. And at the beginning of that path – at the apex of the arch, to get back to the original metaphor – one finds Delaney Bramlett.

And in that conclusion lies one of the fascinating things I’ve learned about myself through writing for nearly two years about the role of music in my life. Had someone asked me in early 2007 to name the most influential pop/rock musicians in my life, I would have answered with utter assurance: the Beatles and Bob Dylan. After all, it was through the Beatles that I discovered rock and pop, and listening to Dylan and his use of language over the years has influenced my writing, both my prose and my lyrics.

But I have to make room on the mountaintop, I think, for Delaney Bramlett. The news of his death – I read it first at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ – has touched me more deeply than I would have expected. It’s not entirely surprising when any of the men and women who made the music of my youth pass on. They are entering that age when tasks are finished and learning, for this time around, is accomplished. But losing Delaney Bramlett has affected me as much as did losing George Harrison in 2001. At first, that startled me.

Thinking about it overnight, I’ve come to realize that Delaney Bramlett – through his direct and indirect connections – led me during his life to as much good music as has anyone else. That’s a gift for which I’m very grateful.

A Six-Pack of Delaney Bramlett
“Soul Shake” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends from To Bonnie From Delaney, 1970

“Sing My Way Home” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends from Motel Shot, 1971

“You Got To Believe” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends from the Vanishing Point soundtrack, 1971

“Comin’ Home” by Delaney & Bonnie from D&B Together, 1972

“Brown Paper Bag” by Delaney Bramlett from Sounds From Home, 2000

“Mighty, Mighty Mississippi” by Delaney Bramlett from A New Kind of Blues, 2007

A Baker’s Dozen Of Isaac Hayes

July 27, 2011

Originally posted August 11, 2008

The over-riding image I have of Isaac Hayes is from the Academy Awards telecast in 1972, his shaved head and gold chains gleaming as he performed the “Theme from Shaft.” I’d never seen anything like it.

But then, neither had the rest of the world.

Hayes, who crossed over Sunday at his home in Memphis at the age of sixty-five, was one of those artists who pushes past boundaries. The most obvious boundary at the time was his winning an Oscar for Best Song for the “Theme from Shaft,” as Hayes was the first black composer to win the award.

But those who knew about Hayes before Shaft already knew that he pushed limits. His 1969 album, Hot Buttered Soul, had only four tracks on it. One of those tracks, a version of Jimmy Webb’s “By The Time I Get To Phoenix,” ran 18:42, with much of the track consisting of Hayes’ ruminations about the song’s meaning in a way that some critics have said anticipated rap. I don’t know if the comparison is valid, but I’ve seen it in more than one place over the years. I do think, however, that it’s valid to say that his work on Hot Buttered Soul, Shaft and his 1971 album, Black Moses, pointed the way to the funk of the later 1970s.

Hayes’ work as a recording artist was impressive on its own; a look at the discography available at All-Music Guide is testament to that. The list runs from 1967’s Presenting Isaac Hayes to Instrumental, a 2003 anthology of work from the early 1970s. His last album of all-new material was Branded, released in 1995 along with Raw & Refined, a collection of unreleased tracks from over the years.

But the more impressive list at All-Music Guide is the one headed “Songs Composed By.” From “(Holy Matrimony) Letter to the Firm,” recorded by Foxy Brown in 1996, through “Zeke the Freak,” which Hayes recorded during a stint at Polydor in the late 1970s, the list of tracks currently available on CD runs twenty-four pages.

Add Hayes’ albums to his extraordinary writing credits, and then throw in the work he did as studio musician and producer, and you have one remarkable career. Then consider that Hayes was born in 1942 in a tin shack forty miles north of Memphis, and you have a remarkable life as well.

Here’s a selection of tracks as a salute to that career and that life.

A Baker’s Dozen of Isaac Hayes
“Theme from Shaft” by Isaac Hayes, Enterprise single 9038, 1971

“B-A-B-Y” by Carla Thomas, Stax single 195, 1966

“You Got Me Hummin’” by Cold Blood, San Francisco single 60, 1969

“Soulsville” by Isaac Hayes from the soundtrack to Shaft, 1971

“I’m A Big Girl Now” by Mable John, Stax single 225, 1967

“Hold On! I’m Comin’!” by B.B. King & Eric Clapton from Riding With the King, 2000

“You Don’t Know Like I Know” by Sam & Dave, Stax single 180, 1966

“Never Can Say Goodbye” by Isaac Hayes, Enterprise single 9031, 1971

“I Thank You” by Bonnie Raitt from The Glow, 1979

“My Baby Specializes” by Delaney & Bonnie from Home, 1968

“Little Bluebird” by Little Milton from Waiting For Little Milton, 1973

“Do Your Thing” by Isaac Hayes, Enterprise single 9042, 1971

“Lay Lady Lay” by Isaac Hayes from Tangled Up In Blues, 1999

A few notes:
Most of these don’t need commentary, I would guess. All but two of them came from Hayes’ pen, with most of those being co-written with Dave Porter of Sam & Dave, his long-time writing partner at Stax.

The three selections from Shaft – the main theme, “Soulsville” and “Do Your Thing” – were Hayes’ solo compositions. The versions of the theme and “Do Your Thing” presented here are single edits; on the official soundtrack, the theme ran 4:39 and “Do Your Thing” ran an extraordinary 19:30.

The two songs here that didn’t come from Hayes’ pen are “Never Can Say Goodbye” and, of course, “Lay Lady Lay.” The former is a single edit of a track from Hayes’ 1971 album Black Moses. “Lay Lady Lay” comes from a Bob Dylan tribute album issued by House of Blues in 1999 that’s had its title changed several times. When I bought it, it was called Tangled Up In Blues.

Edited slightly on archival posting July 27, 2011.

‘It’s Goin’ To Be Rainin’ Outdoors . . .’

July 18, 2011

Originally posted July 8, 2008

Many people of my generation – maybe most – first heard of “Come On In My Kitchen” from the snippet of the song that leads into “49 Bye Byes,” the closing song on the 1969 debut album of Crosby, Stills & Nash. That snippet, sung by – I think – Crosby in an odd, strained voice, is a little bit haunting, and for a few years, I wondered why that little snippet was stuck there, not imagining that there was a whole song out there somewhere for me to hear.

At least not until I heard Delaney & Bonnie’s To Bonnie From Delaney a few years later; the album includes a brief rendition of “Come On In My Kitchen” as part of a three-song medley. (“Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean” and “Going Down The Road Feeling Bad” are the others.) As was the case in those days – before we knew what we now know – the song was credited to someone named Payne, as it was when Delaney & Bonnie recorded it for 1971’s Motel Shot.

I’m not sure who Payne is – someone out there in blogworld must know – but the song, of course, is one of the twenty-nine blues songs written by Robert Johnson during his brief life (1911-1938). During the blues revival of the 1960s and the blues-rock era that followed, most of the Robert Johnson songs performed by rock bands were credited to someone else, or to no one at all. When the Rolling Stones recorded “Love In Vain” for Let It Bleed, they credited the song to W. Payne; when they included it on the live Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out!, the song was labeled “traditional.”

These days, when one sorts through the list of recordings of “Come On In My Kitchen” at All-Music Guide, nearly all of them give writing credit to Robert Johnson. (Oddly enough, some of those that don’t are on compilations of Johnson’s own performances, a few of which give writing credit for the song to Blind Willie Johnson.) Without digging into the conundrum too deeply, I imagine that the credit for returning “Come On In My Kitchen” and the rest of Johnson oeuvre to the long-dead bluesman’s fold should go to Columbia Records and its 1990 release, Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings.

Johnson’s own version of “Come On In My Kitchen” (along with an alternate that was unreleased until 1990) was recorded in a room at San Antonio’s Gunter Hotel on November 23, 1936. That was one of three San Antonio sessions; the others were November 26 and 27. Johnson’s only other recording sessions took place in Dallas the following year, sessions on June 19 and 20, 1937, in the building at 512 Park Avenue.

The Park Avenue building is closed and awaiting its fate. I recently wrote about stopping there with the Texas Gal in December 2004. We stopped there again a little more than a year ago. During that 2007 trip, we also went to San Antonio, and our last bit of business during three days there was a stop at the Gunter Hotel, now the Sheraton-Gunter.

In the lobby, there’s a plaque detailing the historic significance of the recording sessions that took place at the Gunter. The plaque notes that musicians of all types recorded there, as recording companies frequently leased rooms to use as studios in cities far away from their offices, and it cites Johnson’s influences on blues and rock and notes his inclusion – as an influence – in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

There are also two framed displays in the Sheraton-Gunter Hotel lobby.

I went to the registration counter and spoke briefly with the young man on duty. No doubt others had asked the same question I did: Did the hotel know which room the American Record Company used as its studio during Thanksgiving Week, 1936?

He smiled and said the hotel registers for that year had been lost long ago. “It would be nice to know,” he said. “But we don’t.”

And then I asked a question that seemed to surprise him. Maybe it was the first time he’d heard it. I noted that in the Texas of 1936, it was unlikely that Robert Johnson would have been allowed to enter the hotel by its front door, due to the color of his skin. My informant nodded and said, “True enough.” And I asked him if he knew the location of the door through which Robert Johnson was allowed to enter the hotel.

He thought for a moment, then answered: “There’s a bar called McLeod’s,” he said. “Before remodeling, its front door was the back way into the hotel. That’s almost certainly the door that Robert Johnson would have used.”

As I headed back to the car, where the Texas Gal was waiting patiently, I went past the door to McLeod’s and stood once more where Robert Johnson had stood. Then I took some pictures and went on my way.

Here are three versions of “Come On In My Kitchen.” The first is by Robert Johnson and is the take that was issued on a 78 rpm record as Vocalion 3563, recorded November 23, 1936, in San Antonio.

The second is by Delaney & Bonnie Bramlett, recorded at A&R Studios in New York for a live broadcast on WPLJ-FM on July 22, 1971. The Bramletts are accompanied by Duane Allman on slide guitar and Sam Clayton on congas. The performance was included on Duane Allman: An Anthology, Vol. II, released in 1974.

The third version is by Chris Thomas King with James Cotton on harp. It comes from the album Hellhound on my Trail: Songs of Robert Johnson, a 2001 release.

Robert Johnson – Come On In My Kitchen [1936]

Delaney & Bonnie – Come On In My Kitchen [1971]

Chris Thomas King & James Cotton – Come On In My Kitchen [2001]

Some Tales From Abbey Road

June 29, 2011

Originally posted May 28, 2008

It’s been a while since I read a book about the Beatles.

And it’s been a long while since anything about the Beatles interested and intrigued me as much as my current reading has. It’s the 2006 memoir of Geoff Emerick, the engineer whose work helped shape much of the Beatles’ catalog. Co-written with Howard Massey, Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of The Beatles, is a fascinating account of the years during which the Beatles were doing something new almost every time they stepped into the studios.

Emerick was 15 when he was hired by EMI, the British company that owned, among other things, some record labels and a recording studio complex on London’s Abbey Road. Not long after his hiring, EMI’s Parlophone label signed the Beatles, and by the time the group was recording Revolver in 1966, Emerick was pretty much their full-time recording engineer (although he worked other artists’ sessions, too). In 1969, Emerick left EMI in 1969 to join the Beatles at Apple.

I’m don’t know yet how that move came about. I’m currently reading about early 1968 and the unhappy sessions for The Beatles (generally known as The White Album). As grim as those sessions were for the Beatles, for producer George Martin and for Emerick and his fellow engineers, there is a fascination there, an awareness of the train wreck about to happen. But the book also holds my interest in Emerick’s tales of how the Beatles’ records were created: When they needed a certain sound, a certain effect, from Revolver on, it was Emerick’s job to create it. For example, when John Lennon said he wanted his vocal for “Tomorrow Never Knows” to sound “like the Dalai Lama chanting from a mountain top,” Emerick found the electronic formula to create the effect.

And he was mighty good at it. Emerick notes in the book that he was disappointed when he wasn’t credited for his work on the jacket of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but he adds that his work was noticed by his peers: He was awarded a Grammy for 1967 for the Best Engineered Album.

Along with the tales of how the sounds of the Beatles’ records were accomplished, Emerick gives his readers vivid and sometimes new sketches of the characters of the four Beatles. Maybe tales of the high-jinks and the nitty-gritty of who played what part on what song have already been told – it’s been a long time since I read anything about the Beatles, and there have been books in that interim that I have missed – but as well as having a good ear, Emerick seems to have a good eye. He noticed who was pleased or displeased by the way a session went, and he could tell which Beatles were truly engaged in a project and has some good ideas why or why not.

It’s a quick read but an interesting one, and I’d wager that anyone interested in the Beatles – that might include most music fans, I’d guess – would find a few hours spent with the book to be a good investment.

Delaney & Bonnie – D&B Together
As I was reading about early 1968 last evening, reflecting on the imminent break-up of the Beatles, a song from Delaney & Bonnie’s 1972 album D&B Together popped up on the player. “Ah,” I thought, “another partnership in the process of dissolving.”

D&B Together was the sixth or seventh album the duo made with their collection of friends. (Genesis, listed on All-Music Guide as a 1971 album, is – I believe – a collection of outtakes from very early sessions, so I discount that as an album. But AMG lists an album titled Country Life on Atco in 1972, and I know nothing about that album. Anyone out there?) But regardless of whether it was Number Six or Number Seven, it was the last. The partnership of the two singers – musical and marital – was coming to an end.

For the most part, that last album is a good collection of country-rock with the gospel and R&B inflections that charged the duo’s best albums. For me, the question always arises: How much of the credit for their good and great albums belongs to Delaney & Bonnie, and how much should go to their famous friends? I’m not sure how one would divide the credit, but as good as Delaney and Bonnie were, the quality of their records was at least in part due to their ability to attract superlative musicians into the studio. On the other hand, Delaney was a very good producer. And all of those factors were assets on D&B Together.

Here’s some information from the notes to the 2003 CD reissue of the album (a reissue that seems to be difficult to find, if not out of print):

On “Only You Know And I Know,” guitar work comes from Dave Mason and Eric Clapton.

Tina Turner joins the duo on “Sound Of The City.”

“Comin’ Home” features work once more by Clapton and Mason, and Clapton also joins in on “Groupie (Superstar),” the Bonnie Bramlett/Leon Russell composition that was a hit for the Carpenters in a slightly bowdlerized version.

A quote from Delaney is a little unclear, but if I read it correctly, Duane Allman – in what had to be one of his last bits of session work – added guitar on “A Good Thing (I’m On Fire)”.

The next-to-last track on the album “I Know Something Good About You,” has a pretty good cast, too: King Curtis (in what must have been one of his final sessions, as well), Billy Preston, Bobby Womack, Venetta Fields, Clydie King, Wilson Pickett and a singer Delaney identifies in the comments about the track as Aretha. (Franklin? She’s not mentioned in the long list of general credits, but neither is any other Aretha. And at the end of the list – compiled in 2002 – Delaney writes: “If I left anybody out, I’m sorry, I’m old.”)

Other musicians of note mentioned in that long list were Carl Radle, Jim Gordon, Jim Price, Bobby Keys, Larry Knechtel, Bobby Whitlock, Steve Cropper, James Jamerson and Merry Clayton. (Somewhere in the notes, I also saw a mention of drummer Jim Keltner but I don’t see his name on the list.)

So, as usual, Delaney and Bonnie drew a pretty good crowd of friends. And they did a pretty good job. I don’t know if the album is up to the standard of their earlier albums, but it’s not far off. Highlights for me are the gospelly “Wade In The River Of Jordan,” “Comin’ Home,” “Move ’Em Out” with its great sax solo (likely by Keys) and “A Good Thing (I’m On Fire).” Disappointments? Only a couple: I’m not fond of the version of “Groupie (Superstar)” and I could do without the string-laden and overly long intro to “Country Life,” a song Delaney co-wrote with Bobby Whitlock.

Track listing:
Only You Know And I Know
Wade In The River Of Jordan
Sound Of The City
Well, Well
I Know How It Feels To Be Lonely
Comin’ Home
Move ’Em Out
Big Change Comin’
A Good Thing (I’m On Fire)
Groupie (Superstar)
I Know Something Good About You
Country Life

Delaney & Bonnie – D&B Together [1972]