Rock Around the World November, 1976   11

BONNIE BRAMLETT Still Hollerin’ after all these years

f your name was Bonnie Bramlett and you could “holler” like a full gospel preacher in overdrive, you’d have friends like Greg Allman, Dobie Gray, Jimmy Hall from Wet Willie, Mickey Thomas from the Elvin Bishop group, and Bobby Whitlock singing on your latest album. You’d work with backup musicians like the

AWB and Little Feat. and on your nights off you’d

he jamming with the Marshall Tucker Band:

That’s exactly what Ms. Bonnie has been doing for a few years: cutting a solo album for Columbia and two for Capricorn . She’s embarking on a European tour with the Tuckers and Grinderswitch, and above all, she isn’t just singing harmony any more. Bonnie Bramlett is on her own, belting with all the stops pulled out, a powerful new LP on the charts, and an American tour on the boards.

She’s one of the friendliest, most energetic people in her field, and just wacked-out enough to be a hell of a lot of fun. A nutzy sense of humor is part of Bonnie’s style, and must have pulled her through some real rough spots. In person she’s even more appealing than on vinyl, and it’s a wonder it’s taken this long for Bonnie to emerge as a solo artist. I asked her if that was because she didn’t really like to sing by herself.

“It’s not that I didn’t like to sing by myself; I would prefer to sing harmony. I like singing with a trio; I always wanted to be three girls. I like harmony, you know, three voices at least. I like harmonizing, and I like to have somebody harmonize with me. singing together, because when you’re singing together you can look at each other’s mouths and see how together you can read each other.”

On Lady’s Choice Bonnie successfully “reads” Allman, Hall, Whitlock, Gray and Thomas. “With Dobie and I, that was the first time we ever sang together on record. Greg and I. we sang together at home, just messin’ around, for years . . . And I

never sang with Jimmy Hall before (Bonnie says she picked him because he’s got pretty lips). With Bobby Whitlock, I have—” (he was part of the D&B Band). “And I’d always sung the harmony line. This time I’m singing the melody and they’re singing the harmony line.”

“Does that feel strange?”

“It did at first. Hey, I just cried; I went crazy. When Delaney and I first split up and I did the first Sweet Bonnie Bramlett album on Columbia—it’s top secret; you’ll never find it—”

“I have it, and I played it to death,” I tell her.

Bonnie grins, shee-it. “Isn’t the mix terrible? But I mean, I was scared, I cried, ’cause I’d just go in there and sing my brains out, and then—all quiet in the control room, and I’d say, ‘wasn’t that good?’ “—she breaks into a mock dialogue

with herself—”Bonnie, that was great, hon. but it just wasn’t a melody.” I couldn’t find the melody any more. Now I got it pretty well down. But still, I sang harmony with Delaney all them years. In order to learn harmony—Delaney just can hear harmony. to the max, I mean; he’s got a great ear for harmony. He’d tell me, when we first got together. ‘Okay, Bonnie. when you hear a song, if you wanna sing harmony, if you wanna learn harmony, when you hear a song on the radio, don’t sing along with it. the melody; harmonize with it. Think harmony.’ Well, I thought harmony for eight years. and when I started to get down to sing my own melody—” she breaks into mock sobs again, “I forgot! I was thinkin’ harmony. and it scared me to death.”

Bonnie Bramlett forgetting how to sing is about as likely as a salmon forgetting the way back upstream. I asked if she ever felt frustrated all those years singing harmony.

“Huh-uh; I never did. Not a bit. Well I never just sang one harmony. The harmony lines that I sang would be the third and the top, and I’d move all around according to the phrasing. So I could stretch a little bit, you know. Whereas if you were just singing one-part harmony all your life, I imagine . . .” she doesn’t even have to finish the sentence to make clear how restricting that would be for her.

A family spirit pervades the musical communities of Macon and Atlanta. Members of the Allman. Marshall Tucker. Wet Willie. Grinderswitch, Elvin Bishop and Sea Level bands as well as veterans of the Delaney and Bonnie band frequently drop in on one another’s gigs and studio sessions, jam at parties, and just hang out together. Bonnie’s friends have appeared on all her albums; the liner notes always read like a Who’s Who of American music. I asked Bonnie if it was her decision to use the impeccable Muscle Shoals Horn Section on Lady’s Choice.

“The pleasure was all mine. The opportunity to use ’em came, and I jumped at it. I was real pleased. It was a surprise to me—’Got to Muscle Shoals? YEAH! I’ll go to Muscle Shoals!’ I never been there before. I was just gonna use my regulars, you know; Chuck Leavall and all, but they were all. at the time I wanted to start, they were all gone, workin’—thank god, everybody’s working’. I went to Muscle Shoals. I’m glad of that; it was real good. I really enjoyed it; it was a good experience . . . I have all the say when it’s my album. Phil (Walden. President of Capricorn Records) doesn’t put any binds on you at all.”

This freedom resulted in some of the best pairing of voices ever heard on record; Lady’s Choice should garner Bramlett the critical and public notice she deserves. Bonnie’s justifiably proud of the album, and says she has “a great next one coming

up,” which will include some of her own compositions as well as more songs she’s always wanted to do. But she won’t go the total solo route, writing. singing, playing and producing the entire album herself. “I’ve got a few songs, but you know what? All our lives Delaney and I—well. that’s my recording life; I never recorded before I met Delaney—everybody seems to like to do all their own material . . . One or two songs. I can dig it, but to relate, to listen to the whole album . . . to do always our own material, it made me stifle so much. and you’re always workin’ so hard to write your own songs . . . ‘Oh. we gotta do a whole album of my songs’—lt leaves you real narrow-minded, you don’t need to hear anybody else. Doing other people’s, other writers’ songs really widened my whole mind to make me write more.”

Bonnie’s new touring band sounds like they’ll live up to the material, too. “The band is called Tall Dogs. They all live in Juliette, out by my brother’s farm, out by Macon. Earl Ford. who plays electric trombone, used to play with Jam Factory. Joe English. Earl—they did a lot with Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, so Earl and I’ve been friends and Earl played on my last tour. After touring, he got the band together. and I’m real proud of ’em. They’re real good. I’m gonna put a horn section with ’em—Earl is the only horn now—and I’m gonna take probably two other horns with ’em. But they’re already a group in their own right, trying to do it. They don’t have a record label yet or anything, but I really hope they do good out there; anything I can do to help ’em. I did all right, you know—I think the Average White Band has done real good. and I think Little Feat’s done real good, and I hope Tall Dogs do as good as they did.”

Judging from what’s happened to those other bands Ms. B. used for back-up. Tall Dogs should soon be stars in their own right. In fact, she’s the person responsible for bringing the AWB to America for the first time, as the back-up band for Sweet Bonnie Bramlett.

Bramlett has certainly lived by her words. She hung in there through the traumatic split with Delaney, she kept on hollerin’ after her first solo album went nowhere and CBS dropped her; she sang in small clubs until Walden saw and signed her. After touring the world with 4ric Clapton, after being invited to sing on the Let It Bleed album, after being at the top of the pile as

half of one of America’s most exciting live acts, Bonnie Bramlett has finally found her solo feet, and it looks like the path to the top is clear once again. As she puts it, “You just wait your turn.” It seems that with Lady’s Choke, Bonnie’s turn has arrived—so sit up and take notice when she hollers.

—Kris DiLorenzo-