Paul McCartney announced he was leaving The Beatles in April 1970. But this was really the final death blow of what everybody saw coming. George Harrison – wasting no time at all – booked Abbey Road and in May of that year started recording his classic triple album All Things Must Pass.
Players on this album included Delaney and Bonnie’s backup band, plus Clapton, Ringo, guys from Badfinger, Dave Mason, Phil Collins and Ginger Baker. (But curiously, neither Delaney nor Bonnie).
Now at this time, Duane Allman had been signed to Atlantic Records by legendary producer Jerry Wexler. Delaney wanted to work with a slide player who was “better than me.” Ry Cooder was suggested but was not available.
Wexler knew Delaney and suggested to him that he get to know Duane, that their styles of music were sympatico and that he was a pretty good slide player himself. (Bonnie had met Duane earlier in one of his pre-Allman Brothers band groups). It probably didn’t hurt either that both were Southerners playing the blues, Delaney from Mississippi, Duane born in Tennessee, mostly raised in Florida.
From then on, the two of them (along with sax player King Curtis), became thick as thieves. Duane would often go over to Delaney’s house and they would just play blues.
I had always understood Wexler to say that some of the best music he ever heard in his life came from that back porch and that he regretted never recording it. But it was actually Wexler’s porch overlooking the water in Long Island, NY. They could have had several albums but it was not meant to be, said Delaney.
Duane would occasionally join D&B on tour (“He was pretty much a constant,” says Bobby Whitlock, “popping in and out of our lives.”) and in 1970, was a player on their To Bonnie From Delaney album album. (A later album, Motel Shot, added ex-Byrds Gram Parsons and Clarence White to their already incredible stable of musicians. Not to mention Joe Cocker.)
From To Bonnie from Delaney, here’s some hot Duane slide on “Living on the Open Road”:
Eric Clapton released his self-titled first solo album in August of 1970. It included not only Leon Russell, but also all the members of what were to become Derek and the Dominos.
Produced by none other than Delaney Bramlett (is this guy a motherfucker or what?), some even made the statement that it was really a Delaney album with Eric doing his best imitation of Delaney’s vocals.
This may in part be due to the fact that more than half the songs were co-written with D&B. And Bonnie corroborates that Delaney would sing and give Eric ideas about how to phrase each song, at least on this album.
Due to money issues, most of D&B’s band (excepting Bobby Whitlock) drifted off to play and record with Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen. Whitlock, now watching the slow, inevitable dissolution of D&B’s marriage, now wanted to leave.
He said that the couple’s fighting had gotten so bad that he had had enough drama for four lifetimes. In fact, it was just about the time Bonnie threw Delaney’s keys out of the car, backing up traffic that Bobby knew he’d had enough.
So his friend, Stax session guitarist Steve Cropper convinced him to call Eric, see what he was up to. Clapton said, Come on over, and maybe to both their surprise, Bobby went to England and he and Clapton started writing songs together.
And once Carl Radle and Jim Gordon came off the road, that became the nucleus of Derek and The Dominos. With the songs that Clapton and Whitlock had written, they started recording what was to become the classic Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. (Which was, of course, inspired by Clapton’s unrequited love for Harrison’s wife Patti.)
Ah-ha! you may be saying to yourself assuming you’ve even gotten this far. Duane Allman played on this album too. Certainly, Delaney must have introduced Eric and Duane, given that he knew both of them. Or maybe Bobby, who’d also known Duane. Nope. For whatever reason, neither of those things happened.
In fact, Eric had heard Duane’s playing on Wilson Pickett’s version of The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” and was totally blown away. (When Clapton first heard Allman’s solo on his car radio, he reportedly pulled over to the side of the road to listen. “I drove home and called Atlantic Records immediately,” Clapton said. “I had to know who that was playing guitar and I had to know now.”)
During the recording of Layla, the Dominos went to see the Allmans live in Florida. Duane, seeing Eric in the audience, froze and stopped playing. For his part, Eric said he was “mesmerized” by Duane’s playing. Love at first sight! Afterwards the bands all got together, went over to Criteria studios and well, the rest is history.
Delaney and Bonnie kept recording for another album or two. But with Duane’s death in 1971, Eric and other players moving on, and their by-now constant fighting, the handwriting was on the wall.
But they could still make beautiful music together in the recording studio if nowhere else. From their 1972 album D&B Together, here’s a funky version of Dave Mason’s “Only You Know and I Know.” (With the unmistakable Billy Preston on keys.)
The list of players on this album includes just about everybody I’ve mentioned (minus Harrison) and now adding Allman Brothers’ drummer Jaimoe, Tina Turner, and several backup singers who would go on to work with the Stones.
Coda: By 1973, Delaney and Bonnie broke up personally and professionally. I guess it didn’t go too well as Delaney says Bonnie threw all his shit (including rare records) out in the rain.
But they’d had a daughter named Bekka who sang in Fleetwood Mac for a little while in the ’90’s and has also backed singers such as Faith Hill and Vince Gill. Bonnie went on to recording solo but never reached the same level of stardom. She ultimately did some acting and wound up on the Rosanne show (as a character named Bonnie).
And she is famous – or infamous – for a brawl she had with a drunken Elvis Costello in the late ’70’s. (In subsequent interviews, she professes to be embarrassed by the whole thing and thinks Costello is a genius songwriter.) And Elvis, in his autobiography, discusses the incident but never mentions Bonnie by name. Trust me, he remains mortified and regretful as who wouldn’t?
Oklahoma musicians continued to be a major influence on Clapton. In addition to Radle, he subsequently worked with drummer Jamie Oldaker and keyboardist Dick Sims, all of whom were from Tulsa. And of course thanks to Delaney, he became a major, major fan of Tulsa’s J. J Cale and later recorded the Don Williams song “Tulsa Time.”
Oh, and Hendrix? Well, I’ve never associated his name in any way, shape or form with this band. But according to a 2008 interview with Delaney, he and Bonnie were getting ready to play a gig at the Hollywood Palladium in March 1969.
Delaney was sitting in the dressing room and Jimi showed up and said “I heard you don’t have a guitar player. I know all your stuff. Now, when you do twin stuff like you and Duane do, I know both parts.”
And so, Jimi got up and played with them at the Palladium and I believe may have toured with them for a few weeks.
Now, this story puzzles me for two reasons – one because till I researched this post, I’d never heard of any association of Delaney and Jimi; and two because I have never heard that Jimi was even aware of Duane. (They did both play at the Atlanta Pop Festival in 1970, so, well, maybe). Well, this picture and subsequent research proves that yes, Jimi did play with them.
Delaney seems to have a bit of selective “This-really-happened” memory on some things. So who knows if the Duane connection really came up. I don’t even think it makes chronological sense.
Anyway, there you have it. The absolutely true, honest-to-God amazin’ story of Delaney and Bonnie and Friends. In their day, they were a highly influential cauldron of late ’60’s funk/soul/blues. I think they were so popular with other musicians because, like The Band, they had an authenticity about them. And frankly, for a while, they just created a nice comfortable atmosphere in which to create.
Someone on YouTube questioned why Delaney and Bonnie are not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And now having written this, I wonder that myself.
Sources: Documentary, Eric Clapton – The 1970’s Review; Book, Skydog, The Duane Allman Story