Bonnie Bramlett is at full throttle and the vocal engine that propelled her into musical history books is as fine-tuned as ever.
Bonnie was born in Alton, Illinois, and grew up in East St. Louis. At fourteen, she was allowed to sing on Gaslight Square, a St. Louis nightclub area much like the French Quarter in New Orleans. She was groomed by the best - Jazz greats Stan Getz, The Quartet Tres Bien, Herbie Mann, Miles Davis, and Nat and Cannonball Adderly gave her a musical foundation par excellent. But it was her love for rhythm and blues that brought her to the attention of Albert King and Little Milton. She made musical history as the first white Ikette for Ike and Tina Turner.
When she expanded her career and moved to Los Angeles in 1967, she met Delaney Bramlett and married him seven days later. Delaney & Bonnie & Friends shared the stage with “Friends” that included Eric Clapton, Leon Russell, George Harrison, Dave Mason, Rita Coolidge, Gram Parsons, and John Lennon to name just a few. A complete list of collaborations both in songwriting and performance reads like a history of Rock and Roll. They released five outstanding albums. Their first release was Delaney & Bonnie/Home on Stax Records. Hit singles such as “Soul Shake”, “Never Ending Song of Love”, and “Only You Know & I Know” kept them on the charts. The duo broke up personally and professionally in 1973. Her songwriting credits include “Superstar” (nominated for a Grammy in 1972), and “Give Peace a Chance”, both co-written with Leon Russell.
Bonnie then moved to Georgia and embarked upon a solo career. She enlisted a little known backup band from Scotland, The Average White Band. On the Southern Rock label, Capricorn, she issued solo LPs in 1974, 1976, and 1978. Bonnie was also the number one “gotta have” backup singer on albums by Joe Cocker, Carly Simon, Gregg Allman, Little Feat, Jimmy Hall, Steve Cropper, Jimmy Buffett, Dwight Yoakam, just to name a few. Her harmonizing with Delbert McClinton in the 1980s launched the award-winning “Givin’ it Up for Your Love” that has become a rock standard.
After touring with Stephen Stills, Dickey Betts and Gregg Allman invited her on the Allman Brothers tour, and she became known as the only “Allman Sister” to the acclaimed Southern rock group.
She returned to Los Angeles in the 1980s and married for a second time in 1988. A chance to act lured Bonnie into a guest role on the TV series Fame followed by a role in Oliver Stone’s film, The Doors, with Val Kilmer, Meg Ryan, and Billy Idol. While working with Tom Arnold on a theater production, Roseanne Barr asked Bonnie to be on her Number One Hit TV series “Roseanne” as Bonnie Watkins, her fellow waitress at the Mall. David Crosby appeared as her husband and an outstanding episode of backyard singing of “You’ve Really got a Hold on Me” capped her two-year appearance on the popular show. She also appeared on stage in the musical, Cowboy Cafe.
Her second marriage ended and Bonnie moved to Idaho with her family to write and regroup. In 1999 she moved to Nashville, Tennessee. She signed with Corlew Music Group and Blue Hat Records released the critically acclaimed I’m Still the Same in 2001. Jerry Wexler stated, “Her vocals are stunning in every respect; intonation on the money; dynamics intense; phasing lyrical and logical, and above all, burning with the feeling that we have come to recognize as deep soul.”
In 2005, Bonnie signed with ZOHO Records. In reviewing her March 2006 Release, Roots Blues & Jazz, George W. Harris wrote, “Some artists change with the times. Others simply refuse to grow. Praise God for the queen of ‘hazel eyed soul,’ Ms. Bonnie Bramlett, for sticking to her guns for all of these years… this rousing disc… puts to shame every wanna-be female rocker. There is nothing like a lady who roars like a female lion, and means it.
Backed by her burning Mr. Groove Band, Ms. Bramlett growls, shouts and wails with abandon only dreamed of by the present crop of youthful darlings. In complete contrast to today’s whiney and whispering groaners, Bramlett lays down the law with authority on the soul jazz classic, “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy”. She takes Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” and breathes fire into this anthem. Even Chuck Berry’s ironic ‘50’s teenage anthem of angst, “No Particular Place to Go” is given a hilarious rendition, with a completely modernized and rearranged groove.
With her world weary voice, Bramlett’s ode to enduring the turmoil of the ‘60’s “I Can Laugh about it Now,” leaves the listener wondering whether to applaud or console the winner of the attrition that betook her peers. This is the sound of a lady that has lived through it all, and still has a smile on her face. Defiant, brash and brazen, Ms. Bramlett still has a few lessons to teach the innocents abroad and at home. This CD will clean out the clogs in your ears caused by synthetic sounds like a musical Drano.”
Bramlett’s latest release, on Rockin’ Camel Music, is appropriately entitled Beautiful and reunites her with legendary producer Johnny Sandlin, who produced two of Bramlett’s best ‘70’s releases (It’s Time and Lady’s Choice). She’s also joined by daughter Bekka, and a veritable Who’s Who of southern rock including Bill Stewart on drums, David Hood on bass, Scott Boyer on guitar, Spooner Oldham on keyboards, Randall Bramblett on vocals, keyboards, and sax, Kevin Holly on guitar, James Pennebaker on guitars, dobro, and mandolin, and Kevin McKendree on piano, along with the Muscle Shoals Horn Section. Bramlett’s smoky vocals, along with able support from the band, transform the country tune “Sure Got Away with My Heart” (a hit for country artist John Anderson) into a soulful Stax-like soul nugget. The next cut pairs Bramlett with Randall Bramblett on his slow burner, “Witness for Love.” Bramblett also contributes the rowdy “Shake Somethin’ Loose,” which features harmony vocals from Bramlett’s daughter, Bekka, who also joins her for the sinewy rocker, “Strongest Weakness.” Bramlett gets jazzy on the after-hours torcher, “It’s Gonna Rain All Night,” and she delivers a stunning performance of hopelessness and desperation on the title track.
In a first for Bramlett, she blends politics with the music for a couple of tunes, most notably a funky reworking of Stephen Stills’ “For What It’s Worth.” She tackles intolerance on Gary Cotton’s “Some of My Best Friends,” a song she wanted to record for several years, but was unable to until he crossed paths with Sandlin again. She also ventures into gospel territory with a thoughtful cover of Waylon Jennings’ “I Do Believe,” Gary Nicholson’s “Bless ‘em All,” and a gorgeous version of Dan Penn’s “He’ll Take Care of You,” which closes the disc.
“I am a singer who writes songs,” Bonnie says. But she is really much more, a musical legend, a national treasure, and a classic beauty of a rocker in every sense of the word.