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music friday: delaney & bonnie & friends

I’m realizing as I write this that Delaney & Bonnie might be forgotten by now. While they didn’t have many hits, for a few years, they were really something, and through them a lot of music emerged. Suffice to say for starters that Christgau gave the following grades to their first five albums: B+, A+, A-, A-, A. He also gave A grades to two later Best-Ofs. He wrote, “They are what would happen to rock and roll if it were capable of growing up--maybe they are even what would happen to this country if it were capable of growing up.” Here is part of their story.

The Shindogs, “I Feel Fine”. One of the first times Delaney hit the spotlight was as a member of The Shindogs, who were the house band for the 60s TV series, Shindig! The legendary James Burton was on guitar. (Bonnie spent a short period as the first white Ikette in Ike and Tina history.)

The following video gives the best example of what is meant by “and friends”. It was recorded around the same time as what became Delaney & Bonnie & Friends on Tour with Eric Clapton. “The Friends” include, besides Clapton: Bobby Whitlock, Carl Radle, and Jim Gordon, who with Clapton became Derek and the Dominos; George Harrison; Bobby Keys and Jim Price, the two-man horn section who played with everyone, perhaps most famously The Rolling Stones; Rita Coolidge; and Billy Preston.

This is a terrific video, 45 minutes of live greatness, but the sound is only decent. For better sound, listen to the On Tour album, which is missing Harrison and Preston but which is otherwise very similar.

The connections are endless. Eric Clapton’s first solo album featured most of the people in the above video, and most of the songs were co-written by Clapton and one or another Bramlett. It sounds, in fact, a lot like a Delaney & Bonnie album. Don’t Know Why”. And, of course, Clapton followed this with Layla and Other Assorted Lovesongs.Why Does Love Have to Be So Sad?

There’s Leon Russell, who was also a Shindog. He appeared on some D&B albums, and borrowed some of their musicians for the Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour. With Bonnie, he co-wrote “Groupie”, better known a couple of years later as “Superstar”, which was the title when The Carpenters turned it into a giant hit.

Delaney & Bonnie, “Groupie”.

Along the way, Bonnie appeared on Roseanne for a couple of seasons, and offered this up during an impromptu backyard singalong (John Goodman gets it started, Shelley Winters looks on approvingly, Bonnie takes over):

Bonnie Bramlett, “You Really Got a Hold on Me”.

Finally, there’s “Never Ending Song of Love”. This was their biggest “hit” single. It came from Motel Shot, a mostly-acoustic album that plays like a really strong precursor to the unplugged era. It is a beautiful song, and a beautiful recording, featuring D&B and their friends ... someone compared the feel to “Give Peace a Chance”. And it’s heartbreaking to listen to it, knowing that Delaney and Bonnie broke up not that long after recording it. Which is why I like the story that it was written, not about their love for each other, but their love for their kids. And it’s why I’m posting this video, featuring Bonnie and a bunch of friends kicking it in another backyard, where one of the friends is daughter Bekka:

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