The voices stream out like ghosts, it’s Delaney & Bonnie. Those two names, when linked together, can be synonymous with either early Southern rock or white soul. In the event you’re not familiar with Delaney & Bonnie (and their star-studded backing group of “Friends”), they served out a staggered, fractured Southern fried amalgam of R&B-based music (think steamy Muscle Shoals, edging towards the Leon Russell school of song). Their music seemed to arise from the West Coast, where the rural Southerners Delaney & Bonnie had emigrated to make their careers.
First out on this collection is the recognizable hit “Only You Know and I Know”, which received massive amounts of AM radio play in 1971. Not that anyone could tell by hearing the song on the radio, the song was recorded at Ike Turner’s Bolic Studio in Inglewood, California, with Tina and Bonnie trading verses. Which was not out of kilter, as Bonnie, a dozen years earlier at the tender age of 15, had broken some barriers by becoming the first white Ikette with the Ike & Tina Turner Revue.
In 1969, as they began becoming recognizable names, Delaney and Bonnie seemed to come out of nowhere. Or as good as nowhere, actually Los Angeles, where Delaney was part of the band for Shindig, a warmed-over pop music television show complete with shimmying besatined Gazzari dancers. Neither fact supplying any shred of credibility quotient, certainly not for the savvy audiences of San Francisco Bay Area, who were busy with their own music or immediate geographic distractions of a socio-political nature. Bonnie’s apprenticeship with Ike & Tina, or Albert King for that matter, as far as the general public was concerned was simply an unknown or unpublished biographical fact. Or if they knew, they likely didn’t care, as by 1969 both Eric Clapton (of Cream) and George Harrison (of the Beatles) had mentioned Delaney and Bonnie favorably and so had given them their public seal of approval. Clapton went farther, sweeping them up for some of his projects and tours, and Delaney & Bonnie’s career seemed immediately fueled.
At that time, listeners really didn’t need to be grabbed by a clever effect or hook, but were more willing to ease into music listening, to “get into” in a longer timed format than the one good side on a 45 rpm. The industry began oversaturating the market in an attempt to cash in on what was perceived as a “phase” the young folks were going through. New, young bands who only had one or two good tunes in them were being signed to record entire albums for labels. By the early ‘70s, it seemed every band with a record contract was required to put out five albums each year.
The listening public whose ears and sensibilities had been overly bombasted by the heavy guitar rock sound so popular at the time either became accustomed to one release being nearly indistinguishable from the last or just stopped trying to notice any difference between records. Their attitudes had become more than a little jaded. During a momentary pause between waves (the San Francisco sound was not generally accessible and the English wave had likely crested), the sounds of the South were being pushed heavily by those who held the contracts as the next listening fad. The sound of Johnny Winter, Leon Russell, the Shelter Group, Muscle Shoals, were everywhere on AM radio and all the time as if that was all there was. This music is the precursor of what later became defined as Southern rock, a music played by “long-haired rednecks” (Charlie Daniel’s description). But these early travelers first stirred that mix of a whisper of Delta blues with a larger portion of R&B and soul, and though early Southern rock ‘n’ roll was edging in from the sides, all was tempered with 1960’s psychedelia. In the early ‘70s, the form was everywhere on the radio all the time, and Delaney & Bonnie, talented though they were, kind of got lost in that shuffled play. They always seemed on the verge of exploding into the stardom that era offered, but that never really happened for them. Coming up at the end of the sixties, their career path likely was strewn with colorful figures, improbable twists of fate, not to mention lots of wild living, and all that probably got in the way.
This CD D & B Together features all 12 tracks of their last (and not their greatest) album together in 1972, when their divorce split the duo and broke their careers apart. Added are six tracks pulled from subsequent solo albums. Bonnie Bramlett really owns a set of sassy pipes and she surely can sing rings around almost anyone else—everything from the shouting gospel of “Wade in the River of Jordan” to the swaying rock ‘n’ roll slow love song, “Groupie (Superstar)”. Delaney can push his guitar into the hard rock of “Coming Home” and the fuzzed out simple funk of “Well, Well” (a tune where he’s actually playing the windings on his strings), where his playing and the direct emotional _expression of the lyrics spin around a very sincere down home kind of riff. And Delaney & Bonnie without a doubt always had a fine assortment of people (their “Friends”) in the studio with them (from Tina Turner, to Merry Clayton, to Vanetta Field).
Delaney & Bonnie are more than deserving of being listened to, weather a person has a taste for white soul or Southern rock. But if the listener likes even a part of what’s represented here, start searching out some of their “Best Of” compilations for a much fuller picture, which really, in their instance, are true best ofs.
// Notes from the Road
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