- Delaney & Bonnie & Friends
- On Tour With Eric Clapton (Deluxe Edition)
It really is amazing when you think about it. 1970 saw the release of Eric Clapton’s self-titled debut album as a solo artist, George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, and Derek & The Dominos’ Layla – all hitting the streets between August and November of that year. That in itself is one serious heap of music, but when you figure in the fact that the same core group of musicians was featured on those three albums (bassist Carl Radle, drummer Jim Gordon, Bobby Whitlock on keys and vocals – plus ol’ EC himself), it begins to get a little mind-numbing.
Trace the roots of that lineup backwards and you’ll land smack-dab in the middle of one of the powerhouse rock revues of all time: the Delaney & Bonnie & Friends European tour in late 1969. The husband and wife team of Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett were the embodiment of sweat-soaked-and-letting-it-all-hang-out soul and it seemed like once their career as a duo began rolling in the late 60s, everybody who passed within hearing distance of their orbit was naturally drawn into it, wanting to share in the absolute groove. Clapton hired the Bramletts and their band to tour as Blind Faith’s opener in the summer; by fall, Clapton had chucked the supergroup trappings of Blind Faith aside for the down-home-and-dirty vibe of the Bramletts’ world – he was the guitar player in their band.
By the time the Bramletts landed in England, the basic lineup of the “Friends” included not only what would become Derek and the Dominos (sans Duane Allman), but Jim Price and Bobby Keys (there’s your Exile On Main Street horns, folks), as well – along with conga player Tex Johnson and vocalist Rita Coolidge. Dave Mason jumped on the bus along the way – and so did an ex-Beatle by the name of Harrison. The names may sound like a list of rock royalty – but they were all there to play with the King and the Queen: Delaney & Bonnie.
In 1970, an album of “highlights” from the D&B&F European run titled Delaney & Bonnie & Friends – On Tour With Eric Clapton was released. The 8 tracks on the collection were great, but have had listeners longing for more for 40 years now. Leave it to the musical archeologists at Rhino Handmade to come up with the goods: a just-released 4-disc set of four complete shows from early December of 1969. Whatever issues audiophiles may have with the four-decades-old live recordings will certainly be canceled out by the sheer power and energy of the performances from these shows. (If you don’t feel it, head for the emergency room – something’s wrong with you.) The setlists didn’t vary a lot from night to night on the tour, but no matter; this bunch could jam. And they did.
The “Friends” would clear the path for Delaney & Bonnie each night, warming the crowds up with a kick-ass stomp through “Gimme Some Lovin’” (a fine showcase for Bobby Keys’ draw-off-and-let-it-wail vocals) and maybe a bluesy jam. By the time D&B hit the stage, the juices were already flowing, the crowd responding to Delaney’s shouts for some handclaps like a choir to the preacher.
Whether it’s the slick trade-off-and-weave vocals of tunes like “Where There’s A Will, There’s A Way” and “Things Get Better” or the Bonnie belters like “That’s What My Man Is For”, the interplay between the Bramletts can’t help but make you shake your head in admiration. Sometimes it was harmonies; sometimes it was whatever it felt like at that moment. The arrangements are pretty tight, but at the same time, there are plenty of moments where the emotions take the wheel – and the Friends were talented enough to follow wherever the Bramletts led them. Johnson, Gordon, and Radle are locked in and unshakeable; Keys and Price punch out tasty bits of horn all over the place; Whitlock’s keys and vocals prove him to be every bit the soulster that the situation required – and Clapton sounds like he’s having a pure and utter blast playing the dog snot out of his guitar. So do Dave Mason and George Harrison; the whole damn band was simply having fun.
One of the high points of each of the shows offered here has to be “Coming Home”, a soul-packed highway romp co-written by the Bramletts and Clapton. Positioned toward the end of each night’s setlist, “Coming Home” gets kick-started with a crunchy little guitar figure from Delaney, followed by a cascade of sound that rumble-tumbles down from the rafters and spirals into the funky chug of the song’s main riff. By the latter shows on the tour, Delaney’s voice is half-blown and raggedy, but still chock full of emotion (a true soulman gets the job done no matter what shape the pipes are in). A couple verses, a wild-ass jam, and then the tune grinds to a halt – or does it? Each night is a little different: here Bobby Whitlock sounds like he’s got all fours on the keys, refusing to let go; here the guitars wail and bellow at each other, waiting … waiting … you can feel the whole band catching its breath … and then diving back into the beast as Delaney cranks out that greasy guitar bit one more time. Sometimes they immediately lock in; sometimes drummer Gordon has to backpedal and extend the roll to give the whole works time to find the groove – and then they’re off and going, a humungous wall of sweaty, grinning sound.
The ironic part of this is, while “Coming Home” is a tale of a too-long-on-the-road musician who can’t wait to get back home to the arms of his baby, Delaney’s total soul-partner was right there alongside of him, pouring her own self out at the same time. They were more than husband and wife – they were each other’s biggest fans, pushing themselves and their band just as far as they could humanly go. Put an ear to the jams: those slightly off-mic yips, wails, and bellows are the sounds of Delaney & Bonnie’s sheer in-the-moment joy over the music they were creating.
At the end of Disc 2 (the 12/2/69 Colston Hall show) a very proper-sounding management-type gentleman tries to reason with the crowd’s demands for more. After several attempts at an orderly announcement and dismissal of the audience, he reaches his fill and fires off (in fine British tones), “All right, let me be blunt: it doesn’t matter how long you stay there and how much noise you make – there will be no further performance tonight.”
Oh, but if only we could stomp our feet, clap our hands, and yell loudly enough to make the lineup of amazing musicians – and friends – captured on these discs come back one more time … woah, Lordy.