Delaney & Bonnie & Friends – On Tour With Eric Clapton (Atco)
One of the saddest things about the recent passing of Delaney Bramlett last month was how overlooked it was. It’s not just that Delaney’s stock plummeted shortly after his early ’70s heyday with wife Bonnie Bramlett, it’s also because one of the duo’s most notable releases—one that features the greatest line-up of blue-eyed soul musicians ever assembled mixing it up with one of the best guitarists ever—has been quietly forgotten by all but the most devoted of fans.
The uninitiated only need to hear Delaney & Bonnie‘s On Tour with Eric Clapton to discover how unfortunate this slight is. The eight-song release captured the band at what may be the highpoint of its career, complete with a once-in-a-lifetime sit-in by none other than “God” himself laying out some wonderfully exciting fretwork.
At its core, On Tour is a document of the kind of music that Delaney & Bonnie had been perfecting for years: Memphis blue-eyed soul with a tinge of gospel harmonics. Where Delaney provided the grit of the blues, Bonnie provided the sweet harmonies and some believable gospel flourishes. Raised in East St. Louis, Bonnie held her own against many blues luminaries as Albert King and Little Milton before finding love—in a bowling alley of all places—with the guitarist from the house band on the Shindig television show.
The two created a pair of albums before being tapped as the opening band on Blind Faith‘s first and only US tour.
While traveling the American highways, a young Eric Clapton began seeking solace in the duo’s tour bus, shying away from the adulation that surrounded him with both Blind Faith and Cream. While the supergroups that Clapton was participating with at the time presented a challenge of egos, Delaney & Bonnie provided him with time from the spotlight to reflect on what really mattered: the music.
Befriending Eric Clapton is a great story in itself, but the real story is how great Delaney & Bonnie’s band were even before Clapton sat in with them. The Croydon, England show recorded for this album features Dave Mason, Carl Radle, and Bobby Whitlock on keyboards. Rita Coolidge helps compliment Bonnie’s amazing vocal workouts while legendary brass mates Bobby Keys and Jim Price add some punch to the mix. Essentially, this is the same band used for the Derek & the Dominoes sessions and it’s quite clear that Clapton uses similar vocal range for his own solo career as Delaney Bramlett.
The band lets up once, allowing Bonnie to sing Bessie Griffin‘s “That’s What My Man Is For.” She seductively informs the lighting man to bathe her in red lights “…’cause this is a red light song” before laying down a solo workout that demonstrates why she was the only white woman that can claim to have been an Ikette during Ike and Tina‘s sixteen-year career.
The time on the road must have indeed made “friends” out of Clapton and the rest of the performers. Not only did he nick them for his own Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, their services also were provided to George Harrison during the Concert For Bangladesh, and even Leon Russell partook in their generosity by enlisting them for Joe Cocker‘s Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour. All of this work put Delaney & Bonnie on the back burner, and with it, any chance of capturing the momentum that should have come from working with such high-profile companions. Instead, the pair watched their good fortunes collapse and, eventually, their own marriage too.
On Tour is a stunningly abrupt live release that’s prime for rediscovery and a proper reissue. It remains the best example of Delaney & Bonnie’s authentic blend of Delta soul and the last example of how great Clapton could be when he worked as a sideman among musicians of equal caliber and inspiration.
As Delaney himself sings on the track “Poor Elijah,” “Ain’t nobody here but good people.”
He’s being modest; On Tour is a document of some great people doing what they love.
Video: Delaney & Bonnie & Friends – “Poor Elijah”
7 thoughts on “Lost Classics: Delaney and Bonnie and Friends – On Tour With Eric Clapton”
I’ve long thought that D&B made some of the dullest, most mediocre country-rock records ever made. They obviously knew how to throw a good party because they always had such an A-list celebrity friends. Personally, I think you need a ton of whiskey and blow to think these records hold up in any way.
obviously you missed the sparkle
On Tour is the best document in Bonnie & Delaney’s catalog. There’s not a hint of the dullness and mediocrity that you speak of. Some of the other albums do house a few duds, but to dismiss them entirely is a bit shortsided. Do you have specific examples of what you find dull? What are your thoughts on Derek & the Dominoes? I mean, to each his own but I’m standing by my words and the fact that Eric Clapton, George Harrison, etc. all found something special in what D&B did. Plus, the dude that practically invented rock ‘n roll thought Bonnie was good enough to hire her. I’ll bet he made her move more than what she’s doing in that second video, but even so, I don’t hear any mediocrity in what she’s belting. Speaking of, for those that are not familiar with the duo’s work, take a look at those two video and report back here if you think they’re dull and mediocre
Great album. Nice article.
I could spend all day arguing that Eric Clapton is the single most overrated artist in the history of rock. The Yardbirds were mostly great, better after Clapton though. The Derek & Dominoes record is pretty good, mostly because of Duane Allman and a pretty good rhythm section. The rest of his catalog is pretty worthless to my ears. He is a fine guitarist for sure. His best moments are his contributions to other records like the Beatles and George Harrison. Not to mention his great playing on the fantastic Johnny Johnson album that they recorded with NRBQ & Keith Richards. His own taste in material is generally pretty awful. Slick, maudlin ballads and limp-dick phony reggae. How bout those Phil Collins years and those fantastic Michelob Light commercials? We also have Clapton to blame for knowing who J.J. Cale is. I won’t even start down the road of how terrible The Cream is.
If the Band had let Eric Clapton in like he wanted, Delaney & Bonnie would be even bigger footnotes than they are now.
I dunno about this “Clapton Is God” shit..this and that..whatever. Alls I know is that if you’re a musician like me…and you listen to the notes and chrds that he plays ya gotta say this is a goddamn good guitar player.”
Todd: I agree AND disagree with this line from your (informed, objective and well-written post):
“the last example of how great Clapton could be when he worked as a sideman among musicians of equal caliber and inspiration.”
Let me begin by saying I am a MAJOR fan of EC, but not quite enough to think he can do no wrong (although I will say I like probably 75-80% of his work, solo or with Blind Faith, Cream, Yardbirds, Derek & dominos, etc.)
But as much as I like EC (and his live performances FAR outshine the studio stuff for the most part), his best work is when he sits in with someone else, eliminating the pressure/responsibility of being a “front man.”
So in that case, I agree with the portion of that quote that reads”how great Clapton could be when he worked as a sideman among musicians of equal caliber and inspiration.”
The part I DON’T agree with is “the last example of…” if you look at the myriad of shows and studio recordings he has sat in on, he adds a tasteful, unique touch to those songs, and usually plays with a fire and earnestness that is often lacking in his own recordings…