Delaney Bramlett - guitar, vocals; Bonnie Bramlett - vocals; Eric Clapton - guitar, vocals; Bobby Whitlock - organ, vocals; Leon Russell - piano; Carl Radle - bass; Jim Gordon - drums; Jim Price - trumpet, trombone; Bobby Keys - saxophone; Jim Horn - saxophone; Tex Johnson - conga, bongos; Rita Coolidge - vocals
Hailing from Pontotoc County, Mississippi, guitarist, singer and songwriter Delaney Bramlett relocated to Los Angeles at the tail end of the 1950s where he began pursuing a career as a professional session musician. His first serious break occurred when he was recruited into the Shindogs in 1964, which for the next three years would form the house band for the popular ABC TV program Shindig! Through his work with the Shindogs, Delaney worked with keyboardist Leon Russell and the two would establish a lasting friendship. Delaney initially pursued a solo career, releasing several unsuccessful solo singles before meeting his future wife and musical partner, Bonnie Lynn O'Farrell. Bonnie's musical pursuits began by sneaking into rhythm and blues clubs in the Gaslight Square district of St. Louis, where her family was living during the early 1960s. Despite being underage, she was soon recognized as an innately gifted singer and performed with blues giant Albert King at the age of 14 and was even briefly recruited into the Ike & Tina Turner Revue at age 15, the first white girl to ever become an Ikette. In 1967, Bonnie also headed for Los Angeles, where she landed a gig opening for the Shindogs at a local hotspot. It was a love at first sight experience and Delaney and Bonnie tied the knot almost immediately, marrying in 1967. Teaming up to form their own band, they pursued creating music that was a synthesis of their mutual love for rhythm and blues, country, soul, gospel, and rock 'n' roll. Thanks to Delaney and Leon Russell's many musical connections in Los Angeles, the duo became a magnet for many of the most gifted musicians in the area. Christened Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, due to the transient nature of the musicians involved, the group's modern application of a soul-revue, emphasizing the pair's powerful vocals, soon caught the attention of Stax Records, which signed the duo. Their debut album, Home, was recorded at Stax's Memphis studios and featured the cream of the crop of house musicians, including, Steve Cropper, Booker T. Jones, Donald "Duck" Dunn, and Isaac Hayes. Despite its soulful Memphis down-home grooves and superb selection of songs, the album was virtually lost in the label's attempt to establish itself into the burgeoning album market by releasing 27 albums simultaneously, leaving few resources for any individual album promotion.
Discouraged but undaunted, Delaney & Bonnie moved to Elektra Records for their second album that same year, Accept No Substitute, co-produced by Leon Russell and Donald "Duck" Dunn. This album continued the development of their alchemical sound, an earthy blend of blue-eyed soul, gospel, rock, and country elements that again emphasized the duo's powerhouse vocals. Although this album didn't sell very well either, it did manage to create quite the buzz in music industry circles. After hearing rough mixes of the album, George Harrison offered the duo a contract on the Beatles' Apple Records label. Despite already being signed to Elektra, Delaney & Bonnie signed with Apple, a contract that was soon legally voided. This event and Delaney's increasing dissatisfaction with Elektra eventually resulted in the group being dropped by the end of the year, guaranteeing no further promotion of the second album. However, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as George Harrison had by then turned Eric Clapton on to the second album recordings. With Harrison's encouragement, and upon Clapton's recommendation, Delaney & Bonnie and Friends were recruited as the opening act for one of the most highly anticipated tours of the decade, Clapton and Steve Winwood's first post-Cream and post-Traffic groups respectively, Blind Faith.
On the extremely high-profile Blind Faith tour, the group gained legions of new fans, including Clapton himself, who quickly became close friends with the group, actually preferring their music to that of his own band. He would often sit in during the Delaney & Bonnie sets and continued to record and tour with them following the breakup of Blind Faith. He also stepped in and helped secure a new deal with his American label, Atco, part of the Atlantic Records label. Released on Atco, Delaney & Bonnie's third album, On Tour with Eric Clapton, would become the group's breakthrough album, recorded live during their 1969 European tour and featuring a stellar lineup that included all four members of the future Derek & The Dominoes, the future horn section for the Rolling Stones as well as Traffic guitarist Dave Mason and an un-credited George Harrison along for the ride. This live album had a raw down-home groove and relentless energy that was far more exhilarating than anything the group had recorded before, capturing a genuinely credible big-band sound that rock audiences could appreciate. Clapton also recruited the group as his band on his first solo album (with Delaney in the producer's chair) and upon the Beatles breakup, George Harrison would soon do the same for his first solo album, the magnum opus All Things Must Pass, the following year.
This Fillmore West performance, recorded shortly before Clapton would recruit the core band (Bobby Whitlock on keyboards, Carl Radle on bass and Jim Gordon on drums) to form his next band, Derek & The Dominoes, captures Delaney & Bonnie and Friends in incendiary form and at the peak of this particular lineup's powers. Recorded on the final night of a legendary four-night run in San Francisco, this performance is arguably superior to the official live album. Featuring several of the same songs, as well as material only released on studio albums, this group is literally a musical locomotive driven along by Delaney's charging guitar and vocals and Bonnie's peerless voice, which balances blistering and sweet at the same time. Also for this performance, Delaney's old buddy, Leon Russell, joins the already impressive lineup on grand piano throughout the set.
The set kicks off just like the live album, with the standout track from Delaney & Bonnie's Stax album, Things Get Better. Written by the Stax team of Steve Cropper, Wayne Jackson and Eddie "King" Floyd, this high-energy opener immediately sets the bar with terrific ensemble playing. Things continue with a sneak preview of a great new song destined for Eric Clapton's first solo album, I Don't Know Why. The Bramletts helped Clapton to overcome his reluctance to sing and this song, written in collaboration, clearly shows where Clapton would soon be heading. A joyous celebration follows as the group perform A.P. Carter's Christian hymn, "Will The Circle Be Unbroken," a folk music staple that gets Delaney & Bonnie's pure gospel treatment to great effect.
Next up, the group returns to the debut Stax album for a superb reading of Bonnie and Homer Banks composition "Pour Your Love On Me." This is a vocal tour-de-force, with Delaney & Bonnie's soulful vocals, fleshed out by the smoky voices of Rita Coolidge and Bobby Whitlock all blending together. This segues directly into "Just Plain Beautiful," another Cropper, Jackson, Floyd collaboration featured on the Stax album. This begins with Clapton and Delaney trading riffs most effectively and showcases the fantastic organ playing of Bobby Whitlock. This inspired pairing of songs is a thoroughly joyous performance that easily equals anything on the live album. After announcing some of the musicians, Delaney continues the set with "Where There's A Will, There's A Way," a song written by Bonnie and Bobby Whitlock. A propulsive, surging rocker with plenty of soul, this version surpasses the officially released version by a long shot. Upon listening to this performance, it is not hard to imagine this group thinking of themselves as the best band in the world, and they deliver this song as if trying to prove it. Although considerably longer than the released live version, there are few of Clapton's guitar pyrotechnics here. Instead, Clapton and Bramlett's guitars weave in and out of each other. Solos, which do occur, are even more penetrating, by being brief and thoroughly focused.
The one possible exception is up next, when Clapton again fronts the group for one of his career-defining songs, "Crossroads." Unlike his pummeling approach to the song with Cream, this is a far more relaxed affair, with the entire group propelling Clapton's infectious groove. Due to a tape stock change following the first verse, a brief amount is missing and when the recording resumes, Clapton is wailing away into his first full-blown solo of the night. This is a remarkable performance that shows just how perfectly these musicians jell, especially the core band, which play with a perfect balance between abandon and restraint, bringing out the best in Clapton's incredibly fluid guitar playing.
Next the group once again returns to the Stax album for the Isaac Hayes/David Porter song "My Baby Specializes." Delaney and particularly Bonnie's vocals have a wonderful vitality here and the song contains an engaging jam encouraging audience participation that is fueled by the incredibly propulsive drumming of Jim Gordon. This leads up to the purer blues of "Poor Elijah," a tribute to the stylings of one of Clapton's biggest influences, Robert Johnson. This too, surpasses the officially released recording from the previous tour, being more focused, forceful, and dynamic.
Everything that has occurred so far can be considered a warm-up exercise for the highlight of this set—an extended take on the Clapton/Bonnie Bramlett composition, "Coming Home." Possessing Clapton's distinct signature guitar foundation, this is white soul music at its best and is essential listening for Clapton fans. Here, all the elements of this remarkable group coalesce into a searing nine-plus-minute blowout. Raw, yet controlled, one can easily feel the soulful earnestness of the vocals, supported throughout by superb musicianship. The final performance of the set, a medley of Little Richard hits, is incomplete due to the tape stock running out, but not before the mercurial couple rip through "Tutti Frutti" and "The Girl Can't Help It" like a train barreling on toward rock 'n' roll nirvana.