Delaine Alvin “Delaney” Bramlett was born 1 July 1939 in Pontotoc County, Mississippi, where he grew up picking cotton with his mother, Iva “Mamo” Bramlett, and older brother, Johnny. They lived in a log cabin that had no electricity or indoor plumbing, and the three of them made a total of a dollar a day working in the fields. Mamo Bramlett was musically inclined and saw to it that Santa Claus brought Delaney the guitar that she taught him how to play. A musical grounding of blues and church music influenced Bramlett’s records and songwriting, and his music, in turn, influenced artists such as Eric Clapton and Duane Allman.
In 1959 Bramlett moved to Los Angeles and joined the US Navy. In September 1964, after his discharge, he joined the Shindogs, the house band for the ABC television show Shindig!, which featured the hottest pop singers and bands of the day. Bramlett made several important musical connections with other regular members of the Shindogs, among them Billy Preston, Leon Russell, and James Burton.
In 1967 Bramlett met Bonnie Lynn O’Farrell, a native of Alton, Illinois, who was a vocal prodigy. O’Farrell sang with Albert King by the time she was fourteen, and at the age of fifteen she joined the Ike and Tina Turner Revue as the first white Ikette. (She supposedly performed wearing a black wig and darkened her skin using Man Tan.) O’Farrell moved to Hollywood when she was twenty-three, and she and Bramlett fell in love, began singing together as Delaney and Bonnie, and married in 1967.
In 1968 Delaney and Bonnie commenced their friendship with Eric Clapton. Clapton had seen them perform in Los Angeles and later invited them to open for his band, Blind Faith, on a tour that included a performance before one hundred thousand fans in London’s Hyde Park. After Blind Faith dissolved, Clapton joined Delaney and Bonnie and Friends. The group was named “and Friends” because of the constantly shifting personnel. In addition to Clapton, other notables who regularly played with Delaney and Bonnie included Duane Allman, George Harrison, Gram Parsons, Bobby Keys, King Curtis, Leon Russell, Rita Coolidge, Carl Radle, Bobby Whitlock, Jim Gordon, Jim Keltner, and Dave Mason. At the height of his fame Jimi Hendrix briefly toured with Delaney and Bonnie when his band was off the road for a few weeks.
Between 1969 and 1972, seven Delaney and Bonnie albums were released. Their best-known songs include “When the Battle Is Over,” “Never Ending Song of Love,” and “Let It Rain,” which became a hit for Clapton.
Delaney and Bonnie had three daughters, Michele, Suzanne, and Bekka, but their relationship was tempestuous, and they divorced in 1972. Both kept performing, and Delaney kept writing songs. In 2005 he married actress/photographer Susan Lanier, and three years later he released a well-received album, A New Kind of Blues. He died of surgical complications on 27 December 2008 in Los Angeles, his longtime home.
- Rob Bowman, Soulsville U.S.A.: The Story of Stax Records (1997)
- Eric Clapton, Clapton: The Autobiography (2007)
- Jac Holzman and Gavan Daws, Follow the Music: The Life and High Times of Electra Records in the Great Years of American Pop Culture (1998)
- Swampland website, http://www.swampland.com
- Jerry Wexler and David Ritz, Rhythm and the Blues (1993)