Posted June, 2010
I’m fascinated with people. I like to know what makes people tick and why they do what they do. More importantly, I like to know peoples background and their upbringing because this gives tremendous insight into what makes those people what they are today. This is especially the case with famous people. Even more recently, I became interested in the lives and background of children of celebrities.
One such person that I recently had the privilege of interviewing was Michele Bramlett. She is oldest daughter of late rock legend, Delaney Bramlett and wood carver/folk artist, Patty Stanley. You’ll know him as the male half of the 60’s rock duo, Delaney, Bonnie and Friends. You will know Michele as a successful and renowned painter in her own right and fascinating to chat with.
Early in our conversation, I told Michele that I read that, as she was growing up, she heard some pretty big names jamming in her dad’s home. I asked her what are her earliest thoughts of Delaney. Michele’s response is very reflective and seems almost therapeutic to her as she shares her thoughts.
“Earliest thoughts? Wow, that’s a hard one. You know, moms and dads seem to have always been in the child’s mind. One of my first memories is being on the set of “Shindig”. Joey Copper looked after me when dad was working. I remember dad taking me to ‘Small World’ at Disneyland. I remember we loved that ride so much we just kept getting’ on, over and over, and didn’t ride on any other ride in the park!
“I remember lots of dad’s ‘friends’ sittin around our kitchen table, backyard, front porch playing and singing as us kids played and danced. ‘Uncle Eddy’ (actor Edward James Olmos) and ‘Stuff’ (Little Feat bassist, Kenny Gradney) lived next door. I remember sitting at the piano with Leon (Russell) and watching him play and being intrigued by his long white hair and beard. Bobby “Yityock” ( we couldnt pronounce Whitlock) and George, Eric, on and on. I know all of this now but understand that to us girls, these amazing artists were just friends who played music with dad . . . and Dad and Baba (the name Michele called the legendary Bonnie Bramlett, who Michele lovingly refers to as her “other mom”) were just our dad and mom.”
Michele’s childhood memories continue to flow out of her like quickly flowing streams of consciousness.
“Sweet Duane Allman, my dad loved him so. Dad was devastated by his death and I remember the ‘feeling’ at the house was dark for a long time. I remember the moment my other mom, Bonnie, graced my life. She would brush my hair and talk to me about deep and beautiful things. She and Dad took me on a trip right after ‘we met again’ . . . we were staying in a motel and Baba (that’s what I call her) and I were jumpin’ on the bed. BIG FUN! We laughed and laughed.
“I remember going to Mississippi to see our kin...my papa had horses, and my dad was a great horseman (Native American way). I was beggin’ dad and papa to ride one of the horses. He kept sayin’, ‘no ‘Shel, now honey they just got fed’. They finally, after much pouting, gave in but made me SWEAR not to ‘run that horse’.
“So what did I do? YEEHAW and took off runnin’! Darn horse took me right under a clothesline, caught me under the neck. The horse kept goin’ and I did a flip and landed slap on my back. Bonnie came runnin’ out and scooped me up and took me in the kitchen. My dad walks in and says, ‘Now honey, you know you got to get back on that horse’. To this day I am grateful for that life lesson.”
As if to put a beautiful mental bow on a treasured box of memories, Michele summarizes her childhood thoughts by sharing what she learned from her dad, her mom and Bonnie Bramlett.
“My mom, Patty, taught me how to love. My dad taught me how to live. My Baba taught me how to look for and find me.”
Bramlett is a phenomenal painter, I told her as much while asking her if ever pursued music before finding her sweet spot in painting?
“WOW! Thank you so much . . . but I credit Mom, dad, Baba, my sissies (Suzanne and Bekka), and the Great Spirit...I am just the “paintbrush”, you know? No, I never pursued music. However, from an early age until we lost him, Dad had us girls in the studio doing ‘backups’ (first recording was on “California Rain”). My sister, Bekka, embraced the music and her singing and songwriting will blow your mind. My sister, Suzanne, is an incredible makeup artist. I have always drawn and painted. I was always visual. I used to ‘play’ in my drawings.”
While on the subject of Michele’s art, I asked her to tell me more about her work, how her business is going, who some of her customers have been.
“I have been very lucky, and so very grateful, that I have been able to make a living at my art, my expression. I love the response from people. I love connecting another soul with mine in a way that perhaps that soul can say ‘Oh I’ve been there’, or, ‘OOOhh, I know what that feels like’.
“I have painted for Kenny Loggins. He owns two originals, ‘Conviction of the Heart’ (inspired by his song of the same name) and ‘Little Red Wolf’, and a master print. Billy Joel owns ‘Woman At His Piano’ . . . (and there have been) many others. I have been, as I said before, very lucky.
I asked Michele if she minded sharing what she was currently working on.
“Right now, I am working on a collaboration piece with the digital artist, Jaesen Kanter. The art and the embracing of collaboration is another one of the ‘lessons of life’ I learned from my dad. This is a special piece in that it conveys the infusion of art and music that was gifted to my daughter and I from dad.
“I have just finished a piece called “Poor Elijah” for the foundation we are in the process of setting up to honor our dad and I will be “unveiling” that soon. I have just finished illustrating a book for Victor Forbes of Fine Art Magazine titled ‘Long way ‘round’ . . . CD art for Coco Carmel Whitlock’s CD, ‘First Fruit’.
“I commission portraits. I have been exploring painting me, my art on the bodies of my subjects - combining my subjects (clients) energy with mine and painting “body art” on the subject. I am getting a great response! My world of art is growing and I am loving every minute of it!”
Bramlett mentioned the Poor Elijah Fund, which I am somewhat familiar with. I asked her about it.
“The Poor Elijah Foundation is starting to take shape. My sisters and I, with the help of some very dear and special friends Maria Angel Schaefer, Jaesen Kanter, and Lisa Marvin started the foundation to honor dad and his contribution to the music world.
“The Poor Elijah Foundation is dedicated to assisting musicians in need develop strong business ethics within the music industry and providing financial relief to the working musician aspiring to learn and who does not qualify for assistance from charities that require long term and/or professional establishment in the music industry. Through mentors, workshops, and camps, PEF will take the working musician and educate them in various aspects of the music industry e.g. engineering, management, publishing, money management, contract negotiations, and musical education to elevate the art of the artist fostering skills to become more proficient in their craft.
“Since we are at the beginning stages (waiting for 501c3 status) contributions cannot be ‘written off’ yet. I, and others, will be holding fundraisers and will be offering art, CD’s, and other items through my website and my personal Facebook page with proceeds going to help the foundation get on her feet. Once we are federal, people will be able to contribute thru our website (which is now under construction). Right now, www.poorelijahfoundation.org will take you directly to the “Delaney Bramlett deserves induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Facebook page”(the induction of Delaney & Bonnie and Friends). The induction is what started this huge and beautiful wave - the movement to induct our parents. We will be putting on fabulous tribute concerts so stay tuned!
Michele’s father passed away unexpectedly while recovering from what should have been routine surgery in December, 2008. The way the human mind works, events – even major ones – from that far back can seem like they happened both a hundred years ago and yesterday. I asked Michele how she has been dealing with her grief since the loss of her father. Her answers are insightful to those of us who haven’t yet lost a parent and familiar to those who have.
“I have good days and bad. The hurt and the missing does not get any better, I don’t care what they say. I guess I’m just better at “feeling it”. I miss being able to call my dad . . . ask him about things. I miss his late night phone calls from the studio – ‘Wanna hear a new purdy song, ‘Shel?’. I would sit and listen for hours to all his ‘new stuff’ and he would tell me stories and I would laugh and laugh. He was really funny and had great ‘delivery’.
“I miss watching Gunsmoke and The Andy Griffith Show and old westerns with him. This whole amazing process of the induction movement, the foundation, the tribute concerts, the outpouring of love and support from his fans, the huge amount of love from within my family - my mom, my other mom, my sisters - has been my saving grace. My heart is healing.”
Placing myself in her shoes, I suspect that, when grief hits in waves, I would draw from my treasure chest of memories to dwell on and derive some comfort from. I was curious how, specifically, she coped with the grief and if there was a particular memory that she draws on to get through the pain.
“I talk to him. I cry to him. I holler for him. To get thru the pain I play his music and listen to him sing. The ‘kitchen table’ memories are most soothing. That kitchen table was the center of the Bramlett family. And Mamo, Oh-h-h-h, Mamo (pronounced “mammaw”)! I miss her so much! I close my eyes and see his sweet smile smiling back at me.”
I asked Bramlett about her Mamo.
"Mamo is dad's mom. She lived with dad ever since I can remember. She was the hearth stone of the Bramlett home. She took care of us when the road called. She took care of everybody . . . cooking for all the musicians who were at the house all day long. She made the most delicious sweet tea you ever tasted – ever! She, like daddy, had her place at that famous kitchen table. Mamo Bramlett is famous among all of the ''friends" and then some. Southern and sweet, Mamo always had an open door policy. Everybody was welcome.
She was ALWAYS there. We lost Mamo 9 months before we lost dad. Oh, I could go on and on about Mamo. She was something very, very special. One of the Great Spirits favorites. I just know it.”
Michele continues with memories of her dad: “I think of riding horses with him at the ranch. My favorite was “night rides” out on the trail. He had a great way of sittin’ a horse and he would sing so pretty out on those rides. I think of him rockin’ my daughter, Dakota, when she was a baby, on the front porch swing and him singing to her. He loved his 2 grandkids so much: Dakota, my daughter, and, Jack, my sister, Suzanne’s, son.”
In responding to my question if she and her sisters help each other out through the tough times, Michele’s answer is quick and enthusiastic.
“Absolutely! We are all we have. We ARE the Bramlett family. They are my life and I am theirs, always - in ALL WAYS. We talk to each other and cry together and play Delaney and Bonnie music and dance and sing our heads off.”
In an earlier comment, Michele mentioned the drive to get Delaney and Bonnie inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It’s a very long and tough process for talent to get inducted to the Hall. With 35 members on the nominating committee and 600 members who vote, Hall induction is incredibly challenging. With that in mind, I asked Michele how the induction process going.
“The induction is going great! We have over 6000 ‘members’ who have joined our cause on Facebook. We have a website that you can print, sign and mail your nomination directly to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“We are in the process of interviewing ‘Friends’ for a documentary and what a journey THIS has been. To name a few, Miss Bonnie (of course), Billy Burnett, Kenny Loggins and Jimmy Messina, Dave Mason, Kenny Gradney, Greg Glen Martin, Spooner Oldham, Michael Allman, Paul Williams, Mentor Williams, Paull E. Rubin - on and on and still filming!”
Ms. Bramlett is clearly a driven woman on a serious mission, always promoting her cause. Who wouldn’t? That’s her daddy! She’s a convincing salesperson as she promotes the related websites.
“Here is the link again to the Facebook induction page (hyperlinked here for formatting purposes). People can support our cause by going to the page and joining. GREAT PEOPLE, GREAT MUSIC, GREAT PICTURES AND VIDEOS! The website where people can get the Induction Letter to submit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in support of D&B is www.inductdelaneyandbonnie.com. The inductees will make the final nomination. We need their support as well!”
After our interview, I reflected (as I often do after interviewing someone) on our chat. Michele clearly, dearly loved, and still loves, her dad. To us, he is a rock icon who brought us all countless hours of entertainment. To Michele, Delaney was her dad who just happened to sing for a living.
While we have him on one kind of pedestal, she and her siblings clearly have him on a completely different kind of pedestal; one that all fathers should be aspire to be placed on. We get there, in our children’s “Dad Hall of Fame”, by being fathers that take time for their kids, whether they’re young or adults. We get there by creating fertile environments for incredible memories that fill the treasure chests of their minds.
Michele Bramlett is obviously and rightfully proud of her dad’s work and accomplishments. However, notice that it’s having the “kitchen table” moments, the horse rides and the times on the front porch or watching TV together that she reflects on and draws from. Those are the lessons we can all learn from.
Michele Bramlett’s art can be seen at her website, www.bramlettart.com. If you would like to support her and her family’s efforts to get Delaney and Bonnie inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, you can download the Induction Letter from the family’s website, www.inductdelaneyandbonnie.com.