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     Blind, Crippled & Crazy
    Artists: Delbert McClinton and Glen Clark
    Label: New West Records
    Released: June 18, 2013
    Reviewed: June 23, 2013

     

    I was first turned on to Delbert McClinton back in 1980. I was in the process of promoting a Christian concert by former Wings drummer, Joe English, and Bonnie Bramlett was opening for him. The Saturday before the concert, their record label phoned me and told me that Bonnie was going to be on performing with a cat by the name of Delbert McClinton on Saturday night live. I watched their performance of his hit, Givin’ It Up For YourLove, and became an instant McClinton fan. 

    Fast forwarding to today, the three-time Grammy winner has kicked out his 28th album, Blind, Crippled and Crazy. It blends R&B, country, blues and rock ’n’ roll with humor, heart and roadhouse virtuosity. The disc also reunites McClinton with his longtime friend and musical running partner Glen Clark, making these 12 songs the first time the seminal roots music duo Delbert & Glen have recorded since 1973. 

    “We’ve always had an amazing rapport as musicians and friends, but we’ve been off living our own lives,” McClinton explains. “For the last decade Glen and me have been talking about doing another album, and everything fell into place last year here in Nashville with my songwriting partner Gary Nicholson.” 

    Besides co-writing several tracks, Nicholson co-produced the LP with McClinton and Clark and played guitar alongside drummer Tom Hambridge, fellow six-stringer Bob Britt, keyboardists Kevin McKendree and Bruce Katz, and other members of McClinton’s touring band as well as blues guitar hero Anson Funderburgh, who guests on “Oughta Know,” a hot-licks fest penned by McClinton’s son Clay. 

    Blind, Crippled And Crazy’s opening Texas shuffle “Been Around a Long Time” sets a reverberating tone of self-deprecating humor, as does the album’s title. 

    “We’re a couple guys who started playing together in ragtag bands around Fort Worth in the ’60s,” Clark relates, “so we like to poke some fun at ourselves for being older now.” 

    Clark picked up the tune’s tag line many years ago from a feisty 102-year-old woman in Arkansas, who told him, “Sonny, I ain’t old. I’ve just been around a long time,” and the song finally emerged during the disc’s 2011 writing sessions. 

    The loping and textured More and More, Less and Less resonates similarly as it dismisses the excesses of youth, although its acoustic guitar bedrock and the yearning timbre of McClinton’s vocal performance and his haunting harmonica solo add poignancy, too. 

    “The bottom line is that we’re still bulldogs on a pork chop, but our teeth are ground down, so it takes longer to chew that thing up,” Clark says, chuckling a bit. “But we still get it right down to the bone.” 

    That also explains the amount of sheer growl in Blind, Crippled And Crazy’s grooves. World of Hurtis a snarling six-string rocker about biting heartbreak, and Good as I Feel Today rings like a great lost Little Feat number — although McClinton and Clark come by its drawling melody, swaggering rhythm and buttery slide guitar via their own assimilation of R&B, blues, country and nascent rock in the 1950s and early ’60s. 

    They were schooled by the sounds of Ray Charles, Charles Brown, Little Richard, Bob Wills, Elvis Presley and Hank Williams courtesy of the radio and their siblings’ record collections. Then they graduated to playing the roadhouses of their native Texas. 

    Musical mutual admiration rapidly followed. “Delbert was the first great singer I ever saw in person, so he’s always been one of my biggest influences,” Clark relates. In turn, McClinton testifies that “Glen is one of the few people I can reallyduet with. Our phrasing just compliments each other, and our voices sound great together. I have more fun singing with Glen than anybody else.” 

    Clark left Texas in the early ’70s for the lure of Los Angeles’ big-time music business, and after a while McClinton followed. Soon the collaborators landed a record deal and cut two albums, 1972’s Delbert & Glen and the follow-up Subject to Change. Both of these now-hard-to-find classics plumbed the same turf as Blind, Crippled And Crazy, albeit in the sweeter vocal registers of younger men. 

    McClinton’s B Movie Box Car Blues from Delbert & Glen was re-cut six years later by the Blues Brothers for the double-platinum-selling Briefcase Full of Blues and has become a standard of the genre. In a twist of fate, Clark would later play keyboards with the Blues Brothers after becoming music director for Jim Belushi in 1997. 

    Delbert and Glen began their four-decade hiatus after both men moved back to Texas separately to follow romance and their solo careers. Clark returned to Los Angeles in 1977. He became a popular songwriter, authoring tunes for Rita Coolidge, Etta James, Loretta Lynn, Wynonna Judd, Kris Kristofferson and many others. He also hit the road with his keyboards, touring with Kristofferson, Bonnie Raitt and others before beginning his dozen years with Belushi, which included nine years as composer for the sitcom According to Jim. 

    Of course, McClinton became an international star in the realms of blues and traditional country music, cross-pollinating the genres into his own unique sound. Since 1980, when his sixth solo album The Jealous Kind sparked the aforementioned top 10 hit Givin’ It Up for Your Love, he has remained one of the most respected figures in American roots music. In 1992 the man who gave John Lennon his first harmonica lesson — when McClinton toured England in the early ’60s as part of Bruce Channel’s band — won his first Grammy Award, for the duet Good Man, Good Womanwith Bonnie Raitt. That was followed by a second win in 2003 for Nothing Personal in the Best Contemporary Blues Album Category. In 2006, he won a third Grammy for his Cost of Living album. McClinton’s songs have also been recorded by a who’s who of country music royalty including Vince Gill, Wynonna Judd, Garth Brooks, Emmylou Harris, Martina McBride and Trisha Yearwood. 

    Over the decades his blend of soaring blue-eyed soul singing sprinkled with red Texas dust, the emotional wealth of his songwriting and his command of virtuoso supporting ensembles has built McClinton a wildly avid fan base in the United States and Europe. They are nearly like Deadheads in their willingness to travel to repeated shows and their level of support. Each January they turn the Delbert McClinton & Friends Sandy Beaches Cruise, a weeklong music festival he hosts aboard luxury liners, into a sell-out. 

    “The bottom line is, at this point I don’t believe in doing anything that’s not fun,” McClinton says, “and recording Blind, Crippled And Crazy was a blast. Me and Gary, who I’ve known for 40 years starting back in Texas, handpicked every musician on the record and made sure every song was perfect. The title, from the old soul tune, is something I’ve wanted to use for years. And singing with Glen again — between the way our voices mix and his sense of humor — makes me excited about us taking this music out on the road together. 

    “I’ve got a good deal in life,” McClinton continues. “I’ve got a lot of good people for fans who support me — although I’ve won over each of them one-by-one on the road. I can pick and choose whatever I want to do. And I’ve never had to keep a job for long, thank God, because jobs stink. I know. I’ve had a lot of them, and I know why I got fired from every one. And believe me, making this album and singing these songs with Glen is nothing like a job.”

     

     

  • Posted July, 2011

     

    bramlettrehearsalbarbicanconcertlondon2005Photo Courtesy of Peter CrossIt was early 1981. John Lennon had been murdered the previous December and I’m in the process of organizing and promoting a concert at my church by the former drummer of Paul McCartney and Wings, Joe English. English had “crossed over” to the Contemporary Christian Music (“CCM”) genre as many other secular artists had. To say things were a little nutty because of the whole Lennon/McCartney association would be an understatement. My phone was ringing off the hook with people representing various levels of instability just wanting to be close to anything “Beatles”.

    Yeah, it was a bit scary.

    However, one time my phone rang and it was Joe English’s manager asking me if I would mind terribly if Bonnie Bramlett could open for Joe’s concert. As long as it wasn’t going to tax my already strained and skimpy budget, I didn’t care. To be honest, at that time I wasn’t as immersed into rock and roll history and royalty to fully appreciate just who Ms. Bramlett was. After the call, I did my homework and quickly realized just how lucky I was to get that opportunity presented to me.

    Ms. Bramlett was the “Bonnie” on the iconic rock husband and wife duo, Delaney & Bonnie. Mr. and Mrs. Bramlett enjoyed chart making hits such as a cover of Dave Mason’s Only You Know and I Know and their own Never-Ending Song of Love. They shared the stage with such huge names as George Harrison, Dave Mason, John Lennon, Eric Clapton and ton of others. 

    A prolific songwriter, she’s co-written such songs as Superstar and Give Peace a Chance with Leon Russell as well as Let It Rain with Eric Clapton. If you’ve never seen Bonnie sing Superstar, you really don’t know what you’re missing. Check out the video of her performing that tune on the YouTube clip shown on this page.

    After she and Delaney split up (both professionally and matrimonially), Bonnie went on to pursue her solo career, supported by a band that wasn’t very well known at the time: The Average White Band. Throughout the seventies, she released three albums (It’s Time, Lady’s Choice and Memories) with the legendary label, Capricorn Records. When she wasn’t busy with her solo work, she was providing backup vocals for some of the biggest and diverse names in music. Folks like Joe Cocker, Dwight Yoakum, Carly Simon and Joe Cocker, again, just to name a few. In fact, with her work with the Allman Brothers, she is the only woman to earn the title as the only “Allman Sister”. How cool is that?

    Anyway, back to the concert.

    The Saturday before the concert, I got a small taste of what I was in for with Ms. Bramlett. On Saturday Night Live Delbert McClinton performed his hit song at the time, Giving It Up for Your Love, which Bonnie sang back-up on the record as well as that performance. In my opinion, she stole the show.

    The following Wednesday night was the concert. My gosh! When Bonnie Bramlett took the stage as the opening act, I was totally and completely blown away by the raw power and soul that woman projected. I definitely got an education in the power of performing. She seemed to embody rhythm, blues, rock and soul all in one body. She sang it like she invented it and drove it like she stole it. And, yet, there was such a gentleness and sincerity about her that, when she spoke or hugged your neck (Yeah! She gave me big ol’ long hug after her performance!), you knew that this woman was as real and genuine as a human being could be.

    Over the years, I’ve kept up with Ms. Bramlett, catching her appearances in movies, (The Doors and The Guardian) or her regular role on the hit TV show, Rosanne as well as a guest role on Fame. In the past year, the R&B icon blipped large on my Boomerocity radar when I came in contact with her daughter, Michele (Delaney’s daughter from his previous relationship with Patty Stanley). An interview with Michele soon resulted.

    In the months since that interview, I’ve kept in touch with Michele and the work she is tirelessly pursuing.   In recent weeks, Michele was kind enough to arrange a phone interview with “Baba” (Bonnie). It was the first time we had spoken with each other since that Joe English concert over 30 years ago. When I called Bonnie for our interview, our first few minutes were spent reminiscing about that show.

    At one point, Bonnie asked me, “Don’t you think we were way ahead of our time in gospel music? I mean, c’mon!” I thought about her question for a few seconds and had to agree with her. While there were definitely other “secular” artists who had crossed over into contemporary gospel music as well as some Christian metal bands and the like, there really wasn’t anyone who reflected the kind of R&B that Bonnie and friends helped pioneer. Bonnie agreed.

    “Nobody was playing slide guitar! The slide just wasn’t happening yet! They

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  • Posted January/February, 2011

    Photo Courtesy of Chuck Leavell

    The Allman Brothers. Don McLean. Bonnie Bramlett. Marshall Tucker Band. Charlie Daniels. Sea Level. Aretha Franklin. Chuck Berry. Dion. Gov't Mule. The Black Crowes.  Eric Clapton. Larry Carlton. George Harrison. Rolling Stones.

    How would you feel if those names were on your resume in some form or fashion?  I can tell you that if my resume had those names, my head would swell to twice the size of Texas.

    Chuck Leavell’s resume includes those names and many, many more. When you add to that the credentials of an expert forester, conservationist, author, husband, father, and grandfather and you get an idea of who the man really is.  All of that and, yet, his head retains its normal size and shape.

    How does he do it?  I don’t know but my head did swell just a little bit when I had the good fortune of posing a few questions to the legendary keyboardist.  I pursued an interview with Leavell after reading his 2004 book, Between Rock and a Home Place. As a huge Rolling Stones fan, I, of course, knew about of Chuck’s monumental work with the band and with his own band, Sea Level.  I just wasn’t aware of the huge volume of other work he’s associated with.

    I was also aware of his conservation work – especially at his beautiful home, the family tree farm known as Charlane Plantation. The plantation, in the family since 1932, was inherited by Chuck’s lovely wife of 37 year, Rose Lane, after the passing of her grandmother.   After working their way out of onerous inheritance taxes, Rose Lane and Chuck have developed a thriving, successful tree farm that also hosts hunting and other kinds of retreats.

    It was about Charlane Plantation that I opened the discussion with Leavell, asking about what were the latest developments at the farm.

    “We are always working on our place. My wife, Rose Lane, says it means ‘job security’ for me as I will never get done! Currently we have a good bit of maintenance going on. We’ve just started renovating the exterior of our horse barn, the upstairs of which serves as Rose Lane’s art studio. We built the barn some 18 years ago using lumber that was taken from our own trees . . . mostly ones that were dead or dying… and it’s time to polish it up some.

    “We also just finished renovating an old tenant house into a nice guesthouse. We’ve built most all of our structures out of our own wood, and most of the renovations we’ve done to our existing structures as well. It’s quite a good and special feeling to look at them, walk through them and say… ‘yeah, that came

    Chuck Leavell With Grandson, Miles - Courtesy of Chuck Leavell

    from our own grounds’ . . . and to think that our grandchildren and future generations will be saying ‘our grandparents (or great-grandparents) built that back in 1990’, or whenever we built or renovated any particular structure on our place.

    “Of course, we’re always working in the woods, too. We did some light thinning of a few areas last year that had yet to be thinned - sort of like weeding the garden. We probably touched on 150 acres or so, opening the stands up to a slightly wider spacing, which will help the trees left standing grow much better and faster. It also helps encourage natural grasses, weeds and legumes to grow better underneath the stands, making it more attractive for wildlife.

    “We are in the middle of our hunting season, and January and February are booked pretty solid with our traditional southern quail hunts. I’ve been working some new dogs, which I love doing…so there has been quite a lot going on.”

    When I asked if he was the Ted Nugent of Georgia, Chuck’s response polite but direct.

    “With all due respect to Nugent, he’s an ethical and expert outdoorsman, but he’s a bit radical for me. I try to take a more gentle and gentlemanly approach to our hunting. As far as what we offer the public, it’s again, the traditional southern quail hunts, from November through the end of February. We have the jeeps, dogs, excellent guides and have a top notch and top class operation. We have several comfortable accommodations. Our lodge was built about 8 years ago, again, with our own resources and we renovated a historic 1830’s home back in the early 90’s that we use as well.

    “Rose Lane directs our staff in terms of the food, etc. and we have lots of repeat clients year after year. During the off season, we offer ‘retreats’ from time to time. Since Rose Lane is an excellent artist, some of these are centered around art. But some folks like to come just to be in the country, take a tour, walk our nature trail and such. We enjoy sharing our place and meeting new people, helping them to understand and appreciate nature and conservation issues. It makes for a good balance with our ‘other life’ of rock and roll.”

    Leavell wrote in his book, Between Rock and a Home Place, that, because of the predatory nature of our rich Uncle Sam’s inheritance tax code, he and Rose Lane had to sell off a big chunk of the original plantation.  In the seven years since that book was published, I asked if they were able to re-purchase the property.

    “No, that property was in another county, about 50 miles from us. It was about 300 acres of land that Rose Lane’s grandfather had passed on down. It was heartbreaking and really hurt to have to sell it, but we didn’t see any other way out at the time. While we’ve never recovered that tract, the good news is that through the years we have been able to acquire more land, much of which was adjacent to us. Rose Lane inherited about 1100 acres back in 1981 and we now have about 2500 acres, 1800 that is contiguous to her inheritance.”

    Before shifting my questioning to his other conservation endeavors, I asked Leavell what their long term plans for Charlane were.

    “We will continue to manage it as best we know how, and to share it with others through our hunts and retreats. Of course, I would love to continue to expand it, but it’s getting really hard to do because of how expensive land is. While the housing market across America has been hit hard as we all know - and prices for normal housing has dipped - that has not been the case for most timberlands, agricultural lands and recreational lands. It takes a lot of resources to purchase these kinds of lands and to maintain them. But I’m always hopeful that we can find select opportunities. We all know that old phrase, ‘land rich and cash poor’. That applies to a lot of landowners I know. I don’t think anyone would be impressed with our bank account but I’d rather have the land than bits of paper.”

    Chuck is a self-taught forestry expert, having begun his studies while touring with The Fabulous Thunderbirds.  Since then, he’s gained much respect and notoriety as an expert in forestry and conservation, having been award many awards and acknowledgements.  He’s also written two books on the subject with a third on the way.

    Before venturing into the finer points of this field of his expertise, I swallowed my pride and asked Leavell what the difference was between a conservationist and an environmentalist.

    “It’s a good question. I like to think that we are both. The definition of conservation is, in part, ‘The action of conserving something, in particular protection, or restoration of the natural environment, natural ecosystems, vegetation, and wildlife; the preservation, repair, and prevention of deterioration of archaeological, historical, and cultural sites and artifacts; and the prevention of excessive or wasteful use of a resource.

    “In a nutshell, I think it means to be wise and careful with the resources that you have - to practice a sort of sustainability. I tell people that trees are an organic, natural and renewable resource. We all use things that come from trees every day of our lives - wood furniture, our homes, musical instruments, books, and so many other things. As a conservationist, I want to use this resource for these many fine things but I want to make sure that I am doing it in a way that is conserving the resource - that is, in a way that will assure me it will always be there.

    “As for the word ‘environmentalist’, the definition in part is: A person who is concerned with or advocates the protection of the environment . . . who considers that environment, as opposed to heredity, has the primary influence on the development of a person or group.

    “This can get a bit complicated, and the ‘catch’ is how far you take the second part of the above definition. I certainly care deeply about our environment and want to keep it healthy and vibrant. But when it comes to making certain decisions about what to do with our lands and how that affects us as humans, hard choices have to be made from time to time. We all have to have places to live, to work, for our kids to go to school, etc. So, while it might not be the best thing for our environment to build such structures, or to build more highways, rail systems, expand airports and such, it’s inevitable that we are going to do it. We have to make compromises.

    “Actually, this is the subject of my new book, Growing A Better America, that will be out in mid March of this year. It’s about making careful and thoughtful choices about how we are going to grow. We have 310 million people in our country now, and predictions are that we’ll have 400 million around 2040. There are about 6.8 billion on the planet, and predictions are to have 9 billion by 2045. We are going to have to make some critical choices about accommodating that kind of growth, and how that will affect our environment.

    “My book talks about ‘smart growth’, and looks at positive models of community design, community expansion and such. I get in to energy issues; transportation issues; keeping our carbon footprint as low as possible; preserving natural areas when possible; the importance of green spaces in our metropolitan areas and much, much more.

    “I know that’s a long answer, but I think it’s important that people have an understanding of these things.”

    Chuck Leavell With The Rolling Stones - Courtesy of Chuck Leavell

    As a direct result of Chuck’s incredible accomplishments in conservation and forestry, he co-founded The Mother Nature Network and serves as its the Director of Environmental Affairs.  When I asked what the latest developments are at MNN, he answers with the same kind of pride as he does when speaking of Charlane or his musical work.

    “MNN has been a phenomenal journey for me. My partner, Joel Babbit, had the idea to build the site and asked me to participate. He has had a life long successful career in public relations and advertising, serving really big clients like Coca-Cola, Dell Computer and others. We’ve been friends for a while, and he came to me one day saying that his clients wanted to get out to the public over the Internet all the things they were doing to “green” their businesses. And by the way, these companies and all the companies that are sponsors with MNN are doing some great things in that regard.

    “Anyway, Joel did not feel comfortable with any of the existing environmental sites in terms of placing ads and getting messages out on behalf of his clients. After discussing it in depth and doing a lot of research, we looked at each other and sort of said at the same time: ‘should we build it?’ So, we did.

    “Through Joel’s connections, we raised commitments of up to ten million dollars to get started. He resigned his position as CEO of GCI, a huge firm he was heading up, and we went to work. We hired really talented and dedicated enviro-journalists, website developers and other staff and opened our offices in Atlanta. We launched in January of 2008 on a wing and a prayer. Since then we have grown from a ranking of something like number 7,200 on the list of environmental websites to be the number one most visited independent environmental site in the world.

    “I have to give credit to our incredible staff.  We have really great folks - about 25 at present - working for us. Joel and I are elated with the progress. The last numbers I had are that we are getting over 2 million unique visits a month, and about 12 million page views per month and still climbing each month. We actually became profitable towards the end of last year, which is quite amazing for any website in 2 years time. We thought it would take at least 5 years to get into the black, so we’re thrilled.”

    With public discourse often dominated by subjects to protecting and preserving the environment, I asked if there is anything that keeps him awake at night from a conservation perspective.

    “There are a lot of things that I’m concerned about. I described some of that in talking about my new book, but in terms of forestry alone, I have many worries. One is that we have seen a great deal of our industry move offshore in the past 10 years or so. This is for many reasons. Like so many other industries, companies find that labor is cheaper in other countries; there is less regulation in other countries; less cost for construction, cheaper land and so forth.

    “I’m not suggesting that we should do the same thing some of these countries are doing, because some of their practices are not good for the environment and somewhat suppressive on their labor force. But any way you look at it, it has caused a huge drop in US forestry markets. What people have to understand about this is that to a degree, it’s ‘use it or lose it’. In other words, if folks like me and so many other family forest landowners don’t have a decent market, there is no good reason for us to keep our lands in trees. So when that happens, families begin to sell their lands. They can’t afford to pay the taxes, the upkeep, etc. and they are backed up against a wall. I’m not saying it’s that bad at the moment, but if the markets for wood keep going down it will definitely get that bad.

    “Other concerns include that tax structure for forest lands, the uncertainty of biomass and carbon markets, the pressures of growth and development, outbreak of diseases and insects, severe weather events and more.”

    Before moving my questions to music related subjects, I asked Leavell what homeowners, or those who don’t even own a home, can do to green up America and the world from a forestry perspective.

    “Anyone can plant a tree. There are many programs around the country where they give out trees to people. Plant a tree in your yard, your neighborhood, your school, your church. I also encourage people to conserve. Turn out the lights when not in use, set the thermostat at a reasonable temperature, drive less when you can and walk or bike to work. Talk to your neighbors about keeping your parks in good shape. Consider buying Energy Star appliances when you need to replace your refrigerator, washing machine, dryer, whatever. I give a lot of these and much, much more in Growing A Better America.

    Chuck Leavell has played keyboard for the Rolling Stones for almost 30 years. As I said at the beginning of this interview, he has also played with other of the biggest names in rock. What many people may not know is that he has also produced several solo albums and is working on a new solo project. I asked Chuck about the album.

    “The working title is Back To The Woods and it is a tribute to pioneering blues piano players from the 30s/40s/50s era. Most of the songs come from artists that are little known: Little Brother Montgomery, Skip James, Leroy Carr, Jesse James and others. I did do a very early Ray Charles track called Losing Hand, and an Otis Spann tune called Boots and Shoes, but those would be the two best-known names.

    “I’ve been recording it up in Athens, Georgia, at Jim Hawkins’ studio. Jim was a principal engineer at Capricorn Studios back in the 70’s and actually built Capricorn in part. He has a nice, comfortable space in Athens now. I used Chris Enghauser on stand up bass and Louis Romanos on drums - both live in Athens and are great players. So far I have Danny Barnes (renown banjo player and guitarist), (guitarist) Bruce Hampton and Randall Bramblett (Sea Level, Traffic, Steve Winwood, Levon Helm and Bonnie Raitt, among others) as guest artists, and have some commitments from others, including Keith Richards. I’m about 80% done with it and hope to finish it by March. No release date yet, but probably May or June.


    In describing his solo work, Leavell says, “Well, I am first and foremost a piano player. That’s what most of my own CDs center around. I might throw in a bit of Hammond B-3 or Wurlitzer now and again, but it’s mostly piano. In terms of style, I’ve been influenced by a wide range of great players, and I think my style reflects that. You’ll hear tinges of blues, rock, jazz, and country, but hopefully you’ll say ‘that sounds like Chuck’.

    “It takes a long time to develop your own sound and style as a player, and hopefully I’ve done that. I don’t think of myself as some ‘master’ player - just an honest one. I do my best to paint pictures with the notes I play - to project emotion, color, and feeling. That’s about the best I can do to describe myself. Perhaps descriptions are best left to others.

    Early in his book, Between Rock and a Home Place, Chuck shared how his late mom talked to him about how he played his music, leading him towards how to inject various feelings into the sounds he produced on the piano. When I asked Leavell if he still feels that she still “speaks” to him today in how he plays today, his reply was short, sweet and from the depths of his heart.

    "Every day, in every note I play."

    From a fan’s perspective, it’s hard for me to think that, with the musical resume that Chuck has, there would be anything left that he hasn’t done musically. However, I had to ask him what he hasn’t done that he would still like to do.

    “Fortunately, I’m still getting calls to work with other artists. I still love working with those I’ve worked with in the past, but also like the challenge of working with those I haven’t. Recently I recorded with John Mayer in NY for a week. Fantastic session, fantastic artist. I hope I get another round with John some time this year. Next week I record for about 10 days with Martina McBride. So, I just take it one day at a time and hope the phone keeps ringing! Of course I’ll continue to do my own stuff as well. I know the Stones have been contemplating their options, but they have not come to any final decisions, so we’ll all have to wait on that. I can tell you that I’m ready when they are.”

    Photo Courtesy of Chuck Leavell

    Later, Chuck said about his contribution to the Mayer disc, “It was mostly Hammond B-3, but I did play a bit of Whurly and a pump organ on a couple of things. John is an amazing talent. He wrote three of the songs we did right on the spot. He’s got tremendous and infectious energy.”

    I don’t know what on earth possessed me to do this, but I dropped some names from Chuck’s musical past and asked him to share what comes to mind regarding his thoughts about the following musical greats:

     Ray Charles: “The MASTER. Probably my main influence.”

     George Harrison: “One of the sweetest guys on the planet. Truly as great a humanitarian as he was a singer/songwriter/performer.”

     Duane Allman: “Changed the direction of the electric guitar with his slide playing. Never got to know him personally, but always admired him and heard him play many times. Unquestioned and unbridled passion in his playing.”

     Eric Clapton: “Well, he’s Eric Clapton, isn’t he?! Eric likes exploring, changing, experimenting and I have always appreciated him for that. He doesn’t rest on his laurels and isn’t afraid to try things.”

     Gregg Allman: “In the top five of the greatest blues singers ever. A good friend. A survivor.”

     Ronnie Wood: “Effervescent, fun, diversely and multi-talented. Made me feel at home when I came into the Stones, for which I’m forever grateful.”

     When asked if there is any talent that is commanding his attention, Leavell shares that, “I’ve been listening a bit to Grace Potter (and the Nocturnals) and like her stuff. Not complicated, but with deep soul.  I like that. I honestly haven’t been to many concerts in the last couple of years, so can’t say much about live performances I’ve heard. I played with Keith Urban on the Jimmy Fallon show, and have come to really admire his artistry. I’m trying to learn a bit of mandolin, and have been listening to some bluegrass players. Love Chris Thele, Doyle Lawson, Sam Bush. I don’t listen too much to contemporary radio much these days, so I’m not the best person to ask about hits on radio.”

    Since he’s seen a lot of changes in the music business, I asked Chuck what he thought it was going to take to save the business.

    “Man, that’s too deep for me to get into, but I will say that if something isn’t done to improve how musicians and artists are paid for downloads and preventing illegal downloads, it’s going to be a tough future. The genie is out of the bottle, and I don’t know if it will ever be back in. We’ve lost a lot of control over how our recorded music is sold.”

    Wrapping up my time with Chuck, I asked if we were going to see him on the road with anyone any time soon.  While I wasn’t hinting for some advanced info about a Rolling Stones tour, he does comment about it at the end of his answer: “I have very few select solo shows booked - playing Macon at the Cox Capitol Theater Jan 22nd with the Randall Bramblett Band, and a gig at the Wheeler Opera House on March 12th. Other than that, I’ll be promoting my book and finishing my CD as well as doing the sessions I have booked. Nothing to report at present on Stones activity.”

    After the interview was over, I reflected on the vast, rich body of work that Chuck has.  From his iconic keyboard work on the landmark Allman Brothers tune, Jessica, to the Stones, Clapton and many others, I just ran the music through my mind and smiled.  Like the beautiful trees of Charlane Plantation, Chuck Leavell’s work shades our entire musical landscape with the beauty of his work.

    You can find out more about Chuck, his music, his books, and his conservation work at the following websites:



    www.chuckleavell.com      www.charlane.com      www.mnn.com

     

  • Posted November, 2014

         

    I was first turned on to Delbert McClinton almost thirty-four years ago when the Texas born singer came out with his smash hit, “Giving It Up For Your Love.”  I mean, who can forget his memorable performance of that song on Saturday Night Live with the lovely and talented Bonnie Bramlett singing backup for him?  Absolutely amazing!

    Still recording, touring and performing for fans all over America, the man’s music is as fresh and relevant as ever.  I recently caught up with Mr. McClinton by phone to talk about his current tour, the music business and his plans for the future.

    Answering my question regarding how things are in his world these days, Delbert dropped a bit of a bombshell on me regarding his health.

    “Well, I had a triple by-pass in April. It was successful. I didn’t have any heart damage. I knew something was wrong. So I listened to my body and they caught it. I had a ninety-five percent blockage in the main artery. He told me that I was just a breath away from being dead. So, that happened and that’s great. I’m back and totally recovered and ready for another fifty years.”
    Naturally, this all begged the question as to whether or not this experienced changed McClinton’s perspective on life, relationships, career, content of songs or anything else.

    “Yeah, it’s a life-changing event regardless of how it goes down. Like I said, I was very lucky. I was already in the process of recovery before I really even knew what I had. I mean, it happened so quick!  Heart surgery these days, they make it seem like it’s no more difficult than changing a tire on a little girl’s bicycle. I went in there. They operated one day. I was walking around on the third day. On the fifth day, I was out of there with big ol’ heart shaped pillow to hug and, boy, I was glad to have it! It becomes your best and only friend for a short time – especially right after surgery because, if you cough, you need to have a pillow to hold you together. Ha! Ha!

    “But, you know, that didn’t go on for long. It was just a matter of just a couple of weeks. And, yes, it did change my perspective on an awful lot of things. First of all, you realize that it doesn’t always happen to someone else. That’s a pretty big game-changer when you have to face the fact that you almost died from it. It gets your attention. But, at the same time, I feel – I don’t feel twenty years younger but I feel a whole lot better! My voice is better than it’s been since I was a teenager. I don’t know. I could go on and on about the aftermath of having heart surgery but the bottom line is I’m sure glad I didn’t die! Ha! Ha!

    “I mean, I don’t mind dying. We’re all gonna die. But I wasn’t ready to die. Of course, few people are but I was certainly aware of the fact that, hey! I’m in trouble!  So, it changes the whole way you think. I feel more at ease now because I know I’ve had something done that I corrected a major mess. Other than that, I’m relatively healthy. Life is good and I’m moving on.”
    Putting a pleasant, humorous bow on the subject, Delbert said, “That’s the main thing that’s happened to me. That’s this year’s big deal. Ha! Ha!”
    Another reason why I wanted to interview McClinton was I had learned that, as part of yet another busy touring season, he was going to be playing in my area - at the Bijou Theater in Knoxville, Tennessee. I asked if he had performed there before.

    “Oh, yeah, I’ve played at the Bijou before – several times! I love old theaters and that’s a good one!”

    I asked what if McClinton’s performances have changed due to his surgery and what can fans expect from shows during this tour.

    “It has changed but as far as trying to describe that, I don’t know how I would do that. I can’t not be different because something major occurred! I can breathe deeper than I’ve been able to breath in years. I don’t know, man, I don’t know. It’s all still pretty supernatural to me, in a way. In the last three years, my saxophone player had a heart attack while we were on the road and died after got him to the hospital. Then, my trumpet player had a heart attack on a day off while we were out. We took him to the hospital in Richmond, Virginia, and, after several hours, the doctor came walking out and said, ‘Everything’s fine.’  I saw him before he went in there and he looked awful! To see somebody walking after you’ve seen somebody that you just knew wasn’t going to make it . . . and he did!  He’s back and healthy.

    “You know, you gotta live every minute like it’s the last. It can be over at any second - like blowin’ out a candle. That’s how easy it is. So, with that in mind, I’m having a lot of fun because I nearly wasn’t here! Ha! Ha! I don’t want to ride on that because I’m not the only one in the world who’s ever had heart surgery but you asked me what’s going on and that has occupied my every thought for the last several months. I’m just a very fortunate guy. I’ve got a lot more music in me. I’m making preparations now for another record. I’ve almost got enough songs to do a double album. We’re in the process of putting that together.”

    Is keeping the road fresh and non-monotonous a challenge for Delbert?
    “Well, it doesn’t necessarily wear me down. I love to go out and make music. I hate the hotels. I hate the goin’ there. If I never walked into another hotel room in my life, it would be too soon. They’re all the same and it comes with the lunch, you know? If you’re gonna do this, that’s where you’re gonna stay.
     
    “I don’t work as much as I used to. I usually work two to three days a week. That’s hard working but it takes up four days a week – with the comin’ and the goin’. So, I’m at home ‘bout as much as I’m on the road and I like that. I don’t spring back as quick as I used to. I’m real good for two or three nights but if I’ve got to do five or six nights a week – I won’t say I couldn’t do it but I sure as hell don’t wanna do it because it’s a young man’s game out here doing this. I’m so fortunate that I have a career that allows me to not have to work all the time. I’m sittin’ pretty, man!”

    When I asked McClinton what has changed, positively and negatively, about touring, he replied, “The road never changes. It just never changes. Every time I go back out, it’s just like I left it. Fortunately, again, I have a band – we’re all really good, close friends. Nobody’s a jerk. We don’t have to baby sit anybody. Nobody’s an abuser. We’re all adults and we enjoy making music. That’s the premier thing that we do.

    “I spent a lot of years – a lot of ‘em – being that guy, myself. But that was a long time ago. I’ve got no time for fools or jerks. There’s no room for that. When you’re closed up in a tube with a bunch of guys, one sour apple can screw up the vibes all the way through the place and nobody needs that kind of behavior. But there are an awful lot of jerks out there. It’s a skull orchard out there and they’re just dumb as a rock, a lot of ‘em and you just have to deal with that, you know? I’m certainly not sayin’ everybody but there are those the shade never comes down and says, ‘Maybe you shouldn’t do. Maybe you shouldn’t say that.’ So, you’re on a pivot, ready to get out of the way all the time with some people.

    “An example of the kind of people I’m talking about: We played in Vegas once and the shortcut back to my room was straight through the

         

    casino. I kinda closed my eyes and turned invisible and headed off through the casino. Some woman at a slot machine saw me. ‘THERE’s DELBERT!’ Running over there and grabbed me and was hollering at everybody, ‘Look! I got Delbert!’ You know? That’s just really squirrely. Ha! Ha!”

    Our conversation shifted over to the state of the music business and record companies in general.  McClinton’s comments echoed what I’ve heard from other great artists.

    “I don’t even think that there are such things as record companies any more. The thing that’s so incredibly difficult about it - and I don’t know how in the world they’ll ever stop it because you can’t. A good friend of mine is a writer and that’s pretty much all he does is be a songwriter. He’s written a lot of hits for people. Two years ago, his income went to one quarter of what it usually was because, once you record a song now, the minute you let it out, everybody’s got it. Anybody who wants it has got it. You can’t make any money. The only way to make any money is go perform.

    “As far as making records, so many bands today give their records away just to create a fan base. Fortunately for me, I’ve got a fan base – a fantastic fan base. They’d take a bullet for me. That’s pretty special. I would hate to be a young guy trying to start out in this world today because, in the first place, I know anybody who starts out in this has the biggest dreams in the world. So many of them have confidence that will just scorch everybody else. But that’s not enough, unfortunately. You’ve gotta have more than that. The want-to is ninety-nine percent of it. The being-able-to is the other ninety-nine percent of it. It’s a hard way to make a living.

    “Back when I started doing this, everybody in the world wasn’t in the business. But, today, it’s unbelievable, man. Everybody’s in it and, as hard as I try – well, maybe that’s not the right words because I don’t try that hard. I don’t listen to an awful lot of the new music. I’ve got a young daughter and she brings music around for me to listen to. But she grew up with me and I’d been feeding her Hank Williams and Ray Charles so I think she’s going to be okay. She’s got a good head on her as far as music goes.”

    As our chat shifted gears, during the transition Delbert quoted Bob Dylan: “A lot of things get in the way when you try to do something right.” Both of us being Dylan fans, we chatted about the legend for a few minutes.

    “It pisses me off every time I hear him say something because I go, ‘Damn! I wish I’d said that!’ He is the guy and always will be. He’s a phenomena that will keep people forever wondering, ‘What the hell?’ His word-smithing is just phenomenal!”

    Still on a roll, talking about other great songsmiths, Delbert segued into talking about another artist.

    “A couple of weeks ago, I picked up a Johnny Mercer CD that Clint Eastwood did called ‘The Dream’s On Me.’ I grew up listening to Johnny Mercer. He wrote ‘Moon River,” ‘Jeepers Creepers’ and ‘G.I. Jive.’ He was the voice of the Forties! He’s another tunesmith that puts words together that’s just unbelievable!”
    McClinton then drew a comparison to today’s talent.

    “I was reading an article here a while back. I try to stay away from things like this but Kanye West was running his mouth again. I think, ‘My god! How can anybody be so self-centered and stupid?’  He seems to think he’s God. He said that. I read that he said he’s a god. I’ve already had most of my life and I know where that heads to. It heads to a lot of really confused, uninformed, ultimately pitiful people. Not always but that’s the route, when you go to thinking that you’re the only one, that’s when they start heading for that brick wall. That ol’ brick wall is abrupt. I hit it three or four times and it’s a hard one to get past. First of all, you’ve got to admit that you’re wrong. For a lot of people, that’s a difficult thing to do.” 

    I’ve counted 28 studio albums that Delbert has recorded n(ot counting compilation albums). I’ve listened to his latest CD, “Blind, Crippled and Crazy” and absolutely love the amazing, “Just When I Need You The Most.” I said as much to McClinton, to which he responded, “I agree. I agree. And that record did absolutely nothing (sales wise)! It got a lot of great reviews. I think it was a great record. It was a lot of fun. Glen and I always have so much fun singing together. When we went back to do this, it was like we’d never stopped. We do it so naturally, it’s just like fallin’ off a log. We don’t even have to try to sing together. We don’t really sing harmonies together. We just sing different parts together. Because of it, it makes everything go up on two wheels every once in a while which I think is exhilarating.”

    You’ll recall that, earlier in the interview, Mr. McClinton mentioned that he planned on going into the studio in the near future. I circled back to that comment and asked him if he had any idea how he was going to go with it.

    “It’s going to go every which way. I’ve been writing with some different people. Al Anderson and I have written two or three songs together that are of a Dixieland style which is really, really cool. We’ve got three good songs, at least. My bass player and guitar player have been working together and we’ve got four great songs that are different for me. I don’t play anything real well. I play the pull and jerk method on the guitar – just enough to do my songs. But when I sat down to write with these guys, they are professional musicians. They know more than three chords. So we sat down together and started pushing stuff around and it enabled me to sing and play like I don’t ordinarily get to. When I write songs, I usually don’t write them with more than about three chords. Ha! Ha!

    “So, stretching out in this way has allowed me to explore whole different areas of vocal style because, now, I’ve got somebody to write with that can bring that to the table, you know? So, we’ve been having a lot of fun doing that. And I’ve just written a lot of songs over the last several years. The other day I was lookin’ and I think I have sixteen new songs. If I had about twenty, I’d put out a double album. We’re working on that and it might just happen.

    “But, in answer to your original question, it’s going to be varying, different styles, from blues to jazz to a kind of New Orleans/Dixieland kind of thing. So, so far, that’s a bunch of the feel that’ll be on this record.”

         

    When I told Delbert that I love the blues and how he sings them and that I can’t wait to hear the new album where he’ll sing some more, he replied with the humor that he peppered our chat with by saying, “Well, you’re gonna have to.”
    What hasn’t Delbert done that he would like to do, career-wise?

    “Make a s*** load of money.”

    There’s that humor, again.

    “Nah, I’m just kiddin’. I’ve got no reason to complain. I’ve done very well. It took a long time to get there. I didn’t make any money in this business until I was fifty-one years old. So, the last ten or twelve years, for me, have been premier time as far as me being a stable commodity and that’s a great place to be, man. I work as much as I want to. You can’t beat that! Ha! Ha! It’s as good as it gets!”

    In answer to my question about who he would like to work with but hasn’t yet, Delbert replied, “I would’ve liked to have sung with Tina Turner. I think it would’ve been great fun to do something with her. But I don’t know, any more, you know? I really don’t. I have, all of my life, been singularly obsessed with what I’m trying to do that I miss so much music in my life. I would not recognize a Grateful Dead song. I know everybody else in the world lived and breathed by the Grateful Dead. I don’t know anything they ever did. I mean, if you played me something, I would recognize it. But, as far as knowing who they were and what they did? No idea. And there are so many people that just went right past me for whatever reason.

    “The only reason I bring that up is that I think it’s unusual that I was so preoccupied with I’m not even sure what. I was preoccupied with what I was trying to do that everything else went by like a sign on the highway. I can’t talk to anybody about music, about who played that lick, about who did this except in a small area of music. I spent my whole life living in this area with soft edges.”

    Is there anyone relatively “new” that’s catching McClinton’s attention in the music world?

    “The last person that I remember hearing that really pulled me out of wherever I was and got my attention was Maroon 5. Fantastic! Fantastic band! Adam Levine, he’s an impressive guy. You can’t not recognize that those guys are doing well and bringing something new.

    “Here’s the other and this will probably blow your mind. It blew my mind. Lady Gaga is amazing! You need to check her out because she is real talent. There’s just no denying that, if you give her a chance – I mean, good god!  She’s a power house, man! She and Tony Bennett did an album together and it came in at number one! Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga. They are number one! He is amazing, of course. Since I’ve become a fan of hers – I’ve not heard the record yet but I have no doubt that it’s great.”

    I had read that Delbert McClinton hosted the “Sandy Beaches Cruise” each year and asked him to tell me about it.

    “This January will be the twenty-first year we’ve done it. It’s one week in the Caribbean with singers, songwriters, pony tricks and fire eaters and such and the music never stops. It goes from ten-thirty or eleven in the morning to five-thirty in the morning. People can sign up at 1-800-Delbert or Delbert.com.”

    As to what is on McClinton’s career radar for the next year or so, he says, “Ha! Ha! Well, for the next year, I’ve got a record to make, which is always exciting. As far as whatever else, if I could just keep doing what I’m doing right now until I don’t want to do it any more, I’ll be a big winner.”

    When Delbert steps off the tour bus for the final time and has gone to that great gig in the sky, how do he want to be remembered and what does he hope his legacy will be?

    “Oh, man! That’s just fantasy, isn’t it? Well, when I hang it up, I hope it’s because I’ve dropped dead on stage because that would be the best way in the world to go out. Of course, you can’t pick that. I don’t know how to answer that question because it could be a real sappy answer if I’m not careful and I don’t want to have a sappy answer. When I’m done, I’m done. The last thing in the world I’d want to do is to have to answer questions like that anymore.”

  • mcclinton delbert2016Photo by Randy Patterson

    Delbert McClinton
    Bijou Theatre – Knoxville, TN
    December 9, 2016

    For the third December in a row, it was a privilege to catch the great Delbert McClinton and his well-seasoned band at the historic Bijou Theatre in downtown Knoxville, Tennessee. It’s almost become a personal Christmas tradition, of sorts. In fact, by now, it’s almost like heading over to Delbert’s house and listening to him and the band light it up musically.

    Each and every musician was superb, including McClinton’s harmonica playing – which never fails to be top-shelf. The guitarists played off of each other as effortlessly and fluidly as Richards and Wood or Perry and Whitford. Long-time sax player, Dana Robbins, still blew the crowd away with her incredible playing. Judging by the crowd's reaction, to each of her solos, it wouldn’t have hurt their feelings to have listened to her all night (not to discount the rest of the gang, of course). Being the class act that he is, Delbert gladly shared the spotlight with all of his band members – much to the crowd’s delight.

    Fans were thrilled to hear many of their favorite hits as well as a couple of tunes from his soon-to-be-released (January 27th) CD, Prick Of The Litter (he’s accepting pre-orders now). McClinton devotees will no doubt purchase tickets for next year’s show as soon as they’re available. If you’ve never seen Delbert McClinton in concert, you’re missing out on a real treat. You can learn moreof what’s going on in Delbert’s world by clicking on over to Delbert.com.

  • Delbert McClinton

    December 4, 2015

    Bijou Theater

    Knoxville, TN

     

    Photo by Randy Patterson

         

    Delbert McClinton’s Friday night show at the Bijou Theater was one for the record books. 

    Opening act, Alysa Bonagura, has become a new favorite of Boomerocity. Consider her one of music’s best kept secrets. If you know her work nowhere else, you will most likely have heard her “I Make My Own Sunshine” that was used in commercials for Lowe’s. Hear that song once and it sticks in your mind (and brightens your outlook) for quite awhile.

    Check this girl out and keep an eye on her.

    When Delbert hit the stage, he and his tight band hit the audience with entertaining energy. Fun, engaging, nostalgic, McClinton often had the capacity crowd on their feet and dancing. 

    As always, McClinton gave the crowd what they wanted by serving up all sorts of favorites and with an energy that would’ve given the uninitiated the impression that the songs were new and fresh to him and the band. 

    A new Boomerocity favorite by McClinton is a tune he released back in 1997, “Sending Me Angels” and has now been bought and downloaded into the Boomerocity jukebox from iTunes.

    Of course, you never go wrong catching a show at the beautiful and historic Bijou Theater. There’s not a bad seat in the house and the acoustics are magnificent. 

    If you’ve never seen Delbert McClinton in concert, you’re missing out on true musical genius and one of the most fun nights you can ever experience.

  • Delbert McClinton
    December 5, 2014
    Bijou Theater
    Knoxville, TN

    Photo by James R. Patterson

         

    One of the artists who has been on my concert bucket list for a very long time has been the great Delbert McClinton. What a personal thrill it was for me to be able to not only catch this legendary performer in concert Friday night, but to meet him in person. He's as gracious and personable in person as he is on stage. The man is a class act all the way.

    Yeah, I was a little star struck.

    Delbert and the band were a tight, well-oiled machine, delivering a string of familiar tunes from his long, impressive career and the crowd loved every second of it. They showed it buy being on their feet from the git go.

    The audience cheered Delbert through songs like “Old Weakness,” “New York City,” “Right To Be Wrong,” “Going Back To Louisiana,” “Leap Of Faith,” and his huge hit, “Givin’ It Up For Your Love” (my personal favorite).

    I don’t know if this was staged or spontaneous but a group of about ten women climbed up on stage during “Givin’ It Up For Your Love” and started dancing with Delbert and the band. It was a hoot to watch.

    If you ever get a chance to catch one of Delbert’s shows, I encourage you to do so. He will not disappoint!


  • Posted July 27, 2014


    As I interview many great and notable people for Boomerocity, I am always amazed and the stories that they have to share – almost nonchalantly. The greatness that they’ve attained, been involved with or brushed up against boggles my mind.

    As I interview these people, I typically craft and groom the piece in a give and take narrative. Once in a great while, an interview happens where I pretty much turn on my recorder and listen to what an artist has to say with very little input from me.  My recent interview with former Spirit bassist and current bottom man for Blowin’ Smoke Rhythm and Blues Band as well as for the new group, Sky Kings, is one such interview.

    Fuzzy is a wealth of rock and roll history and knowledge with each and every one of his stories absolutely fascinating.

    For this interview, I’d like to take the uncharacteristic approach of putting into writing the feel of being on the phone with Fuzzy as I was. With only a very few exceptions, this interview is almost all Fuzzy.

    As our conversation began, I asked how things were and what all is going on his Fuzzy’s life.

    “Everything is good. It’s all good. I’ve been busy on a bunch of music projects. I have a concert this Saturday with the eleven piece ‘Blowin’ Smoke Rhythm and Blues Band’ that I’ve had for eighteen years – going into our nineteenth year real soon. I also just released another project that I produced, played bass on and wrote half the songs. The band is called ‘Sky King’ and that’s doing very well with regards to our initial exposure and reviews we’ve been getting. They’ve been very, very positive and I’m appreciative of that.”

    As if that’s not enough to keep a guy busy, he continued by saying, “I’m getting ready to edit and put out a live ‘Blowin’ Smoke’ album that was recorded very, very late last year out at Harvelle’s. And, then, I have plans of going in also this year and start a studio album with Blowin’ Smoke and we’re going to start laying tracks – again, this year – for new Sky Kings songs.

    “So, the plate is full! Ha! Ha! I’ve got my ears open for other creative opportunities. I like to work and I love being in the studio . . . and I like to produce, as well. All of those things are on the table and, for Sky King, I’ve been talking to a friend of mine. He’s a film director and he’s working for a company in the film industry right now. We have never put a video out, yet, on any of the songs for Sky King. My overall project for Sky King was to create a video for every song because the CD itself happens to have a theme even though that’s not real popular in today’s CD music. Kids seem to like to download a song. But when we created the CD, it was a concept CD.”

    “I have a long music history. It’s really been my entire life. I have seriously been into music since third grade in school. They gave us some music aptitude tests. I remember my teacher contacted my parents and said, ‘Your son should be in a music program in school.’

    “So, they gave me a cardboard keyboard to take home. I would bring it back and forth to classes. You can’t hear anything on a cardboard keyboard. So the teacher asked my parents, ‘Would you buy this kid an instrument so that we can teach him some music?’

    “In those years, we lived in a small apartment so a piano wouldn’t have even fit in the place that we lived in. So my mom and dad took me down to the local music store. I wound up playing violin. I played violin, believe it or not, all through what was left of grade school, junior high, high school and even into college.

    “By learning orchestral music and reading music, and transposing and being a listener and developing my ear, it’s how I got into being a professional musician. I would say that I owe my start to the school system in St. Louis, where I’m from.”

    On the heels of those comments, Fuzzy shared what and who his earliest musical influences were.

    “When I was fourteen and fifteen years old, I listened at night time to a black radio station in St. Louis called KATZ/Sweet Sixteen. Every night that you would

    listen, they would broadcast live from some black night club in St. Louis. Nobody listened to this station except black people. I was probably the only white kid in St. Louis at that time that listened to it.

    “Listen to this – these are the people they were broadcasting live every night: Albert King, Ike Turner, Chuck Berry, Little Milton and a couple of other guitar players that were popular in the St. Louis area that never became famous like these guys. By the time I was sixteen, I had already talked my mom into taking me to another music store – because I didn’t have enough money saved up – and she bought me a 1963 Fender Stratocaster guitar and a 1963 Fender Jazz bass, which is the same bass that I play to this very day. It’s been around the world umpteen times with me.

    “So, being the kid that I was, I started sneaking into the black clubs with my friends so that I could see these people play. By the time I was seventeen years old, I was already playing with all of them. I would get gigs playing either guitar or bass. They were blown away. I was, like, the only white person in the night club except any friends that I brought with me and we always played in black clubs.

    “In those years – I was born in 1944 – I’ll be seventy October 21st. The Blowin’ Smoke Band is nothing more than the music that inspired me when I was a teenager in St. Louis. By playing with all the black groups, I used to be invited and taken to Masonic halls and places where people like Ray Charles and Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding and James Brown – I could go on and on – they used to come into the city to play, they would play in black venues only. The bands that they brought with them always had horn sections and there were back-up singers and dancers, an emcee and a lot of people would also perform before the star hit the stage.

    “The Blowin’ Smoke Rhythm and Blues Review is a similar style show. I have four horn players in that band. I have three black female lead singers. I sing lead. My guitar player sings lead, also. There’s a four piece rhythm section to the band. We are an eleven piece band. I gotta tell you, Randy, it’s not easy – especially in today’s music market – for an eleven piece band to survive. But the fact of the matter is, we’ve been together almost nineteen years now and we play all the time. I’m very proud of the format because I know that there are a lot of young kids that really have never seen anything like what we do. I get a chance to talk to them when we perform – after we’re done – and they always come up to me and they’re, like, flabbergasted. They go, ‘Damn! I’ve never seen anything like this before!’

    “As the icons pass away – we lose James Brown and we lose Ray Charles and that style – there are a few people that are kinda getting into it. I like Sharon Jones and the Gap Band. They’re actually doing old R&B and blues and doing it well and selling records. That’s the way of the music world. Everything comes around sooner or later.

    “Anyway, that’s how I started. I started playing the blues and R&B in St. Louis. I had my own groups there. My very first group, believe it or not, was called, ‘The Galaxies’. Then I had another group called, ‘Larry Knight and the Upsetters’. When I had that band, I recorded a record – in those days there were no vinyl albums. There were only 45’s that were being put out. I was signed to Golden World Records up in Detroit which is now a subsidiary of Motown. A producer came down to St. Louis and into a studio and I recorded a record called ‘Hurt Me’ that I wrote. The flip side I also wrote called ‘Everything’s Gone Wrong’. It actually became a hit record in St. Louis, Chicago, and Detroit. I had a regional breakout. It was late 1965. It was up on WLS in Chicago and KXLK Radio in St. Louis. It got into the top ten and things were going really fantastic. I thought, ‘Wow! This is it! I might make it!’

    “At that time, another record came out of St. Louis that was very popular, which was a band called Bob Kuban and the Inmen and the name of the song was called ‘The Cheater’ and it actually got up on the big charts. He came out to California and was on the Dick Clark Show and the shows that were like that at that time. I was right behind them and I got this fateful letter in the mail that ‘You are drafted and you will be going to Vietnam’.

    “I did and I served fourteen months in the Vietnam War, unfortunately. I lost two years of my life and two years of almost the most influential period in music. I was away from 1966 through 1968 and that’s when the Beatles were really ripping it up. Music was changing into rock and roll and English rock. And it’s funny. It was all rooted in the blues and the old blues guys!

    “So, when I got out of the service, I immediately went on the road with a band – within two weeks. I tried to get my head straight and tried to catch up on what was happening and what was going on in the business. I put another band together called ‘Pax’. That’s the Latin word for peace. I had a three piece blues/psychedelic/rock band with a gal by the name of Gracie Dumas – a singer who used to sing with Ike Turner – as my lead vocalist.

    “We were doing a lot of gigs around the Missouri and Illinois are at the time. Barry Goldberg from the Electric Flag came into St. Louis and one of the black DJ’s took him out to a gig to see us perform. Barry was blown away and took us into a studio in Chicago. To this very day, I’ve got those five recordings. We did five songs that he produced. He gave me his address and phone number in California. He lived in Topanga Canyon out here. He said, ‘You bring me your band to California. I’ll guarantee you a record deal, I’ll be the producer and we’ll see what happens.’

    “So, four months later I poured everybody into a van and we drove across the country and I got all the way out here and went to Barry’s address in Topanga Canyon to see him. Unfortunately, when I got to his house and knocked on his door, somebody else answered and said, ‘Barry’s not going to be back for at least six months’. I asked, ‘Well, is he on tour?’ and the guy said, ‘No. He’s in rehab for heroin addiction.’ He and Buddy Miles – there was a whole bunch of guys in Electric Flag that were pretty wasted back in those days.

    “There I was in California. I had no one. I had not one contact other than him and I didn’t know what to do, where to go, where to play, how to make a penny. Believe it or not, it launched me on the second part of my professional career which became phenomenal.

    “The band that I brought to California, of course, we were playing gigs and we had a booking agency and we were surviving. But this is very interesting: One day, as I was driving in the valley – San Fernando Valley here in L.A. – I saw a marquee and it said, ‘Delaney, Bonnie and Friends’.

    “I grew up in St. Louis with Bonnie Bramlett. What was even more interesting is that they had just come back from their UK tour. That was when Eric Clapton was playing with them, and George Harrison, Leon Russell – they had the greatest band in the world. Eric Clapton took the Delaney and Bonnie rhythm section – he took the band away from them, basically – and he started Derek and the Dominos.

    “So, when they came back to L.A., they had picked up some local musicians and were playing this club that was only a few blocks from their home where they lived. I thought, ‘I grew up with Bonnie! I gotta go see her!’

    “I went into the club before they started playing and I wrote a note on a napkin and I asked the waitress to take it backstage. She did and Bonnie came screaming out from the back room, jumped on my table, knocked the drinks over and we hugged. She said, ‘You better get up on the stage and sit in with this band!’ I did. I had my guitar with me that night and I played the blues.

    “When the night was over, Delaney asked me if I would like to go out on tour. He said that they were leaving in ten days and he gave me two reel-to-reel tapes and said, ‘This is our show. Learn it.’ I never even got to rehearse with the whole band. I just went over to his house a couple of times. I was with Delaney and Bonnie as their lead guitar player until the band broke up. They divorced and that was the end of Delaney and Bonnie.”

    Later in our conversation, Fuzzy had more to say about Bonnie Bramlett.

    “Bonnie and I are two months apart in age – actually, one month apart. Her birthday is less than thirty days after mine. She has always – from the very, very beginning back in our high school days – always has been a phenomenal singer. Before Tina Turner was popular, we played in an area in St. Louis called Gaslight Square where they had places like how the Peppermint lounge was big in New York City? They had the Butterscotch Lounge and all of these various night clubs on this one strip of about two blocks. It had all of the old gas lamps that were in St. Louis back in the old cobblestone/gas lamp time. I played in every club on that street and so did Bonnie. There were times when we played with each other and with different people. We were always friends and new each other well.”

    Picking back up on Fuzzy’s early days on the California music scene, he said, “During that period – even before that – I was very lucky out here in L.A. At that time, you could walk into a record label like Capitol Records or A&M and you could put your name up on a board there and say, ‘I do session work’. I was very lucky in that I met a drummer whose sister was the secretary of the president of Capitol Records. So we got hooked up with a lot of artists who were recording for Capitol and we became studio musicians. I did a lot of demos for them and albums for them. I played with guys like Jim Rose, Chi Coltrane – the list goes on and on.  I was buzzing about L.A., playing recording sessions and doing gigs with everybody. Then I was with Delaney and Bonnie.

    “I met Randy California and Ed Cassidy from Spirit in those days. The music community in back in the late sixties/early seventies was a beautiful thing. People from all different kinds of bands could get together and play and jam; get kinda stoned, high, trip out and all that kind of stuff. But it was really a great time!  It was through us playing together with Randy California and Ed Cassidy, the same thing happened. After we played a couple of times, Randy said, ‘I want you to join my band. We’ve got some gigs that we’re gonna do as Spirit but I’m also working on my first solo album called ‘Kapt. Kopter’. I got to record tracks with him on that. We went to Europe as Spirit. I stayed with him from 1970 when we first met all the way through 1980-81 – about ten or eleven years. I guess I have about eight or nine different album releases under the name, ‘Spirit’, with Randy California and Ed Cassidy. We toured Europe and lived in London for about a year and a half. Went to every country, every city in every country in Europe.

    “Miles Copeland actually produced an album for us, ‘Live at the Rainbow Theater’, during that period. The Police were opening shows for us for six months. They hadn’t even recorded ‘Roxanne’ yet. They were doing punk rock and people were booing them off the stage. As soon as they got into that reggae feel and incorporated it into their songs, they took off. It wasn’t long before we had to open shows for them! That’s the way it works in the business. It was great and I even got a chance to work for Jefferson Airplane’s organization.

    “A friend of mine – a drummer – was already up there in San Francisco. The Airplane, at that time, was putting their own record label out called ‘Grunt Records’, to be distributed through RCA - their original label.  They had signed all these people and they had signed the Kaukonen’s solo albums – Jorma and Peter Kaukonen.

    “So, I had a call while I was down here in L.A. and they invited to come up to San Francisco. They just wanted to hear me play. They sent me a ticket and I flew up there. They offered me – I remember this because, to me, this was the most money in the world – they gave me a twenty-five thousand dollar advance to move up to San Francisco and record for Peter Kaukonen. I did his ‘Black Kangaroo’ album.

    “I did a whole bunch of artists that they had signed. I even did one with Marty Balin – one of his first solo albums. Jack Bonus and some other people. I was like a studio bass player and we were opening shows with Peter’s band for Hot Tuna which his brother, Jorma Kaukonen, was the guitar player in. It was pretty wild and things were going great. I loved it up there. I had a house in Mill Valley in the Redwood Forest. Everything was a dream, almost.

    “And then Randy (California) called me from L.A. and said, ‘You gotta come back. We’re gonna go to Europe again. There’s TV shows we’re gonna do and a whole bunch of stuff’ and I said, ‘I’ll be right back. I’ll see you as soon as I give them my notice and pack up my stuff’. I moved back to L.A. and rejoined Spirit again. That went on all the way through until 1980/1981. Then I got involved in many more projects from that point on.

    “Eventually, I got to the point where I was missing my roots. I wanted my roots back. I plaid rock and blues. I’d done a little bit of everything, so far. I felt that

    Sky King: Garth Farkas, Fuzzy Knight and Walter Morosko

    it was time to do this R&B review band. So, eighteen or nineteen years ago, I started Blowin’ Smoke. It did phenomenal. We played all the big blues festivals out here. We did the Monterey Blues Festival a couple of years in a row. The San Diego Blues Festival. The Doheny and the Long Beach – all the great blues shows and we’re still together. It’s almost a miracle to be able to hold an eleven piece group together. If you can make it two years your lucky, let alone nineteen. I feel sort of like John Mayall. He had some great guitar players and great singers over the course of the years but the legacy just goes on – to continue. I’m gonna keep it going for as long as I can.

    “Sky King is different – all original music, only. It has influences of R&B, blues, folk, jazz and rock and roll all mixed together. It’s none of any of those. It’s just a hybrid. I call it alternative rock/R&B/blues. Ha! Ha! Whatever that means!  All I know is that it confuses everybody. They don’t what category to put it into. But the music and the performances of all the players is phenomenal – a work of art!  I’m very proud of the CD and very proud to be the producer of the music. I worked on it a long time and I feel real good about it.”

    Everybody has seen the news about the lawsuit that Randy California’s estate has filed that alleges that Jimmy Page and Robert Plant used Spirit’s “Taurus” as the foundation in writing “Stairway to Heaven”.  I asked Fuzzy if he had any thoughts or insight into the matter.

    “This is also very interesting because in 1971 I was playing with Randy. That’s when we were recording the tracks for the Kapt. Kopter album – his first solo album. I remember when he first heard a Led Zeppelin album when it first came out – the Stairway to Heaven album – I think it was in ’71. I remember him saying to me – he said, ‘Did you hear this album by Led Zeppelin?’ I said, ‘Not yet’, and he said, ‘Oh, when you do, listen to this track. It sounds like a sound I’ve already written. Not the whole song but the introduction to it sounds exactly like the song, ‘Taurus’.’ 

    “He used to do that every once in a while on tour. He would bring out his acoustic guitar. Sometimes it would segue into ‘Nature’s Way’ or whatever. He never, at that time, accused them of stealing it. He just said that it sounded really similar to his song. But, if you think about the music business itself and how artists influence other artists – especially old blues people – a lot of rock and roll players have used blues formats or blues licks to write songs. If you do a descending scale – a lot of people have used descending scales. When I listen to the Black Keys’ new CD, the very first song reminded me of Pink Floyd. I was thinking more of the Pink Floyd than I was the Black Keys.

    “To be honest, I don’t know if there’s any validity in a law suit like that. I think that if Randy really believed that he had been ripped off – the people that I know who knew his financial status have said that he never had enough money to sue them. I don’t know if that’s true or not but he never went after them. I think he would have been happy if they had actually it and had used it, if they had used it and said, ‘Well, we were influenced by Randy California of Spirit.

    “Now, according to Mark Andes – the original bass player – in 1968 while I was still in Vietnam, he said that Led Zeppelin came to the United States and had opened shows for Spirit and that they had heard their music and liked the music of Spirit and they probably heard Taurus. Maybe it was in the back of their mind from what they heard. Maybe they heard it on stage and liked what they were doing and just decided, ‘Oh, we can do something similar’, you know? I don’t know if they’re willing to say, ‘Yeah, Randy influenced us so we’ll give him a little credit.’ 

    “As far as the money and all of that is concerned, I don’t know. But, if it was me, I probably would not sue them. What I would do is I would have a legal person contact them and ask them was Randy California an influence for this song – just to see what they would say. To see if they were honest thirty or forty years later.

    “From what I was told, there’s a statute of limitations – they would only be qualified to receive three years’ worth of current royalty. The only reason that all of this shit came up to begin with is because Jimmy Page has been re-mastering or re-digitizing all of the original recordings and they’re all going to be coming out again in a new updated sound format. If he decided not to do that then none of this would have come up.

    “It’s been said over the years a bunch of times – I’ve heard this story many times – and the fact of the matter is if that’s what his family wants to do – that’s what his sister wants to do – more power to her. I don’t want to enjoin any suits. I wasn’t the writer of the song. There’s only one guy in the band that matters. It’s not Spirit, it’s Randy California. He was the writer. He actually wrote the song, Taurus, for his step-dad, Ed, whose birthday – he was a Taurus. That’s why the song came to be to begin with.”

    As we discussed the overlap of musical influences by way of style and structure, Fuzzy said, “Well listen to this: Okay, Randy – at the age of fifteen and a half – played with Jimmy James and the Blue Flames in Café Wha? in New York City. Now, over the years the style that Randy played live in concert, you would almost think that you were listening to Jimi Hendrix.

    “This is a very interesting story. I’m going to tell you something that I think may blow your mind. Ed Pearl in L.A. – way back in mid-sixties/late sixties – had a night club called The Ash Grove. It was very popular out here. It was like The Troubadour but even more popular at the time. He would bring in all these old delta blues men. I mean the original delta blues men. He would feature them at the Ash Grove. These people, when he brought them in, did not live in hotels when they were brought out here. They stayed at Ed Pearl’s home. Randy, at that time he was already playing guitar, would go and hang out at his uncle’s house while these blues men lived there while they were doing these shows in L.A.  Almost every single one of them would sit down with Randy and show him their acoustic blues style of playing. He incorporated all of that into his style.

    “When Jimi met Randy, it was by accident in what I think was Manny’s Music in New York, and Randy was sitting in the music store playing his acoustic guitar and Jimi heard him and was astounded by this young white kid playing this authentic style acoustic blues. That was how he got invited to join Jimi’s band in the village at that time.

    “Jimi Hendrix could probably – if he were alive today – say, ‘Well, Randy’s playing in his songs, they sound a whole lot like my stuff.’  That’s what artists do. You should be more flattered. There’s a rip-off somewhere. Like, when George Harrison did ‘My Sweet Lord’. Remember that law suit that developed? That was chord for chord of a whole song! It wasn’t just like a twelve bar intro or an eight bar intro. There was a big difference. You take the entire chord progression of the song and write different words over it, I would say, yeah, you’re sort of treading on dangerous ground when you do something like that.

    “By the way, you know, it was Jimi Hendrix who gave Randy his name, ‘California’. When he was in Jimmy James and the Blue Flames, there were two Randy’s in the band. One was from Texas and the other one was from California. You can guess which one was which. To distinguish between the two, he decided that Randy Wolfe would be Randy California so that the right guy would answer when he had something to say.

    “But as far as Randy is concerned – and Led Zeppelin – I think that it would just be a matter of if they want to be gracious and either say, ‘We didn’t do’ or ‘Yeah, we were influenced by what we heard’. Who knows?

    “Like I said, I know Randy for years and years and  years and he’d heard, ‘Why don’t you sue them?’ and he never did. I would think that if it was that important to him – and believe me, he could’ve used the money, I know that because he used to spend every dime he ever made to go back into the studio and record. That’s all he liked to do was write songs and record in the studio. But he never did (sue) so I guess, maybe, it didn’t matter that much to him. If it did, he would’ve done it. 

    My last question for Fuzzy is one that I usually ask veterans of the music industry: When you’ve stepped off the tour bus for the final time and you go to that great gig in the sky, how do you want to be remembered and what do you wish your legacy to be?

    “The main thing is that it’s the music that counts, the messages in the songs that you write and that you record, those things do positive and happy and healing things to humanity. It’s not for one person; it’s for every single human being. It’s the same when you go and play a gig. I do not care if you play in front of a half a million people if you’re playing for twenty people in a night club. The whole idea of being there and doing what you’re doing is that when you’re done at the end of the night, you know that you’ve given a hundred and ten percent of what’s inside of your soul – your spirit – up there on that stage; that you’ve played the best that you can play and that you hope that, when the people that experienced that moment with you, that they go home feeling better than when they got there to begin with. That’s all there is to it.

    There’s nothing else that I can add. I want it to be positive. I want it to be happy and, hopefully, if they’re having a bad time, maybe even healing. I would say that’s what I want people to remember.”

     

  • Posted March 2016

    West Leslie CREDIT JUSTINBORUCKI 001Photo by Justin BoruckiOne of the most talked about performances at Woodstock (but didn’t’ get to make it on the movie) is the eleven song set by Mountain. At the time, the band was mostly noted for it’s cover of the Jack Bruce tune, Theme for an Imaginary Western, as well as blistering guitar solos by the bands founder, Leslie West.

    In the years that followed, the band continued to blaze musical trails, ultimately releasing eight studio and three live albums. It’s signature hit became “Mississippi Queen” that has been heard all over the world and used in movies, TV shows and commercials. 

    Leslie West also simultaneously launched a successful solo career, marked by fifteen solo albums – sixteen when you include his new monumental effort, “Soundcheck.” It was for “Soundcheck” that I recently contacted West by phone. In fact, I called him on the 45th anniversary of the passing of Jimi Hendrix. I was curious about your thoughts about him.

    “Well, it was really sad. He died at almost 28 years old. I’ve since become friends with his sister, Janie. She came through New York recently – within the last year. They’re doing a documentary on the Atlanta Pop Festival – with Jimi there. They were interviewing people that played it. She’s such a sweetheart.”

    Circling back to Jimi himself, West continued:

    “Too bad he’s not still around. I have very fond memories. I played with him at a club in New York at, like, one in the morning. Just me and him. Him playing bass and me playing guitar. In fact, on MoutainRockBand.com – our website – there’s a picture of Hendrix playing bass and me playing guitar that night. It’s not the greatest picture but you can certainly see that it’s him and me. 

    “He went WAY before his time. Yeah, that wasn’t a happy day.”

    Bringing the conversation to Leslie’s new CD, I asked him how many solo records this mad for him.

    “I think it’s sixteen solo albums, believe it or not. I think. Somebody wrote that the other day. I started to count them but I EverythingKnoxvilleLogoEditedfeel really tired so I’m not going to start to

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  • Posted June, 2010

    MicheleBramlettI’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

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