Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b Bonnie Lynn O'Farrell, 8 November 1944, Alton IL), rock singer, songwriter, bandleader, actress. She cut classes at school to sing in basement clubs in East St. Louis at age 14, and turned pro at Gaslight Square in St. Louis at 15, working with jazzmen such as Dexter Gordon, R&B star King Curtis, and once opening for Count Basie. By the early 1960s she was in Memphis, Tennessee, became the first white girl to sing with Ike and Tina Turner in the Ikettes, and sang backup for artists like Fontella Bass and Albert King. In 1967 in Los Angeles she met Delaney Bramlett (b 11 July 1939, Randolph MS; d 27 December 2008, Los Angeles), a member of the cast of TV’s Shindig music show, and within a few days they married, in a bowling alley with a topless bar.

Back in Memphis they were the first white artists to sign with Stax, but their 1968 album on that label (backed by Booker T. and the MGs) was not released at the time (Home finally came out in 1974). But an extraordinary buzz began. A fluctuating group of backing musicians came together, feeding on the building energy, including Leon Russell, keyboards; Carl Radle, bass; Duane Allman, Dave Mason, and J. J. Cale on guitars; their reputation as the hottest act around led to signing with Elektra. Their first official album was Accept No Substitute: The Original Delaney And Bonnie in 1969. The core group also backed George Harrison on All Things Must Pass and Eric Clapton on his eponymous album, both released '70, the latter also produced by Delaney.

They were known as Delaney and Bonnie and Friends, with Jim Keltner, drums; Bobby Whitlock, keyboards; Jim Price and Bobby Keys on horns; Rita Coolidge among the backing vocalists: their fusion of country, gospel and rock in blue-eyed soul was new at the time. They played support on Blind Faith's US tour, leading to the patronage of Eric Clapton, who set up a European tour, and joined them after Blind Faith split up. Derek & The Dominos made Layla, one of rock's classics, essentially a Clapton album. Harrison also guested with the friends, and issued their Substitute on Apple in the UK; their live album On Tour (with Clapton) made the USA top 30 albums. Much was expected, but some said the Elektra album had not been promoted well; after they guested with John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band, plans for a headlining USA tour collapsed. They lost Clapton, then Joe Cocker poached the Friends for his tour as Mad Dogs and Englishmen, and the duo never recovered their momentum. Their album To Delaney From Bonnie had Little Richard guesting on 'Miss Ann', but this and one or two more never approached the excitement of the debut. They split up personally and professionally in 1972, but Delaney & Bonnie & Friends are celebrated in On Tour With Eric Clapton--Deluxe Edition, a four-CD set released in 2010 on Rhino, which has three complete shows and parts of two others, nearly quadrupling the number of tracks originally released from the tour. Jim Fusilli in the Wall Street Journal praised the rhythm section, and Bonnie's singing, 'laced with sensual bravado, even when she's joined by her then-husband and Ms. Coolidge and Mr. Whitlock in honeyed four-part harmonies. Her three renditions of Bessie Griffin's steamy blues "That's What My Man Is For" are the boxed set's most riveting performances.'

Delaney label-hopped through the 1970s, recruiting Clapton, Harrison and others for Delaney And Friends: Class Reunion in 1977. Several of his songs were widely covered, especially 'Never Ending Song Of Love'; and he gave George Harrison lessons on slide guitar. Some sources give Bonnie credit for co-writing that song; in any case, she found more work. A CBS album was called Sweet Bonnie Bramlett in 1973. She recruited the Average White Band as her backing band, bringing them over from Britain, and recorded for Capricorn, albums called It's Time, Lady's Choice and Memories (1975-78). At the dawn of the '80s she was a member of rock’s royalty, working with Cocker, Carly Simon, Little Feat, Jimmy Buffett, and many others; she sang on the Delbert McClinton hit single 'Giving It Up For Your Love' in 1980. She was asked to tour with Stephen Stills and with the Allman Brothers; she was called 'the only Allman Sister'. Her song 'Superstar' was covered by the Carpenters, Bette Midler, Cher, Luther Vandross, and others; other songs were covered by Joan Baez, Lynn Anderson, the Everly Brothers, and many more.

She turned to acting under the name of Bonnie Sheridan, landing a part in the TV series Fame, and a part in the Oliver Stone movie The Doors. She later recalled, 'Oliver said, "All you have to do to get the part is to tell Jim Morrison to get fucked." I said, "I did that in real life." ' Roseanne Barr was a fan; in 1991-2 Bonnie had a part in the cast of Roseanne's eponymous TV show, the number one show of that season.

In the 1990s there was a second divorce, and Bonnie withdrew to the Cascade Mountains in Idaho to take stock and write her memoirs, provisionally titled 'I Can Laugh About It Now.' Then she came back to music. I'm Still The Same was a 2002 CD on the Audium label, followed by Pennies from Heaven in 2005, and Roots, Blues & Jazz in 2006, both on Zoho.