Randall Bramblett will be featured at Rams Head On Stage this Saturday evening.
Randall Bramblett’s distinguished body of work is defined by a triple threat career as an acclaimed solo artist, an in-demand songwriter and a first call sideman. Among the artists who’ve recorded and performed Bramblett’s songs are Bettye LaVette, Hot Tuna, Delbert McClinton and most notably, Bonnie Raitt, who opened her 2014 Grammy winner, Slipstream, with one of his songs. In the ’70s he was a member of the seminal jazz/rock group Sea Level and as a sideman has toured with Gregg Allman, Widespread Panic and Levon Helm. Steve Winwood was such a fan of Bramblett’s keyboard, sax and vocal performances that he made Bramblett his go-to tour mate for 16 years, including the ’94 Traffic reunion.
But it’s Bramblett’s own career as frontman where his artistry is in full display. His experience as a bandleader reaches back to his high school days in the railroad junction town of Jesup, Georgia, where Bramblett couldn’t help but absorb the field-rooted melodies and steel-wheeled rhythms he heard all around him. He fell in love with soul and R&B early, and was so attracted to the family piano that his parents let him start lessons at age 4 (his dad built extensions so he could reach the pedals). Guitar and sax came next and Bramblett began playing professionally while still in junior high. By the time he entered high school he was singing Temptations, Otis Redding and James Brown covers in a soul-funk band.
“We just wanted to do soul music because that’s what we all loved,” he recalls. “I used to listen to [Nashville-based] WLAC late at night because they played all this great soul and blues and R&B, and sermons and gospel music. That stuff just grabbed me and it still does.” His high school bandmates stuck together even after Bramblett went off to UNC Chapel Hill to college. “I’d be hitchhiking to Mississippi or Alabama for weekend shows and have to scramble to get back for Monday classes.”
In college he also started writing songs, influenced by Dylan and North Carolina native James Taylor. Moving to Athens, Georgia after graduation, he landed in the Capricorn Records house band and toured with Gregg Allman. In 1975 and ’76 he released his first two solo albums on Polydor. Shortly after he joined forces with Chuck Leavell and Sea Level.
“After Capricorn Records folded, Sea Level slowly fell apart and I kind of stopped everything for a few years. I cleaned up my act and eventually got invited to join Steve Winwood in ’88. Working with Steve gave me the confidence and energy to focus on songwriting again. I started part two of my solo career by recording See Through Me for a re-formed Capricorn Records in ’98,” explains Bramblett. “I’ve been focused on my own voice and songwriting since then. I always try to push the boundaries; it’s exciting to see what will happen with each new recording.”
His latest New West release, the dark, Southern, soul-drenched Devil Music, is his sixth for the label and the tenth of his career. Like his others, it features compelling, unusually arranged melodies coupled with thoughtful, deftly worded lyrics.
The new recording features guitarist Derek Trucks whose dirtied-up slide counterpoints Bramblett’s falsetto in “Angel Child,” and keyboardist and fellow Sea Level alum, Chuck Leavell, who adds serious boogie to the witty “Reptile Pilot.” Guitar master Mark Knopfler also makes a guest appearance and does some serious damage on “Dead in the Water”—a swampy gem perfect for soundtracking an HBO series.