CD Review: Delaney & Bonnie, “On Tour With Eric Clapton” (Deluxe Edition)
By the time On Tour with Eric Clapton was released in 1970, the husband/wife pairing of Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett could loosely be placed in the category of “seasoned veterans” within the music industry, despite the fact that they had only been recording as a unit for a very short period of time. Delaney had come up in the business as a session musician, spending a very important period of time in the mid-’60s working as a member of the house band for the TV series Shindig!. Working on the television show would bring Bramlett in contact with Leon Russell (also a member of the Shindig! band) and Russell would play a very important role in Delaney’s musical future (and the pair also filtered into a potent scene of musicians featuring former Byrds members Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman that would eventually spawn The Flying Burrito Brothers).
Bonnie Lynn O’Farrell was climbing her own ladder in the music industry, putting two notable notches onto her musical resume at a very early age, singing with blues legend Albert King and later, the Ike and Tina Turner Revue, both while she was still in her mid-teens. A few years later, she would eventually move to Los Angeles where she met and married Delaney Bramlett in 1967. Leon Russell and Delaney pooled their connections from working on Shindig! and quickly managed to assemble a group of players to back the newly established unit which would carry the tag of Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, due to an ever-changing lineup of musicians in the backing band (including heavy hitters like Dr. John, Stephen Stills, Albert Collins and one Jimi Hendrix, all of whom stopped by to jam with Delaney & Bonnie). Despite ace production and session assistance from notable players(including Donald “Duck” Dunn, Isaac Hayes and others), the band’s first album Home (released on Stax Records) in 1969 was not a success. The band released a second album called Accept No Substitute later that same year on a new label, Elektra Records with lots of pre-release buzz, that also failed to find an audience. David Anderle had signed Delaney & Bonnie to the Elektra deal and later described the band’s sound to author Barney Hoskyns as “American white roots blues with a real sound.”
By the end of 1969, Delaney & Bonnie found themselves without a label, but they had a new ally thanks to their friend George Harrison (who famously had tried to sign the group after hearing an early version of Accept No Substitute, even though they were still signed to Elektra at the time) who introduced them to Eric Clapton, who was looking for an opening act for an upcoming Blind Faith tour. Clapton quickly took a liking to Delaney & Bonnie’s music and performed with the group often on-stage during the duration of the tour. Clapton was able to help the band secure a new record deal with Atco Records and he helped pave the way for the eventual release of On Tour with Eric Clapton, recorded in December of 1969 and released the following year.
For anybody that heard the original album, which ran nearly 43 minutes in total length, clearly there was a lot of material left on the cutting room floor but at the time, the words “deluxe edition” and “legacy edition” weren’t commonly used in everyday conversation. The newly issued 4 CD edition of On Tour with Eric Clapton that has been released by Rhino Handmade really is the prime example of the kind of riches that we enjoy these days as music fans with the increased capacity of recorded media. The expanded release of On Tour with Eric Clapton offers the opportunity to hear more than three hours of unreleased performances for the first time including a complete performance from Royal Albert Hall with three additional performances captured at Bristol and Croydon.
The packaging and sound quality for this new version of On Tour with Eric Clapton is superb, with the contents of the set housed in a box that resembles a mini road case. The extensive liner notes from industry vet Bud Scoppa present a fascinating look inside the tour although they’re a bit cumbersome to read because of the “handwritten” style of printing used for the entire book (which also features an opening note from Delaney’s widow, Susan Lanier-Bramlett). The band of players that appears on stage for these shows is astounding, with a lineup that included Eric Clapton and Dave Mason on guitars, Bobby Whitlock on organ and keyboards and Jim Gordon on the drums. As Whitlock observes in the liner notes for this new set, the shows marked “the first appearance of Derek & The Dominos, only we did not know it.”
The Royal Albert Hall gig was obviously an important gig for the band and there were some well known people in attendance. In the midst of singing a cover version of “Gimme Some Lovin’ (by The Spencer Davis Group), Whitlock looked up and noticed Steve Winwood standing in the crowd. George Harrison and John Lennon were also at the Royal Albert Hall and after the show, Clapton extended an invite to Harrison to join the band for the remaining shows on the tour. Like Clapton, Harrison instantly felt right at home with the touring troupe and gifted Delaney with the brown Fender Telecaster that he had played on the Let It Be album. Listening to an album like this one is a reminder of a whole different time in the music business, when projects like Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen ( a collective that somewhat ironically poached a good portion of the D&B lineup that you’ll hear on this album) were still possible because of the relative lack of record company and music industry politics.
The legacy of Delaney & Bonnie has been overshadowed somewhat through the years by the presence of the more famous members of the band, but as you listen to these recordings, it’s clear that this was an important period of development for everyone involved. The music of Delaney & Bonnie brought a new kind of joy for Eric Clapton, who had reached a stagnant point in his own work with Blind Faith and it has been said by Clapton himself that Delaney was a huge influence on his development as a singer. The pair contributed heavily to the sessions and songwriting for Clapton’s first solo album (Eric Clapton, released in 1970) and “I Don’t Know Why,” a track that later wound up on that solo release is one of many standout tracks, presented here for the first time on this new release. This tour was influential for all that were involved (allegedly it was Delaney that taught George Harrison how to play slide guitar) and that’s what this updated set really presents. It’s more than just a collection of unreleased recordings, it is instead a newly complete picture of an important period of musical history. For some, this set might serve as a hefty introduction to the music of Delaney & Bonnie and it’s one hell of an intro package – all killer, no filler and after you listen to it, you will agree that it’s well deserved.
The deluxe edition of On Tour with Eric Clapton is available exclusively from Rhino Handmade. Click here to purchase your copy!