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Michele Bramlett

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{mprestriction ids="*"} a clothesline, caught me under the neck. The horse kept goin’ and I did a flip and landed slap on my back. Bonnie came runnin’ out and scooped me up and took me in the kitchen. My dad walks in and says, ‘Now honey, you know you got to get back on that horse’. To this day I am grateful for that life lesson.”

 As if to put a beautiful mental bow on a treasured box of memories, Michele summarizes her childhood thoughts by sharing what she learned from her dad, her mom and Bonnie Bramlett.

“My mom, Patty, taught me how to love. My dad taught me how to live. My Baba taught me how to look for and find me.”

Bramlett is a phenomenal painter, I told her as much while asking her if ever pursued music before finding her sweet spot in painting?

“WOW! Thank you so much . . . but I credit Mom, dad, Baba, my sissies (Suzanne and Bekka), and the Great Spirit...I am just the “paintbrush”, you know? No, I never pursued music. However, from an early age until we lost him, Dad had us girls in the studio doing ‘backups’ (first recording was on “California Rain”). My sister, Bekka, embraced the music and her singing and songwriting will blow your mind. My sister, Suzanne, is an incredible makeup artist. I have always drawn and painted. I was always visual. I used to ‘play’ in my drawings.”

While on the subject of Michele’s art, I asked her to tell me more about her work, how her business is going, who some of her customers have been.

“I have been very lucky, and so very grateful, that I have been able to make a living at my art, my expression. I love the response from people. I love connecting another soul with mine in a way that perhaps that soul can say ‘Oh I’ve been there’, or, ‘OOOhh, I know what that feels like’.

“I have painted for Kenny Loggins. He owns two originals, ‘Conviction of the Heart’ (inspired by his song of the same name) and ‘Little Red Wolf’, and a master print. Billy Joel owns ‘Woman At His Piano’ . . . (and there have been) many others. I have been, as I said before, very lucky.

I asked Michele if she minded sharing what she was currently working on.

“Right now, I am working on a collaboration piece with the digital artist, Jaesen Kanter. The art and the embracing of collaboration is another one of the ‘lessons of life’ I learned from my dad. This is a special piece in that it conveys the infusion of art and music that was gifted to my daughter and I from dad.

“I have just finished a piece called “Poor Elijah” for the foundation we are in the process of setting up to honor our dad and I will be “unveiling” that soon. I have just finished illustrating a book for Victor Forbes of Fine Art Magazine titled ‘Long way ‘round’ . . . CD art for Coco Carmel Whitlock’s CD, ‘First Fruit’.

“I commission portraits. I have been exploring painting me, my art on the bodies of my subjects - combining my subjects (clients) energy with mine and painting “body art” on the subject. I am getting a great response! My world of art is growing and I am loving every minute of it!”

Bramlett mentioned the Poor Elijah Fund, which I am somewhat familiar with.  I asked her about it.

“The Poor Elijah Foundation is starting to take shape. My sisters and I, with the help of some very dear and special friends Maria Angel Schaefer, Jaesen Kanter, and Lisa Marvin started the foundation to honor dad and his contribution to the music world.

“The Poor Elijah Foundation is dedicated to assisting musicians in need develop strong business ethics within the music industry and providing financial relief to the working musician aspiring to learn and who does not qualify for assistance from charities that require long term and/or professional establishment in the music industry. Through mentors, workshops, and camps, PEF will take the working musician and educate them in various aspects of the music industry e.g. engineering, management, publishing, money management, contract negotiations, and musical education to elevate the art of the artist fostering skills to become more proficient in their craft.

“Since we are at the beginning stages (waiting for 501c3 status) contributions cannot be ‘written off’ yet. I, and others, will be holding fundraisers and will be offering art, CD’s, and other items through my website and my personal Facebook page with proceeds going to help the foundation get on her feet. Once we are federal, people will be able to contribute thru our website (which is now under construction).  Right now, www.poorelijahfoundation.org will take you directly to the “Delaney Bramlett deserves induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Facebook page”(the induction of Delaney & Bonnie and Friends).  The induction is what started this huge and beautiful wave - the movement to induct our parents. We will be putting on fabulous tribute concerts so stay tuned!

Michele’s father passed away unexpectedly while recovering from what should have been routine surgery in December, 2008.  The way the human mind works, events – even major ones – from that far back can seem like they happened both a hundred years ago and yesterday.  I asked Michele how she has been dealing with her grief since the loss of her father. Her answers are insightful to those of us who haven’t yet lost a parent and familiar to those who have.

“I have good days and bad. The hurt and the missing does not get any better, I don’t care what they say. I guess I’m just better at “feeling it”.  I miss being able to call my dad . . . ask him about things. I miss his late night phone calls from the studio – ‘Wanna hear a new purdy song, ‘Shel?’. I would sit and listen for hours to all his ‘new stuff’ and he would tell me stories and I would laugh and laugh. He was really funny and had great ‘delivery’.

“I miss watching Gunsmoke and The Andy Griffith Show and old westerns with him. This whole amazing process of the induction movement, the foundation, the tribute concerts, the outpouring of love and support from his fans, the huge amount of love from within my family - my mom, my other mom, my sisters - has been my saving grace. My heart is healing.”

Placing myself in her shoes, I suspect that, when grief hits in waves, I would draw from my treasure chest of memories to dwell on and derive some comfort from.  I was curious how, specifically, she coped with the grief and if there was a particular memory that she draws on to get through the pain.

“I talk to him. I cry to him. I holler for him. To get thru the pain I play his music and listen to him sing.  The ‘kitchen table’ memories are most soothing. That kitchen table was the center of the Bramlett family. And Mamo, Oh-h-h-h, Mamo (pronounced “mammaw”)! I miss her so much! I close my eyes and see his sweet smile smiling back at me.”

I asked Bramlett about her Mamo.

"Mamo is dad's mom. She lived with dad ever since I can remember. She was the hearth stone of the Bramlett home. She took care of us when the road called. She took care of everybody . . . cooking for all the musicians who were at the house all day long. She made the most delicious sweet tea you ever tasted – ever! She, like daddy, had her place at that famous kitchen table. Mamo Bramlett is famous among all of the ''friends" and then some. Southern and sweet, Mamo always had an open door policy. Everybody was welcome.
She was ALWAYS there.  We lost Mamo 9 months before we lost dad. Oh, I could go on and on about Mamo. She was something very, very special. One of the Great Spirits favorites. I just know it.”

Michele continues with memories of her dad: “I think of riding horses with him at the ranch. My favorite was “night rides” out on the trail. He had a great way of sittin’ a horse and he would sing so pretty out on those rides. I think of him rockin’ my daughter, Dakota, when she was a baby, on the front porch swing and him singing to her. He loved his 2 grandkids so much: Dakota, my daughter, and, Jack, my sister, Suzanne’s, son.”

In responding to my question if she and her sisters help each other out through the tough times, Michele’s answer is quick and enthusiastic.

“Absolutely! We are all we have. We ARE the Bramlett family. They are my life and I am theirs, always - in ALL WAYS.  We talk to each other and cry together and play Delaney and Bonnie music and dance and sing our heads off.”

In an earlier comment, Michele mentioned the drive to get Delaney and Bonnie inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  It’s a very long and tough process for talent to get inducted to the Hall.  With 35 members on the nominating committee and 600 members who vote, Hall induction is incredibly challenging.  With that in mind, I asked Michele how the induction process going.

“The induction is going great!  We have over 6000 ‘members’ who have joined our cause on Facebook. We have a website that you can print, sign and mail your nomination directly to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

“We are in the process of interviewing ‘Friends’ for a documentary and what a  journey THIS has been. To name a few, Miss Bonnie (of course), Billy Burnett, Kenny Loggins and Jimmy Messina, Dave Mason, Kenny Gradney, Greg Glen Martin, Spooner Oldham, Michael Allman, Paul Williams, Mentor Williams, Paull E. Rubin - on and on and still filming!”

Ms. Bramlett is clearly a driven woman on a serious mission, always promoting her cause.  Who wouldn’t?  That’s her daddy!  She’s a convincing salesperson as she promotes the related websites.

“Here is the link again to the Facebook induction page (hyperlinked here for formatting purposes).  People can support our cause by going to the page and joining.  GREAT PEOPLE, GREAT MUSIC, GREAT PICTURES AND VIDEOS!  The website where people can get the Induction Letter to submit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in support of D&B is www.inductdelaneyandbonnie.com. The inductees will make the final nomination. We need their support as well!”

After our interview, I reflected (as I often do after interviewing someone) on our chat.  Michele clearly, dearly loved, and still loves, her dad.  To us, he is a rock icon who brought us all countless hours of entertainment. To Michele, Delaney was her dad who just happened to sing for a living.

While we have him on one kind of pedestal, she and her siblings clearly have him on a completely different kind of pedestal; one that all fathers should be aspire to be placed on.  We get there, in our children’s “Dad Hall of Fame”, by being fathers that take time for their kids, whether they’re young or adults.  We get there by creating fertile environments for incredible memories that fill the treasure chests of their minds.

Michele Bramlett is obviously and rightfully proud of her dad’s work and accomplishments. However, notice that it’s having the “kitchen table” moments, the horse rides and the times on the front porch or watching TV together that she reflects on and draws from.  Those are the lessons we can all learn from.

Michele Bramlett’s art can be seen at her website, www.bramlettart.com.  If you would like to support her and her family’s efforts to get Delaney and Bonnie inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, you can download the Induction Letter from the family’s website, www.inductdelaneyandbonnie.com.

Bonnie Bramlett

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 {mprestriction ids="*"}(the Christian music industry and some of its fans) just wanted us in pigeon holes.”  As we shared some stories of some of our redneck friends’ reaction to CCM, Bonnie said they symbolized her uncle who was a preacher when she was a kid.

“They’re (our redneck friends) are my uncle!” she said with a laugh that accentuated our entire conversation.  “My grandmother would roll!  Playing music in the church that loud?  With drums?  God bless ‘em for being there because they were my foundation. That’s why I’m still alive today – because of him (her uncle) and his red neck! God bless his little red neck! And you know what?  I’m sorry, I wouldn’t trade them.  They built us a foundation that kept me alive and allowed me to have the cajones to even come there and do it (the concert in a church).  God bless ‘em and their little red necks because they won’t be here long.”

As we chatted about the differences in tastes in music amongst the “churched”, Bonnie shared her religious background that had a major influence in her style of singing.

“We were the first Methodists in our genealogy in the state of Illinois. But I have to say that my great grandmother – who we lovingly called ‘Momma’ and who raised me the first three or four years of my life and who I went to every weekend – she was like a rock star!  She followed preachers!” She began mimicking her grandmother as she said, “We’ve got to go see so-and-so preach at the Pentecostal church!’ That was okay with her.  ‘Let’s watch Brother So-and-So at this Methodist church.’ And, then, she was a big radio listener and a big Bible teacher herself. My great grandfather was a minister. He was terribly shy and she would write all of his sermons – and he just gave ‘em!  She rehearsed him and he did it because he was the minister.

“He really wanted to be a newspaper man. He had his own printing press.  To have your own printing press and publishing in those days was awesome. He was a writer and poet, as well.”  When I suggest that is who she inherited her artistic genes from, she laughed that infectious laugh of hers and said, “Ah! Totally! Because on the other side of my family were Irish travelling mountain men! It was what it was!”

We shift the gears of our conversation to what Ms. Bramlett has been up to in recent days.

“Well, you know what? I’m 67 in November and I’m retiring!”

You heard it here first, folks!

“So, I’m sitting here wondering, ‘How do you do that? How do you really do that?’ But I do know that I’m done. I haven’t quit but I’m not going to be out there rustling the bushes, trying to get work or tours, a record label or any of that kind of thing anymore. I’m pretty much done with that. I’m wanting to have new dreams - maybe acting, maybe an artist.  Maybe I’ll be a writer.  Who knows? That’s what I’m doing this year.”

At this point, Bonnie shared with me a super secret that I had to pinky-swear not to tell.  What I will tell you is that she has appeared on a pilot of a new TV reality show, helping someone with their singing.  From everything she’s told me about it, her appearance on the show will tie up some loose ends, musically, for a certain celebrity.  If the series is picked up, it’s going to make big new so stay tuned to Boomerocity in the weeks and months ahead to learn what this is all about.

As Ms. Bramlett continues to share what she’s been up to, she shares a little insight into her family life.

“I’m spending the summer with my own grandson. He’s on the high functioning end of autism and he needs some special attention. And the thing is I kind of know what to do with him because I am him, sort of – except in my days there was no diagnosis for ADHD or Autism.  I mean, I rocked horribly and, having tried to self-medicate just to feel normal, I understand. We’re trying to keep it very holistic – no medication.  We’re working with it through diet and nutrition.”

Bonnie also shared with me some other options that she is investigating including teaching performance singing (“I’m not a do-re-mi kind of teacher! But teaching is not out of the question . . .”).  This quickly led to discussing how songwriting today is different from back in the 60’s and 70’s.

“Back then it wasn’t like ‘writing a song’, you know?  It was very a Native American understanding for me. It was, ‘I just made that up.’ I used to never call myself a songwriter. I just said, ‘I made that up.’” 

It’s clear that Bramlett has a thorough understanding of, to quote a Joni Mitchell song, “the star making machinery behind a popular song” today. 

“There’s a whole craft - here in Nashville – to writing a song. For someone who makes songs up, it’s quite confusing. It’s hard to incorporate one’s heart into the ‘recipe”.  It’s the genius of the songwriters today. It is happening. These are all really great songs and wonderful stories that are out there. God knows that the singers are fabulous!  There’s just so many of them. You cannot help but compare them to each other.  There’s only twelve notes, honey!  How could they not be alike now and then? 

“There’s so many songs and so many artists.  It’s really taken a hit among many of my peers. I’m hearing them get pretty hard on the music today. That’s not been my experience. I’m seeing some fabulous singers and songwriters and artists and creative dancers.  I mean, my word!  These kids are working!  I mean, they ain’t playin’.  They’re hard working kids!. 

Having a “tetch” of ADD myself, I go off the conversational trail and ask Bonnie what she likes to listen to when she isn’t working.

“I promise you, it’s not like I listen to the radio or listen to the TV or listen to my iPod and all of that. I don’t.  I do that in my car by myself. It’s usually our own music, my stuff, (daughter) Bekka’s stuff, people that I’m working with – mostly Mussel Shoals Sound stuff and gospel stuff – the Winans! I have to go to gospel music to get the skills I’m looking for. Then you have to weed it out because there’s so many notes being sung now. Their chops are incredible but they don’t linger long enough to put that feeling into it.  I go to gospel music to get my butt kicked! If I want to be humbled, man, I just listen to Vickie Winans. She just gives me a righteous butt-kickin’! ‘King Jesus’ (a James Cleveland song entitled, Long As I Got King Jesus).”

Rounding out that part of the conversation, she concluded, “I just hope that I never get too old to learn or be interested enough to want to learn. I don’t want to get that old!”

I have a feeling Miss Bonnie will never get that old.

A couple of years ago, while interview Big Brother and the Holding Company’s Sam Andrew, Bonnie’s name came up in the conversation and paid here a very high compliment (you can find that interview here).  Prior to my interview with Miss Bonnie Sam and I exchanged some e-mails in which he had this to say about her:

“The main thing about Bonnie is that she is very soulful and one of the most decent people in our business. I loved her relationship with Janis - honest, comradely and collegial . . . I am only sorry we didn't get to work with her... yet.”

I read that quote to Bonnie AND mentioned the quote from Sam in my interview with him wherein, again, he mentioned his desire to work with her. Bramlett responded immediately and unequivocally.

“It can happen!  That is totally doable! Wouldn’t that be cool? I’d love to do that! I’m flattered! I’ve got goose bumps!”

Our conversation came around to discuss the beginning of Ms. Bramlett’s career when she was a teenager in St. Louis.  As she was learning the nuances of singing and performing jazz, she worked with some huge names in genre like Miles Davis, Herbie Mann and Stan Getz before making the move into rhythm and blues.  I wondered what pulled her away from jazz and into R&B.

“Pretty much just my youth. I was a young girl in an area where there were no white girls singing like I was. I mean, I didn’t ever jazz sung.  In my world, there was just me. I felt like I was groomed by most of the heavy weights. I was told how to behave. That’s why I was never eager to behave like everyone was behaving in California. I had to learn how to say the four letter words. They wouldn’t come out of my mouth. I had to practice it in the mirror! I had to learn how to do ‘raw’.

“I wasn’t an angel, don’t get me wrong. I was a li’l rebel all along and an outgoing kid. I was called ‘difficult’. I was a cute little girl until you tried to make me do something I didn’t want to do. Then I became ‘difficult’. That’s how it was put back in the day.

“So, anyway, I knew that I was different, no doubt. My naiveté has just kept an angel over my shoulder and nothing really bad that I haven’t been able to survive has happened to me. My life has progressed along. That was my background – just like my church upbringing. I have that little angel on my shoulder – and the devil. It’s not a cartoon to me – it’s real!  But it’s not scary-spooky, either!  It’s just the devil and I’m stronger than that devil.  So, there! 

“When I was doing something wrong, I really had a guilty conscience about it. Whereas, other people didn’t because know that they were doing anything wrong. They didn’t have the God in their life that I had. Anyway, that kept me alive so I just moved on. I just moved forward. I just took it. Isn’t that weird looking back at it?  I was only eighteen in California – to make it!”

When I asked Bonnie if she gained any insight into racism and other issues from the African-American community as she worked in their world, she shared the following insights:

“I was only fifteen when I was with the Ikettes for a week on the road. They had taken me beyond state lines into Kentucky and all around there.  I lasted only a week because of the racism once they (the crowd) found out I was white so I had to come back home. Yeah! It got bad!

“Nevertheless, it was a lifetime of lessons that I learned. I was with all adults and they all took care of me.  I was a little kid and no one abused me. No one has ever abused me!  Maybe I have an angel on my shoulder!”

“You were talking about writing songs back in the day – back to making songs up, see, I didn’t know about publishing and writing and royalties. I knew you got paid but, breaking it down, I had no idea. I only went through eighth grade. So, all that ‘making songs up’, I didn’t even know there was money behind it until after Delaney and Bonnie and Friends. That was such a painful experience that I just pretty much stayed away from it after that. 

“Then, when I came back here to Nashville, I mean, it was like I had too.  I had to go write and I had to make that money. I had nothing. The publishing and everything had been taken away. I had no income. So, I had to and it was the most humiliating, humbling, scary – I felt inappropriate doing the second most intimate thing you can do with a strange man. There I am. I’ve never met this guy before. ‘Hello. Now, go write a song and you’ve got from ten to three o’clock to do it. Try to write two. Here’s a story. Write a song about it.’  That’s not me. That’s how my experience was. I didn’t know it.  I would usually have to take them to a musician so that they could put them down because I don’t play enough guitar or piano, either one, to really, actually put it down myself. Then, they would tweak it for me and build it for me and then we’d write a song.  So, I call myself a co-writer. I usually write with somebody else, although I have done ‘single writes’ but they blurt right on out – blurt out all at once.

“But, as far as sitting down in a room from ten to three, it was horrific for me. But I did it! I did it for, like, two years! I hate it! I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to write from ten to three with a strange person about strange things. I write too intimately. It’s like I said, I don’t ‘write’ them, I make them up. They come through me and it’s painful, sometimes, to tell just anybody that. I’d rather stand on a stage by myself and tell five million people than to stand in a room and tell five. Scary.”

That last comment sparked a question that I hadn’t intended on asking.  The concept of being comfortable on a stage with ‘five million people’ staring at me isn’t exactly one that gen’s up a sense of comfort to me.  I asked Bonnie why it is that some folks are more comfortable on a stage, facing a huge crowd, than they are in more intimate settings.

“Because, amongst five thousand people, you can walk out, stand on stage and completely disappear and let your avatar do the work. You leave your body – you surrender your body or your avatar to whatever being – I’ve actually stood next to myself and gave myself cold chills and said, ‘Did I just do that? No, your avatar did. You just surrendered it to me and God came through me and did the work – whoever or whatever.’

“Amongst five people, it’s so hard to disappear. I mean, I’ve got it now. I can disappear amongst one.  It doesn’t matter.  When I say, ‘disappear’, I’m saying, ‘my ego, my id. The thing that gets in my way gets out of the way and allows me in. Make sense?  It’s safe in here.”

In 1968, Delaney and Bonnie signed with legendary Memphis record company, Stax Records, releasing their first album, Home, the following year.  They were assisted by some great artists such as Leon Russell, Bobby Whitlock, Booker T. Jones, Isaac Hayes and many other musical icons.  Because Stax was predominantly an African-American label, I asked Bonnie what it was like for them playing for that label.

“ . . . things that were going on in those times were in the most positive ways because I was so unique. I was like a little strange monkey. ‘Look at the white girl sing! Can you dig her?  She’s GOT to have black in her somewhere!’ They just embraced me. They did – all of the black people. And, I was so young, I would walk around – I was a big girl for my age and well developed – and people thought, ‘Wow!  How did she get so brazen?’  Well, I didn’t know I was in danger!  I didn’t feel any danger.  I felt like I was a glowing light.” She said with a laugh. 

Continuing, she adds, “Fast forward to when I went to California and met Sly Stone.  Wow!  I’m twenty years old and I meet my first black militant guy.  He had no designs on my ugly white ass other than to make a fool of me in some way.  I didn’t know that, though. I had no idea of this.  I’m totally color blind!  ‘Hi, how ya doin’? Blah, blah, blah” and I sing and it went weird.  See, Sly embraced me. You could see through it.  Black people saw me.  Black people ‘see’ me, I should say, because their demonstrative expressions go with my personality. I am a very loud and demonstrative person. I feel like I’ve made lemonade out of lemons by embracing the black expressions. It’s given me wings.

“I never even considered that they might think that I ripped them off. It never crossed my mind, ever.  How do you rip off feelings?  All of my black friends, peers and mentors, they all totally supported me. Etta James calls me ‘Negro’ and I wear that as a badge of merit!  She does think there’s blackness in me somewhere!

“But, seriously, I never run into it (discrimination). Sly is as close as it came and we wrote Don’t Burn Baby together. He and Sam embraced me. That’s who my singing partner was before Delaney. I was dueting R&B with Sly and the Family Stone.

“With Delaney it was the whole opposite way. He was doing the Shindogs – a Beatles cover type band. Delaney knew all about being famous and all of that kind of stuff. I knew nothing about it. I was just totally a front blues, young woman. Very purist. Judgmental. ‘Yeah, you white guys!’ They had an all white band!”

When I asked Bramlett if she felt out of place with the Shindogs, she came right back with her characteristic confidence by saying, “I felt that they were out of place, actually! That’s the way I’ve always been. I’ve never been out of place. Everyone else was!  Ha! Ha!”

I knew that Bonnie first met Delaney as she was touring as part of the act, Sam the Soul and Bonnie Lynn.  I asked her to tell me about meeting Delaney.

“They (the Shindogs) were the house band. They were supposed to back me and Sam up but they didn’t want to. They didn’t want to back any girl singers up. I told them that they could just follow me for the next three weeks. I took the opening act who later became Three Dog Night. I’m not an easy act to follow.  I wasn’t then, either. I came full-on, guns a blazin’!” She said with her infectious laugh.

I had read that she married Delaney Bramlett about a week after she met him. As I use that information to set up my next question, Bonnie very politely corrected me on that erroneous factoid.

“We knew each other but I was mad at him. ‘How dare you back up Donna Loren and not me?’ Of course, the first night they heard me sing, they changed their mind. I told them where they could get off and that they could follow me for the next thirteen days.  And they did and we wiped them out every time. When I got off stage, the room got up and left and all of the Shindogs’ girlfriends sat there and watched them.

“Anyway, little did I know, during all that time, Delaney was blown away by me. He went and got Leon Russell and said, ‘Come and hear her sing!’ He’s bringing all these people in to hear me. I don’t know it. I’m just singin’ my butt off.

“So, at the end of my three weeks, they still worked there. They had to stay there. So he (Delaney) asked for my number and I gave him the name of the hotel I was staying at. It was like a Holiday Inn called The Magnolia Inn and there was a trillion of them! He calls everyone of them until he found me. He came over and never left.

“It was very romantic. Very cool. Very righteous. We had so much in common musically but also spiritually – our religion and our upbringing. It was like we were perfect for each other. And when we sang, it was absolute magic from the first note we ever hit together until the last one.”

Since church was an important part of her life, I asked Bonnie what Delaney’s religious upbringing was as compared to hers.

“Christian.  He was Christian. I think they went to Sunday school and church and prayed.  But mine was over the top!”  At this point, she speaks metaphorically about the women in her family and religion. I promised not to repeat it but I will say that she had me laughing about it until I cried.  Bonnie definitely has a humorous view of things – even serious subjects like family and religion.  I guess that’s why I love the lady so much.

After we both quit laughing and could catch our breath, I picked up on Ms. Bramlett’s comment about the magic between her and Delaney and my observation about the obvious, unique chemistry between them.   Almost before I could finish my sentence, she excitedly asked me if I heard the recently released box set by Rhino Records entitled, Delaney and Bonnie and Friends on Tour with Eric Clapton. For the rock enthusiast, it’s a must have. It’s comprised of four discs that houses 52 tracks delivering over three hours of previously unreleased performances.  Other performers jamming with Delaney and Bonnie are Eric Clapton, Dave Mason, Carl Radle, Jim Gordon, Bobby Whitlock, Jim Price, Bobby Keys, Tex Johnson and Rita Coolidge.

Bonnie gushes with enthusiasm as she says, “Oh my word!  I can’t believe it!  I played Gimme Some Lovin’ with Bobby Whitlock while I was driving? I had to pull the car over. I-had-to-pull-over! I stopped the vehicle because I was rockin’ so hard, I was a danger on the road! I really had to pull over. It blows my mind!  It’s so awesome.  Try to get it!”

As I said at the beginning of this piece, during her years with Delaney, they worked with some of the most iconic names in rock history.  From the outside looking in, there seemed to me that they had a sincere camaraderie among all of the rockers back in those days.  I asked Bonnie if they fostered it or did it foster them. In other words, who-drew-who into all of that?

“Well, you know what?  I’d like to think that I had a little something to do with that strictly because I never was famous and I’d come from East St. Louis where everybody fits in with everybody. It would’ve been rude for an artist to walk in and you not ask them if they want to play. I mean, people bring their own mouth piece and they walk in with their instruments in a soft case which right away says that it’s coming out of the case – they want to play. Anybody that carries an instrument in a soft case plays it. It doesn’t sit around a lot. It’s not safe – if it’s in a soft case – to just sit around. So, you could tell who’s who by what case they carried.

“I think I brought that to the table because at that point in time, everybody was really pretty much doing their own songs. So, not everybody new it, right?  So, we always did a couple of songs somebody could sit in on. How that manifested, I don’t know. It was totally agreed upon. Although it was my accustomed behavior – and I thought I brought that to the table that it would be kind of rude not to ask them to play – I brought at least that. But I think that the rest of it fostered us.

“I tell you what Delaney brought to the table on that.  It wasn’t exclusive that you had to be a star; you just had to want to play. If you were the young gun in town and you showed up at our concert and you came in and said that you wanted to come in and sit in on the jam song, you were welcome on that stage. He didn’t care if it was Eric Clapton or Joe Schmoe.  It didn’t matter to Delaney. He brought that.”

I asked Ms. Bonnie if that sense of community still existed or has it changed.

“I don’t know. I haven’t been able to get into that kind of camaraderie again. Delaney and I wanted to be like Laurel and Hardy. We wanted to be united at all times and when we would be divided, it would be private and personal. No matter if I agreed with him or not, I would stand by his side and he by mine. We never made decisions apart.  Sometimes the time would come when the other one wasn’t there, something offensive would happen – even if we didn’t agree with each other, we would talk about it together. We’d fight about that later. In public, we would stand united. That’s how I think the camaraderie came about because we did that. 

“We fought. We’re infamous for fighting, don’t get us wrong. But, boy, don’t try to step in between us because we’ll both be on ya!  That’s us!  Too bad that the band had to see us fight but we were married. I wasn’t just a singer in the band. That was my husband, you know what I mean? We were all living together on the road. There was no privacy so we fought. 

“Delaney wasn’t used to women behavin’ like me! They (other women) minded him.  He batted them beautiful brown eyes and sang a pretty song with that southern accent and women would go to the enth degree for that man and I would not move a muscle. I would just hit my note and sing right with him. I would not ‘mind’ him. I wouldn’t mind my mom. I wouldn’t mind my dad. I still don’t mind. I just don’t mind. What can I say?”

Referring back to her earlier self-description, she adds, “I’m difficult!”

With the release of the box set, I asked Bonnie if there was any chance of any sort of reunion with any of her old friends. Alluding to some extenuating legal procedures that still need to run their course, she offers, “I wish this (current legal processes that must be cleared first) would be over so that we could do that. We’re trying to put something together . . .”.

Suddenly, Ms. Bramlett stops and corrects herself.

“I say ‘we’ – how dare me take credit for anything other than being supportive of Michele (Bramlett). She’s the one that’s worked her buns off trying to put something together that would allow a reunion of some sort to happen. Wouldn’t that be cool?”

After a marriage has been dissolved, especially a marriage with the infamous fights that she referenced earlier, Bonnie is the epitome of class and grace as she addresses what she would ever have to say about Delaney in a book she’s planning on writing.

“I’m not going to say or write anything about my husband who fathered those three beautiful girls. I will not do that. It’s not in me to do it.  Delaney and I didn’t even get a divorce for 25 years because we didn’t want to spend our money – our children’s inheritance – on lawyers fighting each other. Those were our dreams for our girls.”

I was struck by what Bonnie just laid on me.  In a day and age (even back in the 70’s) when parents seem to think more about their own desires and not about the potential impact of their actions on their kids, Delaney and Bonnie made sure their actions did not negatively impact their minor children. Let that one sink in for a few minutes. That truly speaks to the pureness of their parental hearts.

Later in the conversation, Bonnie shared more insight into the total selflessness of the family’s arrangement that spoke to the love that the Bramlett’s had for their girls.

“When I married Delaney, Michele was five years old. We started picking her up on the weekends. That’s why Patty (Stanley, Michele’s mom) and I are so together because we always cared about the best for our girls. We even got a house together when the girls couldn’t be separated so that we could do it. I couldn’t take care of them by myself and she couldn’t take care of them by herself, so we just did it together. The daughters needed to be together. They were in church at that time. They could’ve been on the street doin’ crack but they were in the Open Bible church. They were doing the ‘alternative proms’. They were being good girls and they needed each other. Delaney was calling the youth pastor ‘Jim Jones’ because they were learning stuff and then they would go home and see what Daddy was doing and they would go, ‘Oh! Wrong, Dad! Sin!’” The memories of those times bring a motherly laugh to her voice.

My pre-interview research of Delaney and Bonnie reminded me of several things I had forgotten about regarding their career together. One such thing was their performance at the Texas International Pop Festival in 1969 – two weeks after Woodstock.  The location is a mere 20 minutes from where I now live.  They performed on day two of the three day festival.  Others who performed that same day were Santana, Chicago Transit Authority, Sam & Dave, James Cotton Blues Band, Led Zeppelin, Incredible String Band, B.B. King and Bonnie’s old friend, Herbie Mann. 

I asked Miss Bonnie what her memories are of that festival and if she got to connect with Mann.  She starts off by sharing how she and Herbie Mann first met.

“We met at the Quartet Trade Inn back in the day.  He had come to the Trade Inn, across the street from where I performed and I would come in and sit in with them. It was a sit-in thing like that.  It wasn’t like we were butt bumping friends.  So, when Delaney and I were playing in Central Park, Herbie Mann’s apartment was nearby and he could hear us.  He, quick, got his clothes on and came down and on-stage, jamming with us before that song was over. We’ve got pictures of it. So, by the time we got to the festival, it was kind of cool.”

“Let’s see, who landed in the helicopter (at the festival)?  Oh, it was Led Zeppelin!  I saw them land in a helicopter and I was so impressed.  I had never landed in a helicopter and I wanted to then.  Now, I don’t want to but I wanted to then! They were way bigger than us. We were doing good to have the bus! Ha! Ha!

“The first time we played with Led Zeppelin was at the Fillmore East. I went right into their dressing room and said, ‘Which one of y’all is Led?’ I swear to gawd I did!  We called them (the WWI airships) dirigibles! What do I know about a ‘zeppelin’?” 

After we quit laughing and had wiped the tears out of our eyes, we continued chatting about the Texas International Pop Festival with me asking if that was the largest crowd she and Delaney performed in front of or were there bigger ones.

“Oh, yeah, bigger, bigger.  Toronto. The Atlanta Pop Festival was humongous. I don’t know if that was bigger than ‘Texas’ or not but, you know, big or bigger?  After the first 20 rows, it’s just an ocean of people.  I don’t know.  There were a LOT of people there! It was outdoors.  Dontcha just miss the outdoor festivals?  Talkin’ about bein’ an old fogy, man, I’d bring my rockin’ chair out there and listen!”

Earlier, Ms. Bramlett downplayed her skill and contributions in the area of songwriting.  However, her hand in songs like Superstar (the song that Bonnie proudly reminds me that Ruben Studdard sang to win American Idol) have contributed heavily to allow them to stand the test of time. I asked her why she thought those songs have the “legs” that they do.

“They’re simple, pure feelings that everybody has. Not stylized. Not ‘word merchanted’, you know?  It’s just pure.  ‘Don’t you remember you told me you loved me’?  Wow, does that cover a lot of ground! 

“All the kids on stage (that she’s worked with), they want to learn the classics!  They don’t want to learn what’s going on right now. You got me. I don’t know. I don’t listen to what goes on (musically) right now because I keep hearing the same song over and over.

“I’ll tell you what I think. This is coming to me and through me right now. I’ve never said this before. This is amazing. Because we were ‘audio’ as opposed to ‘visual’ back then, we didn’t have video to dictate to us what the song was about. The song could be about anything YOU wanted it to be about. So, it was all an ‘inside job’. We did our own videos in our head and connected. ‘Strawberry Fields” were strawberries – at least, to some of us!  Ha! Ha!  To other folks, ‘Strawberry Fields’ represented Seconals. 

“We have the freedom of mind. We still control the music in our minds. It was still our music.  Now it’s their music and we get to listen to it. That’s the difference: kids want to own music again. They want it to be theirs.”

Bonnie Bramlett witnessed a lot of changes in the music business over the years and also helped foster some of those changes. I asked Bonnie, as I do almost every iconic artist I interviewed, what the biggest positive change she’s witnessed in the business.

“The women in the business. The powerful women.  Writers. Singers. Men have always towered. I call them the golden stallions – Waylon and the boys – they’re the wonders.  The girls? They’ve just been few and far between. Now, a lot of them want to sing ‘cookie cutter’ style and they’re all alike.  But, if you see something workin’, you want in the door!  You’ve got to go in familiar but once you get in the door, then you take the music – you take them somewhere.  But there are a lot of them that aren’t going to take us anywhere. There’s a few out there that are.  The chick that does The House That Built Me?  Miranda Lambert?  Ah!  Miranda Lambert!  Girl!  She’s like Billy Joe Shaver!

“That’s an amazing song and the one before that, as well!  White Liar?  Oh, my word!  She’s got a great sense of humor. She’s got an incredible depth. She’s going to take it somewhere. I truly believe that and she coupled up with another one who just has fun. He’s going to take it somewhere. But these guys can write by recipe. They can write like that. You can’t slam it. It’s what’s happening.”

At this point, Bonnie dropped a heavy opinion on me that caught me by complete surprise.

“Rock and roll is going to die, okay? That’s the truth. We say, ‘rock and roll will never die!’ Yeah, it will.”

After sufficiently sobering me up with that comment, she continues sharing her thoughts about some of the new talent that are out there, “But, another girl that’s a monster songwriter is Maia Sharp – Randy Sharp’s daughter?  Oh, my word!  Get her work!  She wrote this one called Sober. I have got to cut this song. It says, ‘Sorry, but I’m just a little bit sober.’ It’s about the struggle of becoming sober and being in a sober body. You don’t know how to really do that. Nothing is hurting you now but you want to medicate because that’s what you’re used to doing. It’s such a phenomenal song! The fact that she can communicate that . . .

“I just did a song on my last CD – my ‘swan’ CD – that’s called Some of My Best Friends. It’s about some of my best friends are black; some of my best friends are gay; some of my best friends are gone and I still miss them. It’s a song of feelings that no one wants to really touch. The industry would never cut that song. That’s why I pretty much knew that it was my swan song.”

I asked Bonnie the flip side of my previous question: What’s the biggest negative change that’s happened in the music business?

“Oh, the fear level. Oh, my word! You can smell fear in the air here (in Nashville).  Even if you have a hit record, you’re terrified that you’re not going to have the next one to be one. There is so many of them and some of them aren’t going to make it. Some of them aren’t going to last. For some, it’s going to kick their butts and hurt ‘em bad because they don’t know how to be famous.

“Now anxiety, on the other hand, and stress, you need that in order to accomplish things. It’s okay to be stressed to a degree. It will make you work. A bow is stressed and you let it go and an arrow will go a thousand miles if you want it to. That’s good stress. We have to have it and know how to use it and the adrenalin instead of feeling fear and stage fright. It’s never going to go away so let’s turn it into something else. Let’s turn it into energy. Turn it into performance. Trust me, that’s what I have to teach. I can show you how to do that.”

Reverting back to the subject of stress, Bonnie continues, “I’m so blessed! I mean, I could tell you a nightmare story but so can everybody else. I’m certainly wasn’t that Mexican mother who was tryin’ to raise five kids by herself and she doesn’t speak English and she’s trying to make it in Nashville. THAT’s a hard life. I had my stressful times but they were in a limo, okay?  Don’t cry for me, Argentina!

“Believe me, I have a sad story but who doesn’t? You can’t go on that. We survived that. We’re seeds we will grow!” She concludes, again, with her infectious laugh.

I asked Bonnie what she would do, if she was made Czarina of the music business, to fix it.

She giggles as I ask her and her answer reminded me of what Liz Phair said when I asked her, basically, the same thing. “You know what? I just don’t think it needs fixin’!  I think it’s in change and change is very uncomfortable. Nevertheless, it will fix itself. It’s the arts!  It’s music!  It’s in a transition, if you will, because of computers and communication and all this stuff – it’s in technical knowledge – we’re in a serious transition and I don’t think there is a fix. So, we just have to see what it changes into. We just have to go with it.

“If we have to make our own individual records and sell them individually one by one and get our own dollar, well, maybe that’s what we have to do!  But it’s doable! You can do it!  The only thing I hope doesn’t change is the enthusiasm of the young people and artist - that they will have dreams that they’ll one day change the world – and they can!  If you don’t believe me, listen to Eric Clapton!”

I shifted the conversation back to when I first met her in 1981 and the release of her contemporary Christian music (CCM) album, Step By Step. Because of my very little bit of background (and a whole lot of interest) in that business, I was very curious what her experience was like.

“They slammed that door right in my face.  They slammed that door tight!” Then, quoting an old gospel song, she continues, “‘Just as I am’ is not true – in the music industry – being Christian or not.  I was told that I didn’t talk enough like a Christian. I’m from five generations of gospel singers, okay? I can do the ‘gospel speak’ if they wanted to hear that. Only, it’s just not how I spoke and that’s not the message that God chose me to carry.  My message was, ‘Go learn the language. They can’t understand you. If they don’t understand what you’re saying, learn their language back out on the streets.’  On that gospel album, that’s my message. That’s my ministry. I fought and I fought. I’m rough. I am rough as a cob, no doubt about it. I’m not going to be having high tea with you anytime soon, probably.

“Nevertheless, I’m a messenger. My message comes directly from God, when it comes, and it comes out of this avatar’s mouth. If I’ll stand aside and let it come out, it’s a good message.  It might be a little rough around the edges but maybe the person that needs to hear it needs to hear it in a familiar voice.  That’s mine. That’s all I can say for it. I will not make excuses for my message.  I don’t wear a mask. I don’t have a mask. Therefore, you get to see me warts and all. I’m one of the good guys.”

Almost two hours had flown by as we both realized that our schedules dictated that we wrap up our chat.  Before we hung up, I had to ask Bonnie if she - back when she and Delaney were writing and singing those classic songs – had any idea in her mind that they were creating history that people would say, “Hey, these two need to be in a Hall of Fame”.

“No. Not me.  I don’t know, maybe Delaney did. I can’t really talk for him because his head was in a totally different place. No, I wasn’t thinking that way.  My whole thing about the Hall of Fame – bless their hearts – the girls want that for their daddy. I guess that’s what Delaney wanted, I don’t know. That’s not what I want. I don’t care about no ‘hall of fame’. If they ever make a ‘Hall of Great’, I’m all for me in it. But the Hall of Fame?  Eh.   But, you know what?  I’m backing these girls!

“You can read any interview I’m in, I quack about that famous stuff. People say, ‘you’ve done all that stuff, why aren’t you famous?’ and I tell them, ‘Well, I guess I’m just lucky!’ I worked really hard not to be famous. So, the Hall of Fame is the last place I want to be. Nevertheless, if my girls want Delaney to be there, there’s hardly a way that he can be without me. So, whatever. I’m supportive of Michele and what she wants. I’d do anything for her on this because it’s so important to her and her sisters.  And, you know what?  I believe that Michele can pull it off if she wants to pull it off and I’m going to support her with everything I have.”

Incidentally, if you would like to add your voice to the rising chorus of voices, asking that Delaney and Bonnie be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, you can submit your petition by clicking here.

Running parallel to the induction campaign is a documentary by Jaesen Kanter (with Michele Bramlett) about Delaney and Bonnie. The film is entitled Matilija Magic and details the history and impact of the Bramletts while rock and roll history was being made as well as how their influence is still being felt today.  As is often the case with independent films, financing the film is always a challenge.  Consequently, Jaesen and Michele are still looking for contributions of any size to help finance the project.  Those donors, large and small, are making their valuable contributions by visiting www.matilijamagic.com. 

In the spirit that made Delaney and Bonnie legendary among their musician friends, the proceeds from Matilija Magic will be directed to a related project that Michele Bramlett is heading up: The Poor Elijah Foundation.  Its charter is to help musicians to learn the ways of the music business as well as develop strong business ethics within the music industry.  According to its website, PoorElijahFoundation.org, “Through mentoring, workshops and seminars, PEF will take the working musician and educate them in various aspects of the music industry, e.g. engineering, management, publishing, money management, contract negotiations, and musical education to elevate the art of the artist fostering skills to become more proficient in their craft. PEF also provides financial relief to the working musician.”

With such an aggressive mission, I asked Bonnie what mistakes she would have avoided had the foundation been around when she was starting out in the business.

“Hopefully, it would’ve taught me how to count my money, for one thing. There’s more to counting than rhythm. It can teach how much money you are capable of making because I didn’t even know there was that much money, never mind that I made it! Therefore, I didn’t miss it. It was easy to steal from me. I got my first royalty check three years ago.”

As the second hands were ticking their last seconds we scheduled for our chat, I ended the conversation with a two part question:  How did Bonnie hope Delaney would be remembered and how did SHE want to be remembered?

“I hope Delaney is remembered with his guitar, singing.  He was so charming. He would pick up a guitar and just charm you and he would make everyone feel, individually, like they’re the most important person in his life. He would make you feel like you had all of his attention for that time. I want them to remember him with his guitar, singing - the most charming individual and when he sings you his songs, you’re just all there. He had the smile that would never stop. When he was good, he was very good. He was that. I want everyone to remember good things.

“I want to be remembered the same way!  Hopefully, I’ve done good. Hopefully, remember my good and forgive my bad, please?”

Keep up with Bonnie at her website, www.bonniebramlett.com.

Tony Bongiovi

Posted October, 2011

tonybongioviI’m not an audiophile but I think I know good sound when I hear it.  I also don’t mind investing just a little bit into a set of speakers or amplifier in order to hear my music as perfectly as I can on my meager budget. 

Over the years, I’ve accumulated five sets of Bose speakers of different types and configurations and I really do love them.  I even have a pair of Bose Q3 headsets that I use while traveling. One of the sets of speakers I use quite often are the Companion 2’s that hang off of my Boomerocity computer.  I thought that they were a great speaker with the best sound for the money.  They are and they were . . . until a couple of weeks ago.

At that time I was introduced to a little Plug-In that I downloaded to my computer.  After a couple of minutes of setup and configuration, I opened up my iTunes library and picked one of my favorite instrumental songs, Cajun Pass, by guitarist, Phil Keaggy.

I was, like, “Wait a minute!”

I toggled the Plug-In on and off, not believing my ears.  With the Plug-In on, the sound emitting from my speakers was crisp, clean and clear.  When I turned off the tool, my beloved and cherished Companion 2’s seemed to sound like a cheap AM transistor radio by comparison.  This little gizmo blew my socks off!

After listening to my music through my newfound set of ears (and after retrieving my socks), I wanted to know more about the story behind this fantastic application.

Oh, yeah. I bet you’re wondering what this miraculous gizmo is called.  It’s called the Digital Power Station and it’s the flagship product produced by Bongiovi Acoustics.

Now, if you’re like me and mangle the king’s English, that word before “Acoustics” might seem to be hard to pronounce.  However, if you’re into rock and roll, I’ll bet you your next download that you know how to pronounce it.  Think “Bon Jovi”. 

Ring a bell?  The founder and big kahuna of Bongiovi Acoustics is Tony Bongiovi and, yes, he’s related to Jon Bon Jovi (second cousins).  However, Tony’s pedigree isn’t based on leveraging family relations.  In fact, Tony preceded his cousin in the music business by a few moons.

Mr. Bongiovi story is the stuff of legends and the American dream.  Young Tony was interested in the science and mechanics of sound and amplification at an early age.  At the age of seventeen, the Raritan, New Jersey teen was experimenting with sound and uncovered the secret to replicating the Motown Sound. 

Tony contacted the Detroit-based record label and immediately impressed its brilliant president, Barry Gordy.  So much so that the music mogul regularly flew the young Bongiovi back and forth from Jersey to Detroit to engineer records for the likes of Diana Ross and the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, the Temptations, Gladys Knight and the Pips and many others on the Motown label.

Tony was eventually wooed away to a little studio a bit closer to home: the legendary Record Plant in New York.  The studio implemented his acoustic design talents to work to improve an already great facility.  The result was the “Tony Bongiovi sound” and was heard on rock radio in the 60’s.  Tony engineered albums there for such talent as Jimi Hendrix, Dr. John, Vanilla Fudge and John McLaughlin.

It didn’t take long for another studio, Media Sound, to hire Bongiovi away where he added artists like The Isley Brothers, Gloria Gaynor, The Ramones and the Talking Heads to his engineering resume.

By 1977, with a resume loaded down with gold record credentials, Mr. Bongiovi designed and started up Power Station Studios.  Built within an abandoned Con Edison power generation station, the studio provided rooms designed specifically for multi-track recording that gave recordings a live sound.

Ultimately, Tony’s talents and studios have made significant contributions to over 40 gold and platinum albums for artists as the Scorpions, Ozzy Osborne, Aerosmith, and his cousin’s band, Bon Jovi.  He also had a major part in the largest selling disco record in history: Star Wars from the Meco album, Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk.

With this incredible musical history bound up into this one man, even a simpleton like me could see the greatness behind the little Plug-In that I downloaded.  I knew that I had to chat with this amazing man and within a couple of days, a phone interview was arranged.

Our conversation started out with Mr. Bongiovi giving me the Reader’s Digest version of the history of the DPS and how long it’s been available.

“It’s been available for a couple of years now.  This all started many, many {mprestriction ids="*"}years ago. In 1970, I wrote a paper on this. The idea behind this was to create the ability to have sound played back in a high-noise environment using light-weight playback systems. 

“Also, running hand-in-hand with that, it becomes a very cost effective way to bring high quality sound into the hands of everybody.  Up until this time, it was only available through expensive components and it wasn’t practical.  With the advent of digital technology I was able to make this DPS happen.

“In order to make it work in its analog form, it required lots and lots of equipment and, as you can possibly imagine, the progress of this particular technology falls hand-in-hand with the progress of the cell phone. You can see the original ‘brick’ cell phone and now everything’s on my little iPhone.  So, digital technology is what really gave us the ability to make it available to everybody. Now, everybody with the Plug-In or the Bongiovi DPS App iOS can have the same high-quality sound that was only available on exotic equipment just a few years ago.”

Because Tony mentioned that his paper was written back in the analog days, I asked if he actually created analog version of the DPS.

“Oh, yeah! The initial prototypes were analog.  First, I had to go into the lab which was part of our studios.  We had enough equipment in terms of filters, equalizers and automatic gain control circuits that were all part of this. So I was able to test this theory.

“Then, around the 1980’s, we were able to build - in an analog form - a primitive version of what you have now and it worked. I wasn’t able to do anything with that because it wasn’t practical to either manufacture or market it because the person who would be operating it had to have all sorts of skill levels. Of course, with the DPS, everything is automated so you just plug it in or download it, hit ‘Bongiovi on’ and off it goes.

“So, the first iteration was analog and we built several prototypes. From that, of course, we graduated into the digital domain. That’s, of course, what you have now.”

As technology evolved the component costs dropped to the point where what was once high-end technology was pretty much commoditized and provided the perfect entry point for Bongiovi’s creation to hit the mass market.

“I started to investigate consumer electronics because I wanted to bring to the consumer what we’re used to having in the studio in both film and in music. Of course, having access to a lot of consumer electronics in the past years – those components that you buy at retail that are cost effective in their manufacturing. But it doesn’t mean that they sound good.  If you take a look at loudspeakers or even headphones, you realize that that device that reproduces the sound was invented in 1927 and hasn’t changed.

“So, the idea came about, ‘Well, if I can’t change the device – that would be too expensive – I’ll just change the program material to compensate for whatever anomalies exist in the device. In the past few years, there have been all kinds of things available. iHome offers a studio series of playback devices featuring the Bongiovi Digital Power Station technology that are docking stations as well as amplifier systems that are all self-contained.

“So, the size of the playback systems became more available and the cost of the playback systems became more effective. For me, it became a natural progression to say, ‘Now is the time to implement this’ because I have a vehicle that I can put this in which would be consumer electronics and I can make the low-cost consumer electronics sound every bit as good – if not better – than some very exotic, expensive equipment.”

When I shared my story about DPS’s impact on my Bose Companion 2’s, Tony was both complimentary and philosophical regarding the speaker manufacturer.

“The Bose technology is state of the art in terms of the manufacturing of the speaker itself. But speakers are like a little electric motor and there’s a little magnet in there and there’s a coil around a thing called a “former”. That’s hooked up to a piece of paper.  Although the materials are more sophisticated – the polymers are better today – it still does the same thing. You have to move a certain amount of air to make that work. I recognized that very early on.

“Bose makes a good mechanical speaker and, for what it is, it’s as good as it can get utilizing – I don’t want to say ‘old technology’ but utilizing speaker technology that hadn’t changed much.  Now, they have amplifier that’s sophisticated but, even with that, you still have to deal with the mechanics of that speaker.

“Engineers and companies like the Bose’s out there for years have been trying to refine that speaker and make it better and better. Of course, that is the answer if you can afford it.  I decided, ‘You know what? I’m just going to go back and change the content until I get it to do what it’s supposed to do.” That’s why your Bose speakers sound like that because it (the DPS) knows what’s in there and it reacts to that in real time. It remasters the program material in real time so it’s kind of like you re-imagine your audio when you plug this in.”

With Bongiovi’s history in the recording industry, I asked him if there has been any comments from those who have their home recording studios using programs like Pro Tools.

“Most definitely. With the advent of Pro Tools and digital technology to put into the hands of  virtually everyone to make recordings in their homes, what the DPS does is – even with Pro Tools, and generally if you’re going to have a home studio, you have to have reasonably good speakers because, if you don’t, they’ll fail.  You have to be able to listen to what you’re doing. There has to be an investment in speakers. That’s important – and an amplifier so that, if you’re going to make home recordings with Pro Tools, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what you’re doing.

“The problem is, when you take that out of your little Pro Tools studio – or any studio, for that matter – and you go home and play it back on any playback device, the chances of you getting what you had in that control room are, basically, slim to none unless you have playback equipment comparable to what you have in the studio.

“So, what the DPS does is it gives the opportunity to all those people who are working on Pro Tools and little home studios to actually be able to finish their work product, take it home and listen to it so they can determine what, if anything, they want to change. In some cases  - this is kind of a neat thing – DPS enhanced what they already had so some people use it as a form of mastering. They play it back through the DPS and go back into the Pro Tools and finish the work like that because it actually enhances what’s already there. It enables them to be able to play back – with pretty good quality – what they do in the studio. So, it has been a big boom to those people who are into music and are into recording.”

As for feedback from the more sophisticated, discriminating listeners within his large group of recording industry friends, he shares that, “ . . . for the most part, they’re very much impressed with the way it controls the playback environment – mostly on our first entrance into consumer electronics with the iHome iP1. That was the top of the line that iHome had ever released to being a very cost effective company for docking stations and things like that. I actually took that around to professional mastering houses and got opinions from them: ‘How do you think it sounds? Is it pretty close to what we’re doing in the studio?’ because that’s my barometer in measuring it. They said, ‘Oh, yeah! It’s really good!’ 

“In fact, some of them actually use the iP1 – Sterling has one. Masterdisk has one in Manhattan and Joe Gastwirt has one in California. When they load something into a client’s iPod they test it by playing it back on the iP1 to see if it sounds good to them. But other people who are not necessarily professionals or audiophiles themselves begin to develop an appreciation for what you really can have when you show it to them. The average person walking around with ear buds or a set of headsets on is not aware of what it can really sound like until you show them. Once it’s demonstrated to them, they’ve gotten back to us and say, ‘I can’t do anything or listen to anything without it (the DPS)’. 

“Especially with movies on your little iPhones and you’re walking around watching film or you’ve got your music on your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. It makes a big difference in what it sounds like. It changes everything from the little ear buds right up to more exotic headsets – the more expensive types that are available. Right now, there are five products in the iHome studio series that are DPS enabled. Those are things you can find now at Best Buy and other consumer retail store.”

Not only is the DPS technology available via a simple, affordable, downloadable Plug-In, it’s also available in certain models of Toyota’s.

“In automotive, we’re with Toyota Canad now and, towards the end of the year, we’ll have the same technology in other manufacturers. It’s especially effective in a car because DPS can improve the factory speakers that are already there. DPS in automotive is a cost saver and, by having less weight, it uses less gas and is more ‘green’.  That’s what digital technology does: it gives you the opportunity to really explore all of these things. “

As for the future product releases, Tony says, while he can’t discuss specifics at present, “You can look for Bongiovi DPS™ technology in headphones, cell phones, home theaters, televisions, more consumer electronics, more automotive products and medical. The DPS solution is already cost effective so everybody can appreciate it. It is considered by many the state-of-the-art for improving compressed audio sound for playback.

And for those of us who love great sound coming from our stereos, TV’s and other sound-driven gadgets, we can hardly wait to see what kind of toys Mr. Bongiovi will deliver his DPS technology to.  Stay tuned, folks.  This is going to be fun!

To read the Boomerocity review of the DPS Plug-In, click here.  To download your own copy of the DPS to try free for two days, click here and use the promo code, “Boomer” and let us know what you think!

Jason Bonham

Posted May, 2011

JasonBonhamI remember the first time that I saw the epic Led Zeppelin movie, The Song Remains The Same. It was during the long Thanksgiving weekend of 1976.  I distinctly remember the collage of family footage of the Bonham family that were intertwined within the footage of John “Bonzo” Bonham’s signature drum solo during Moby Dick.

Among the various scenes of Bonzo with his lovely wife, the lovely Pat Phillips, walking the country side or driving one of his favorite hot rods or chopper.  What I found (and still find) particularly cool, though, is scenes of his young son, Jason, playing on a miniature, clear drum kit with all the coolness, seriousness and confidence in the world.

Fast forward to 2011.

Watching footage of a now 45 year old Jason, on a near exact, “grown up” version of that drum set, one still sees the same coolness, seriousness and confidence as he plays for his own band as well as a wide variety of other groups.  The most notorious performance being, of course, the one show reunion of his dad’s Zeppelin band mates for the Ahmet Ertegün Tribute Concert in 2007 in London.  Clearly, his dad would continue to beam with uncontainable pride watching his son pound the skins.

Bonham Sr., would also be very proud of Jason’s show, Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience, currently touring the U.S.  One would be sadly mistaken if they thought that this was some lame attempt of a Zeppelin tribute band.  In fact, Jason addressed that question during a recent phone interview.

“Well, one thing I kind of give it is that I’ve actually played with the band a couple of times and had some moments in authenticity. First and foremost JBLZE is a concert. But I give it a slightly different angle from the story content of the show and I release and show some very tender and pure moments that not many people have seen such as my dad as a child growing up with his father and interacting with his own family and his brother and his children.

“And, you know, this is a man that would grow up to be the Beast, the guy--Bonzo, the legendary guy that was one of the first to throw a TV set through a window. But realistically he was my dad and just an everyday guy, really. So within the context of the show I talk a little about him as a personal person, you know, as a guy that I knew not so much as the guy that you know as ‘Bonzo’, but as my father. I show some of the moments we shared together which were and are, you know, very cherished now.

“We didn’t live in the era of everything being recordable on your phone and very easily accessible. So when you see these moments, they’re very few and far between as my Dad could record and capture. And also, I like to touch on the love I {mprestriction ids="*"}have of the music, playing with the guys every kind of song that has a different story, a different element of where I put it in the show. And each song is chosen for a reason. There’s nothing we’ve put there because it was a popular song or whatever.

“I have a story for each one. But the music does the talking in itself and I just, tell a few moments that were not spoken too much about, the reasons I do certain songs in the set and my own personal take on when I played them with Led Zeppelin.

“So that’s why it’s my, Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience and this is where, I suppose, it’s different from the others. But obviously one of the major differences is I have been lucky enough to have played with the band a couple of times. Not many of them can say that . . .”

For most of us who love music, certain songs serve as benchmarks to our soul, tied to memories and events that are burned into our minds that turn up, front and center, and the sound of the first notes.  Bonham shares his personal memories behind his choice of songs for his Experience show.

“Well for me the song choices had to be everything that meant something to me. From my first memory of hearing Zeppelin, which was Your Time is Going to Come. The song is in the show, all my life from the first moment I ever heard that song it stood out to me, since as a child I was terrified of church organists (re the song intro). Other key early memories of Led Zeppelin for me, was the black and white TV Danish TV special which included, Babe I’m Going to Leave You. That was a key moment and I always thought Lemon Song was a key moment for me from the early days of Zeppelin.”

While those are Bonham’s “special memory” tunes, they are aren’t considered his favorite songs.  When asked what his favorite Zep song is, he replied, “Well, there is always going to be two, there’s number one which is Kashmir and The Rain Song. And while I didn’t do The Rain Song on the last tour and this time around, I never really imagined this thing to be taken in as well as it has been, to be honest. But since we’re in this position now where we can go out there with our heads held high, I wanted to make sure that this time we have some of the later Zeppelin.


“On the second half of the show this time we’re having songs like The Rain Song, Achilles’ Last Stand, and In the Light, which is another rare one which Zeppelin never, ever did live. So I always come and try and keep some element of a natural show and make it a little unique.”

With what I consider to be the most touching statement by Jason, he shares the story behind the more surreal parts of the show.

“We do When The Levee Breaks, which is a wonderful part of the show and one of my favorites, because I get to play with Dad like when I do Moby Dick - it’s a moment when I’m actually playing with my father.

“We didn’t have two drum kits in our house. So when I get to do this these days it’s, you know, really for the first time ever that we actually get to play in tandem together because, sadly, we never did in real life. We never actually got to experience that. I’ve read in many articles that my father had said, ‘My son plays drums and I’d really love for him to play next to me at the Royal Albert Hall.’

“That means so much to me, especially when, at the start of the tour I had no idea that the first part of Moby Dick that I use to solo with dad on the screens where we play in tandem is his original performance at the Royal Albert Hall.

“So in essence I actually get to fulfill one of his wishes as well as mine: to play with him. And then somebody pointed out, ‘Well, what’s it like being the kid who’s now the old man playing with the young kid?’ Because now I’m playing live along with my father, who’s 22 years younger than me in the clip.

“It’s kind of a twist on things but, you know, I try and give it a - make it as real as possible to make it. There’s no fake in the show, you’re there.  You’re exposed to all the elements that could go wrong, but it’s heartfelt and that’s what makes it very unique.

“Each night’s a different feeling, and a different experience to the people coming. The people that come share stories with me after the show as much as I share stories with them during the show. And that’s been one of the key elements of keeping this thing going: the story, the fans, the letters I get and receive and it’s been a wonderful, wonderful experience for me. The tour is something that I will treasure because I’ve learned so much about my father, more so than I ever imagined I would know - from just the moments where people met him in their life and captured, photographs of them together and - yeah, it’s been very special."

Closing out his thoughts about his song choices for the show, Bonham says, “The song choices will always be a key part of this because I listen to what the fans say but I also want to keep it as true as I can. We’ll never do a song we don’t think we can do well. So, if for some reason there’s certain songs we don’t do in the show, we probably haven’t tried it yet or we have tried it, and it wasn’t up to standard. We’ll only do the best ones we can so they sound the best.”

When asked how he feels playing his dad’s part on the songs, expecting a short answer like, “Weird” or “Surreal”, I’m surprised at the thoroughness of his answer.

“To go out and play these songs on a nightly basis on a tour like this is a big task to take in and I try and stay as true as I can to what I grew up on. Most of that is generally The Song Remains the Same version, which is a major part of my performance. The people who really know the movie, they’ll know some of the things that I might change from the album which would be the live version to what I remember, you know? Like my version of “Kashmir” is more from the version of how dad would play it.

“In my head I have all these, outlines, sketches of what I’m taking different versions of Dad actually performing. And I try and stay as true as I can to those - mixing up the different styles as he evolved. One thing it was made clear to me at one point and something that Dad could never do- was go back through time.

“Now I can play a song like, A Whole Lotta Love, and sometimes I like to put drum fills in that he did from the Presence period, so I get to mix the two together. It’s something that he hadn’t done yet, I mean, he hadn’t starting playing that way. So you can incorporate the two different styles of how he progressed as he got older as a player and mix them into the one time period. At the same time I try to stay as true to the original groove as I possibly can which, with the wonders of bootleggers now, there’s copies of the drum track of Whole Lotta Love on the internet. I get a hold of those and listen to the nitty-gritty of what actually was playing and it’s very funky. It was a lot funkier than people really remember.

“So, it’s been a wonderful learning experience to actually go back and study the music again. I really do feel like sometimes I’m hearing it for the first time - it’s been that much of a learning curve. Recently, we just added a couple of different songs into the set which we started before I left to come to England.

“In just the very first rehearsal for the spring shows, I said to the guys, “If we get it that good on the first night, I’ll be happy. We did The Rain Song first and it sent the hairs on the back of my neck up. It’s such a beautiful piece of music; I can’t wait to perform it live. Such great drum parts, such beauty within a song in itself, these days you don’t write a song where you go right into the next segment and don’t have any vocals for another minute and a half. Nobody does that anymore.

“As I said, I try and stay as true as I can to the different performances and I think on the next tour what we’re going to, hopefully, do is have some kind of description of where we get the ideas from within a program or something. So people can actually do their homework after and go, ‘Well, yeah, I see why he did that version.’”

Later in the chat, Bonham shares who the band is made up of.

“On guitar is a friend of mine Tony Catania who’s been playing on and off with me for 20 years or more now, he is from Long Island. Big Zep fan, big Hendrix fan, big Floyd fan - just an all around good guitarist that really excels on these songs. I know some people have seen the YouTube clips that people have put up and now obviously the news is out there but before we did the first tour, we did not tell anybody who was in the band. I didn’t want anyone to have a prejudged idea of what we might sound like until we actually played because then people could make their own judgments. This worked because there was no preconceived idea.

“The singer himself, James Dylan, I found on the internet through a virtual Zeppelin Website. He’s now fantastic if you go onto YouTube clips look him up doing That’s The Way. I saw it and went, ‘Okay, he’s in.’ What really pleased me was the fact that he didn’t have brown curly hair and he wasn’t, you know, a look-alike. The last thing I wanted to do is go out there and do a dress up that would have felt weird."

“I’ll play on my Vistalite which is a play on what my Dad used to use but it’s a slightly different color, it’s yellow rather than amber. I wear the bowler hat for a couple of songs as a tongue-in-cheek reminder and a tip-of-the-hat to the master himself. As far as the dress up, no, it’s about the music and the love and the passion that we all have for it.

“On keyboards is Stephen LeBlanc - another fantastic musician all around. He plays guitar and he plays rap steel - he plays numerous instruments. We all agreed that everyone had to have the knowledge that we all had musically, if we called it out, we could play it, you know?

“On this leg of the tour I have a friend of mine that’s had prior commitments, some scheduling issues and he actually auditioned another bass player for me that’s going to be on this tour: Dorean Heartsong. Dorean is a wonderful bass player who was found by my original bass player, Michael Devin, who had a prior commitment with his other band, Whitesnake. Michael found me a phenomenal bass player that gelled with us all from the get-go.” 

The subject of how long this show will be offered came up.  One can tell that he’s given this matter some careful, serious thought.

“Well if you’d have asked me that about a year ago I’d have said it was going to be a one-time deal. The stories that people have shared with me over the last 12 months, and onward since the first round, inspired me.  I spoke to my mom and she said, ‘Listen, you’re representing the family here and I appreciate you doing it.’ She came out to see the show and said, ‘You know, I was a little skeptical at first, but the show is so wonderfully put together and it’s very special.’ She said, ‘Please continue this for me as long as you feel comfortable doing it.’”

“I’m, hopefully, filming one of the shows on the tour. I know we’re doing the Greek at the end of the tour and that would be a wonderful thing to document. I was very overwhelmed when they told me we were going to do the Greek because I’ve seen so many great bands there over the years. I was like, ‘Wow! I’m doing the Greek!’ Especially with the way it’s been going this year and I just look at it like this: as long as the demand’s there, I enjoy playing this music and as a representation of my father and the family and the music he created with Jimmy and John Paul and Robert.

“I feel very honored and blessed that people want to go and see it, as I say, we will only do it while people want to experience it. The last thing I want to do is tarnish something so beautiful that is held so highly in my thoughts. So it’s one of those things I always say, ‘Come and see it because it might not be here next time.’”

Since the subject of his mother came up, Bonham was asked to share some thoughts about his dad.

“Sure. A lot of people always ask me what kind of music I was into when I was younger, you know, when dad was alive. My dad got me into a band called The Police, which, at the time, my dad had a blue vinyl version of Outlandos d’Amour, which we still might have somewhere so I’ll keep that - treasure it. But he took me to see The Police and it was a cool moment. I had never, I mean, I had never been to a concert with my Dad ever before.

 “I remember we also saw the Osmond’s and Bay City Rollers. Yes, Dad did take me to see the Osmond’s and I saw Marie Osmond with her hair in curlers which ruined the illusion at the time. But I fondly remember The Police and it was a very, very cool concert and I remember my Dad put me on his shoulders so I could see the band better.

“He got us backstage afterwards so we could say ‘hello’ and it was just a great moment when my Dad stepped on Sting’s foot and he was wearing blue suede shoes at the time and Sting said something like ‘Don’t step on my blue suede shoes’. My Dad turned to him and said ‘I’ll step on your head in a minute.’ So that was a nice father, son relationship - the meeting of old and new. It was quite funny looking across and seeing Andy and Stewart sniggering underneath and I’m thinking, ‘Dad, come on! Don’t cause any trouble!’

“We had some very special times. Dad was a gentle giant really. He was a sweet, you know, nervous kind of guy. You’d never imagine that we’d sit and drive. I used to race dirt bikes, so on the weekends, when he was home, he would always be the first one up making the sandwiches in the morning. We’d get in the Range Rover and head off to the race.

“If it was a three hour drive we’d listen to Rumours (by Fleetwood Mac) about four or five times on the way and he was very into his, you know, it was usually Rumours and Steve - Buffalo Springfield - Stephen Stills album or Neil Young or Crosby, Stills and Nash and, Abandoned Luncheonette, Hall & Oates’ first album.

“I found some footage now which I’ve got on film and also audio of Dad being interviewed in ’72 which is really special. One of the extra special ones is the interview from 1970 is a reporter asks, ‘Do you have any family?’ He goes, ‘Oh, I’ve got a wife and a son called Jason and he’s a drummer.’ The interviewer says, ‘Oh, really?’ ‘Yeah’, he says, ‘He’s four years old now. His technique is crap, but he’s got good time. My ambition is that one day he’ll play next to me at the Royal Albert Hall.’ And just reading some of those moments were very, you know, kind of things that you, well I had forgotten what he sounded like."

“You know when you suddenly take things for granted somebody says, what did he sound like and I went, I have no idea. I can’t remember.  That hurt me, that the fact I couldn’t remember his voice. So when I found this audio of him talking and the strangest thing was at first I thought it was me because we sound very similar.

“But yeah, this tour, no matter how old I get I don’t know if it’s because I’ve just become more of a sensitive kind of person, but the hardship is some of these songs to perform them live, they just trigger emotions off of me, memories that some people won’t understand what are you crying for. It’s just moments in my childhood or my past where I go oh my god, I remember doing this.

“We started doing My Brother Jake in the show - which is an old Free song - and I remembered when my dad used to put it on the jukebox and make me play it when I was eight years old. It sent me back to when I was a kid. I closed my eyes and I was looking out and my mom and dad were watching me. It was very special.  These songs mean so much to me, they really do.  There isn’t any other way of doing this but honestly and people see this in the show.”

“So yeah he was a very sweet guy that, as I say, you all know as this ‘Beast’, this animal, but he was actually kind of a quiet chap at home.”

At the tender age of 11, one would have to wonder if Bonham really understood what a big deal his dad and his band mates were at the time.

“Yes and no.  I was 11 years old and I remember coming over to the Tampa Bowl Stadium when the riot happened and 78,000 people suddenly decided that’s is wasn’t not fair and if they weren’t coming back on stage we’ll have a piece of them.  As an 11-year-old you still don’t really get it, you’re like okay, that’s what my Dad does. I didn’t know anything else.

“It was normal that Dad played in the band. That was normal. So for me when the real thought process came about, it was much later after he died and much later still - not till I was about 30 - that I suddenly appreciated it, as well, and understood what dad had done in his life.

“When I got the chance to play with them in 2007, which is four years ago now, I had just turned 40 so for me to do that, it was a great feeling to get the chance to go back in there, listen to it all again, study it and to know I’ve really done my homework this time.

“So yeah, that was the realization, full circle. That’s when you suddenly go, ‘Wow, they were good!’”

The conversational gears shifted from the Experience tour to his work with former Deep Purple bassist, Glenn Hughes, keyboardist, Derek Sherinian (Alice Cooper, Kiss, Alice In Chains), and guitar phenomenon, Joe Bonamassa, in the super group, Black Country Communion.  Jason is, obviously, very stoked about the band.

“Yeah, I have a new album coming out with Black Country Communion which comes out in June which is going exceedingly well. I am very, very pleased with the new album. It’s definitely more of a group effort on this project. It went from a side project to a band which definitely on the second album I was able to get involved more with the writing part of it this time and became a lot more - felt a lot more - comfortable as a person in the band. And it went very, very well.

“There’s a song (on the new album) that started off as an idea that I worked on with Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, so I was happy to finish it off with this band and have it come out. I’m looking forward to hitting the road in June. As soon as I literally finish with (Paul Rodgers) on Friday here in England, I’m starting the tour with JBLZE . . . and then, when it ends, I jump on with the Black Country Communion.”

Asked about the song he originally collaborated with Page and Jones, Jason adds, “Oh on the new album, it’s called Save Me.  You’ll notice it in the rift. You’ll hear a slight Zep-esque rift and you’ll go, ‘I wonder if that’s the one he meant?’ and, yes, it’s got a definite feel to it.”

Naturally, the question that begs to be asked is: What about working with Page, Plant and Jones on another project?

“Well, I was very much under the illusion for what it’s, that we were going to write an album and we were going to put together a new project. Whether it be under the banner of Led Zeppelin, which I doubted, but it was going to be a new project that would feature Jimmy and John Paul and myself.

“It was the winter, like early December of 2008, when it kind of came to a halt - which was a hard thing for me to get over for a while. You know, I had just played the concert of my life. Playing with them was a great point, one of the greatest points of my life.  Then when I got the call to come back and do some work with Jimmy and John Paul in the writing environment, it was fantastic. I believed it was eventually going to continue on and be whatever it was going to be.

“But, you know, who knows? There are a lot of things I will never understand and it’s purely, as I say, you’d have to ask them. But on my end, I enjoyed every moment. Anybody would when you get a chance to again. You get the phone call from them to go and jam and in a writing element and go over ideas. It was fun - a lot of fun.”

A question that die hard musicians and rock historians would want to ask Bonham is what did he learn from the couple of Led Zeppelin reunion gigs he sat in on?

“What I managed to take away from the last one was the element of ‘Wow!’ because I was at an age where I was just honored and humbled to be up there. I was such a fan at this point in my life that I always felt that, early on, I’d taken things for granted. When I got the chance to go up there and have a go at it, it was a very special time.  Just to play with those guys and to play their songs and to do the show that we did at the O2 - it was a very special moment that I will treasure forever. Being in the rehearsals and hanging with them and getting to know them as adults - you know, I always knew them when I was a young kid so to relate to them on another level now, in another element was phenomenal.

“I felt like a journalist because I barraged them with questions. I was like, ‘Oh yeah, but you know this in 1977 well now what did you really think when you did this and, you know, did you know at that point you were really special? And if so, how special did you really think you were and - and did you kind of  . . .?’ and they were like, ‘Okay! One question a day from now on!’ But it was a great moment, let me say that”, Jason says with a laugh.

Relative to the “O2” Zeppelin gig and the lead up to it, shares some insight into the decisions that had to be made and how it has impacted his Experience tour.

“When they were thinking of doing the reunion in 2007 it was a key element of where they were thinking of putting it because you can imagine there was talk of the Wembley and the stadiums because, you know, they could have easily done that.

“But to make it as true as they could be in an intimate way they chose the 02 Arena which can be as, you know, for them, an intimate moment and there were moments when you could hear a pin drop when we were talking and Robert was talking to the audience and moments when we bring it down. You can almost hear the squeaking element when you drop the pedal.

“One thing I wanted to come across with in the (Experience) show is the intimate stories and the moments when you’re talking to an audience - when I’m kind of loss for words. In the audience, somebody may shout something and it’ll just stay with me for a moment and I’ll get slightly distracted and lose my track of thought and get a bit emotional. Each night is a different experience for me as much as it is for them, for the band, for everything.

“I mean even then to some nights we would kind of have a song when we were supposed to be doing something else. Much dismay turned out to be the lighting guy who was like, “I have no idea what they’re playing there. What do I do?” We kind of improvised and one thing we changed on the set was we had to be able to switch it up any time we wanted - we had to be able to alter to the mood because that was one of the key things that LZ could do. They could change things up. They weren’t afraid to change and change things around midstride. And if I’ve learned anything from trying to perform something true to the meaning of the song is, be aware of the audience and the environment you’re in. You change the music to suit the environment, the compassion, the personal moments, the energy, the light and shade, the intimacy. You have to take everything in consideration when you’re performing these songs to make them feel believable because if you’re getting out there and just go through the motions, you know, you might as well put the wig on and the dragon suit and go out and do it.

“To play the songs with somewhat of a knowledge of Led Zeppelin, you have to kind of take everything you can from every version you’ve ever heard of them playing live from the bootleg to the song that you sing to the DVDs -  everything - mix it all together and you come out the other side.  Hopefully, everyone so far, seems to keep understanding what I’m trying to do. So, the setting, when we came to choose the tour dates, where we were playing, it had to be an intimate thing.”

Concluding his thoughts on those gigs, he adds, “I treasure it very much and I’ve had the greatest privilege to play with them more than once. When I look back at my wedding video, you know, it’s hard to believe but, yes, they were there and they got up and jammed on the local band’s equipment and we did some Zeppelin songs so that was very bizarre.”

What do the remaining Zeppelin band members think of Jason doing the Experience?  Does he have their blessing?

“Oh, yes, I didn’t want to piss anybody off. So there was one incident and I remember somebody forwarded me something another person I know had said, it was a potshot and it was quite hurtful. I was upset it came from kind of a family friend of the whole band.

“I remember thinking, ‘I don’t like this.’ I just want to be liked; I don’t want to be disliked. I hate the haters, but honestly, you’re going to get them no matter what you decide to do.  I actually called Robert and spoke to him about it. Robert told me not to be concerned and then we went on an interview together and then a DJ tried to throw me under the bus saying, ‘Hey, what did you think about Jason doing a Led Zeppelin tour without any of you guys?’

“Robert turned around and went on the defensive for me and said, ‘Well, Jason can do whatever he wants, when he wants.’ He said, ‘Jason plays these songs like nobody else.’ He said, ‘There’s a few people that think they can play them like him but nobody can and they know who they are.’ He really went on the defensive and he said, ‘And as long as Jason does this with a smile, he has my blessing.’  So it was kind of like, ‘Leave him alone!’

“That was a big step for me when Robert came in there and said, ‘You know what? This is Jason representing his family and his father. Just let him be.’

“There was a big interview with me on a TV show in England and it was about drummers all over the world and I was quite open about what it was like growing up with dad as a drummer.  Robert suddenly went, you know, ‘I just forgot what it would be like for you. I really did, you know, having missed having a hero around to grow up to and him being gone for so long.’

“I think about this more now, when I make certain decisions in my life now that I have my own family, and my son is the same age that I was when I lost my dad.  So it’s a tough one to be in that situation when you haven’t got the advice of a father to give you. So I sometimes miss him there. I miss him when I go, ‘Dad, what should I do?’  And what I said to Robert was, ‘Sometimes when I don’t know what to do I call you because you are the closest thing to dad for me.

“Yeah, I would say I speak to Robert more on a regular basis than I do to Jimmy and John but I find that there’s still kind of that closeness when we all see each other. It’s like we haven’t been apart for years and we carry on the conversation like we just left off, that’s how it has always been.”

Over the years, much has been rumored about an alleged pact that Jimmy Page supposedly made with the devil.  Of course, the rumor wasn’t helped by the fact that, at one time, he owned an occult paraphernalia store in London. He was also widely known to have been an admirer of British occultist, Aleister Crowley – so much so that he, at one time, bought one of Crowley’s former estates.  Did Bonham, Sr., ever talk about any of that with Jason?

“We never talked about it, to be honest with you. That whole side of him - it was never brought up or even talked about in the British press. So, it was of a bit of a far-fetched thing which they probably wouldn’t deal with. I mean, I’ve talked to Jimmy many times about that home and I said, “Have you ever been there?’ And he goes, ‘I went once, kind of freaked me out.’ So he didn’t own it any longer but I never really imagined him being that guy anyway. I mean when you see him with children, he’s just way too sweet. He’s not that guy.”

Still on the subject, but much more philosophical, Jason, adds, “Yes, they had bad luck at certain times but they had success and the price of fame, you know? It’s a similar tragedy and success story that Def Leppard had, from the moment Pyromania became such a huge entity, the next thing you know, the drummer lost his arm. They finally get themselves through that period then they make another fantastic album called Hysteria. It sold millions and millions and millions again, even more than Pyromania and then their guitarist died.  There’s another great band from England that with a double-barrel name that seems to have had the success and the tragedy.

“There was a lot of success and tragedy in Led Zeppelin when you think about it, in ’77 when Karac died and then my Dad, you know, three years later. But, you know, I wouldn’t say the deal with the devil thing was anything. And I’ve been around the boys enough to know.”

Talking about the British press brings up the question of difference of perceptions about Zeppelin.  Does Jason think there’s a difference of perception about the band in the U.K. than there is in the U.S?

“Oh yes, very much so. What I love about the American press and people is regarding, Led Zeppelin, you can’t drive anywhere in America without hearing the unsung form on a station. Where here in England, you know, it would be very difficult to actually hear it at all. I love the fact that America holds on to what is great and classic, you know, it doesn’t move past it and go, ‘Okay move on.’ America pays homage to it.  America took in Led Zeppelin at the start when England didn’t. Only then, once America found them successful, then England started in on the band. Different stories were more important, you know. Hardly any of the stories of the incident of my dead and Peter beating one of Bill Graham’s people really made it to any form of press here (the U.K). There was a big entity there (the U.S.).”

Surely, being the son of the drummer in the band, Jason had to have seen more Zeppelin concerts than he could count . . . didn’t he?

“I didn’t see them often and one of my mates was so shocked that he said, ‘How many Zeppelin concerts did you actually go to?’ I went to Tampa Bowl Stadium which was then (Rain Docks) so I only got to see the first three songs. I went and saw a show in ’77 which was at Madison Square Garden. I saw the show in Earl's Court in ’75; I saw the show in Knebworth in 1979.

“I don’t actually remember seeing the show in ’72 in Birmingham but this is the show they let me see which really stood out for me. I mean Knebworth, I still - when I look back at Knebworth it was such an amazing experience I really remembered, and still love it there when I watch the “Kashmir” version that Dad did in Knebworth then.”

In his autobiography, Steven Tyler recounts a little bit of coming over to audition with Page, Plant, Jones and Bonham. Jason comments about his memories of the event.

“My memories of Steven coming over? I had no idea he was coming because the guys knew that I couldn’t keep my mouth shut half the time because I felt like I’d got the golden ticket but I wasn’t allowed to tell anybody. I remember having an incident while kind of - which is one of the reasons I don’t take it anymore - I used to have trouble sleeping touring on the road and I’d been given an Ambien by my doctor.  All I remember was I kind of got woken up after only going to sleep for two hours to do a radio interview. I did it and thought nothing of it and then suddenly to have my email alert, come up with all these different emails going, ‘Oh, my god! What did you say?

“I’m thinking, ‘What did I say? I didn’t say anything bad.’ I had no memory of telling the world that I was working with Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones again. So they weren’t going to tell me that Steven was coming in. Believe it or not, I’d just tied a bunch of scarves to my cymbal stands on the weekend prior to being there on a Monday.  So, he must have thought I knew but I had scarves tied around all my drum stands and obviously that was the thing that Steven did then. When he came in, he sounded great. I remember him being brilliant. I was a big Aerosmith fan. I remember him getting on my drum kit and playing and then he got on the keyboard and played a bit of “Dream On” and, you know, I enjoyed it immensely.

“He kind of went for it the first day, but then when he came back in a couple of days later it was good. I mean for me, my take on it is it sounded like Steven Tyler singing Led Zeppelin songs. You know, there was no mimic, there was no mime. He was Steven Tyler singing Led Zeppelin songs and there was something quite cool about that.

“See, to me I thought that’s the way it worked, you know? Because if you’re going to do it, you can’t replace Robert, you know. If you’re going to do these songs then you do them to the best of your ability. The best of Steven’s ability to me is for him to be himself and that’s why it sounded cool because he wasn’t trying to be somebody else. The music still stayed the same, as close as it could with me on drums.  So I enjoyed it. I must say I had a good feeling about it.”

There have been a lot of bands where, when a band member has passed away, the band ends up replacing them with the usual comment being, “They would have wanted us to carry on and to continue on the way that we are.”  Led Zeppelin called it quits when John Bonham passed away.  With all that has happened with the band since his dad’s passing, Jason shares his thoughts about the band’s decisions and actions.

“Well, I definitely I love the fact that they stood by their word.  It was a respect thing, very much so. It was wonderful when they finally came out and said, ‘We cannot continue on without our friend and colleague, John.’ It’s one of the hardest things to listen to, one of the last-ever things of Led Zeppelin broadcasted was that statement.

“And many years later, after the ‘02’, Robert’s said to me, ‘Jason, as much as you are your father’s son and you play like nobody else, for me, when I revisit these songs, it’s not just revisiting the song, it’s revisiting the whole bunch of memories.’ And he adds, ‘For me Led Zeppelin was with John on drums, not Jason.’  He says, ‘I hope you don’t hate me for that.’

“I said, ‘No, I get it, and there’s a whole bunch of fans out there which are actually okay with it now.”

And that they are.

You can see if Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience is coming to your town by visiting www.jblze.com.  You can also keep up with him by visiting www.jasonbonham.net as well as his work with Black County Communion at www.bccommunion.com. 

Nina Blackwood

Posted September, 2011

NinaBlackwoodToday2Before the days of YouTube, cable TV, DVD players or, heck, even VCR’s, if one wanted to see their favorite artist or band of any genre, they would have to know what time and what show they would happen to be appearing on.  In the 50’s and 60’s, The Ed Sullivan Show was the go-to TV show to catch Elvis, the Beatles, the Stones, Buddy Holly, the Doors, or the Dave Clark Five, to name but a historic few.

Other landmark shows like the Louisiana Hayride, Shindig! or Dick Clark’s two shows, American Band Stand and Where The Action Is were on the scene and catered to specific genres of music which not only carved out a healthy niche of dedicated viewers but a permanent spot in music history, as well.

As the seventies rolled around, teenagers like me had our own arsenal of shows from which to get our live musical fix.   Who can forget Alice Cooper performing Gutter Cats vs. The Jets on ABC’s In Concert or Johnny Winter’s version of Jumpin’ Jack Flash on Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert or Fleetwood Mac performing Rhiannon on Burt Sugarman’s Midnight Special?

All of these shows and historic performances are forever etched on the tablets of rock and roll history.  However, thirty years ago, on August 1st, 1981, there was a seismic change that hit America through the growing avenue of cable television.  Five VJ’s (“video jockey’s”), Nina Blackwood, Martha Quinn, the late J.J. Jackson and Alan Hunter became fixtures on a bold, new cable network called MTV.  The channel provided a continuous feed of record industry supplied promotional videos as well as a growing supply of concert clips. Before too long, “I want my MTV!” became a popular mantra among America’s youth and was captured forever in Dire Strait’s hit (and video, of course), Money For Nothing.

It’s hard to imagine that thirty years has passed since MTV hit the airwaves and changed music forever.  It just doesn’t seem possible.  Neither did it seem possible that the opportunity to interview one of the MTV pioneers, Nina Blackwood, would ever happen but it did.

The perennially beautiful Blackwood called me from her home in Maine while between having just returned from vacation and the start of another round of personal appearances commemorating the 30th anniversary of MTV’s launch. Naturally, that was the subject we started with.

 “It’s been quite crazy, actually, but in a good way. It’s so nice that people are reaching out and remembering us. It’s wonderful, actually.  We’ve done a lot of promotion. We did a VJ special through Sirius/XM on our Big 80’s on 8 channel. I’ve been hosting Absolutely 80’s Presents Freemont Street’s Experience in Vegas every other weekend, flying there to host a show. I live in Maine so it’s not just down the road!” she said with her infectious laugh that immediate endears those privileged to hear it.

Often, reunions of any type can be quite emotional for the participants.  I asked Nina if it had been emotional for her to recollect those years in such a compressed time while being the focus of a lot of attention.

 “Very good question. Very good question because, to be quite honest, when it started, I’d say, back in May, things started gearing up – when I do my shows and we’re talking about eighties music, I don’t go around thinking about the early days of MTV.  I mean, it was thirty years ago!  Around May, things started kind of ratcheting up a bit.  I had a couple of real intense interviews right off the bat. I had to go to New York for a VJ special with Mark (Goodman), Alan (Hunter), and Martha (Quinn) and all of a sudden I’m back here in New York where we did the {mprestriction ids="*"}shows and we’re talking about the old days – it was kind of freaky, I tell you, at first.  I was trying to go to sleep (the night before) but I kept reliving all these memories that the people were asking us about. Really, initially, it was quite unsettling!  I mean, maybe on the 25th (anniversary) we recollected some thoughts but, for some reason, this one really did have an emotional effect and has carried on throughout the entire summer which has been really odd!

“It’s wonderful, don’t get me wrong!  But, all of a sudden, your head is back in those days and you’re remembering this and that – wow! – like it was . . . well, I can’t say like it was thirty years ago but, maybe at the most, twenty years ago – the most!  It does not feel like thirty years ago – especially when we had this dinner when we were in New York with some of the old crew from the original studio which each of us, respectively, are still friends with. We each have our people that we’re still friends with. And for all of us to be back together sitting at this gigantic table in this restaurant in New York was like ‘Oh my god!’.  Everybody’s personalities are pretty much the same, only older!  And that was so trippy. It  really was!  Even though each of us are in contact with certain people over the years and have seen them personally – like, one of the cameramen – a friend of mine – came up to visit me in Maine and we’re always e-mailing; but it was exactly like it was!  It was really weird!  Yes, it was emotion in the fact that you realize how fast time has gone.”

When I asked if there was anything bittersweet about the whole thing, Ms. Blackwood’s response was immediate.

“Well, J.J., of course.  You know that J.J. passed away a long time ago – six years ago, something like that (in 2004 of a heart attack in L.A.). Of course, J.J.’s absence is very bittersweet – especially for the four of us who are left.  But he was loved very much by the crew and the producers that worked with us on a day-to-day basis.  So that, if anything, that was the main ‘bittersweetness’ because we would all say, ‘Ah, J.J. would like that!’.

“J.J. was the guy who had all the stories. He was like our elder statesman but he was also the guy who really partook the most in the quote/unquote rock ‘n roll lifestyle. I mean, he was hanging out with Robert Plant, Rod Stewart, going to all the clubs. In fact, his nick name was ‘Club Man’. So he was the guy that was – if you want to say – not wild because I would classify him as a wild man but he really embraced everything there was to embrace about New York and being in the entertainment business. He really lived a full life. So, that’s missed. He’s just missed!”

And what about any of the artists who dominated much of MTV’s screen time back in the day?

“Well, I mean, that’s kind of a daily thing. I’ll be introducing a song like, say, Robert Palmer and Addicted To Love – I interviewed him a lot over the years. That was sad. I was particularly devastated by Michael Hutchence’s death. I had just seen him, actually, about a month or so before he died. Again, in a professional sense – not a personal sense – I was close to that band (INXS). When they came by for an interview, I was always the one who interviewed them or met them on the road so there was definitely a professional relationship and I thought the world of Michael. I really, really liked him.  I still, sometimes, go, ‘I can’t believe he’s gone’ and in such a horrible way. It was so tragic and just awful. So, Michael’s one that I do think of in that regard.

“I was on vacation so I didn’t even know about Jani Lane of Warrant!  That’s pathetic – so pathetic!  I wasn’t close to him as a person, either. It was all professional. It’s just so sad because here’s this guy – platinum – multiplatinum selling artist and the band kicks him out and he just could not kick his drug habit.  And, to be found in some Comfort Inn in Woodland Hills, California, for crying out loud!  It’s just horrid!  That was the most recent.”

The perpetually positive Blackwood instinctively turns the conversation to more a more positive vein.

“Somebody who is an example of overcoming and thriving and helping others is Slash. I read his biography and I was going, ‘Is he gonna make it?!’ and now the guy is doing so well – beyond well!  He’s actually a really cool mentor, in a way, for kids.  He’s got that cartoony kind of look and he helps animals. He helps young addicts and has a whole foundation (to help).

“Look at Steven Tyler, for crying out loud!  I mean, Steven Tyler was on the brink! I actually met him right before he got sober and, I mean, he was still ‘Steven Tyler’ but you knew that the guy was just out there at warp speed. Look at how he’s turned around.  They all became more successful after they became sober!

“So, along with the horrible deaths, there are a lot of people who have . . .” and then, as she often does, Nina interrupts herself with another related thought,  “Look at Joe Walsh!  Oh my god! He’s an old friend of mine because I grew up in Ohio. I remember getting a call one night. I can’t remember what concert it was – I think it was Stevie Nicks.  I had just seen him backstage at that event. By the time I got home, there was a phone call from a mutual friend of ours saying, ‘Joe’s in the hospital. He has passed out’ and I’m going, ‘Oh, no! He’s dying!’ He turned his life around. He got through it and looks better than ever!  He looks all healthy and ‘California-ized’.

“So, yeah, along with the tragedies there are successes. And, with Michael – god!  That one made me sad because he took his own life. To be pushed to that degree and not feeling that he could turn to anybody and to do that, that’s what made it, I think, hardest for me. It wasn’t like a drug overdose, which is bad enough, but it was like he killed himself by his own hand. That’s painful.  The guy was so charismatic. Like I said, I had just seen the band and was marveling at the fact that the guy could arch his back and the most powerful notes would come out. It sucks!  What can I say? It sucks!  Still, obviously, after all these years later it does bother me.”

To say that Blackwood is a workaholic would be a bit of an understatement.  She hosts two syndicated radio shows, Nina Blackwood’s Absolutely 80’s and Nina Blackwood’s New Wave Nation.  He can also be found on her Sirius XM show, 80’s on 8, at various days and times throughout the week.  And, as if that’s not enough, this summer she was flying back and forth to Las Vegas for appearances at Absolutely 80’s Summer Concert Series.  I asked her how does she do it all.

“Yeah, I am bit of a workaholic.  Four and a half years ago, I was living in L.A. and I realized that all the companies that I worked for were actually in New York. So, I’m going, ‘Why am I in L.A.? It’s hot. I don’t do well in the heat. It’s crowded. I don’t really like it anymore. It’s gotten nasty. Why am I living here?’ I always loved Maine since I was a little girl. I was born in Massachusetts and just always loved Maine. I thought about moving there on a number of occasions and I thought, ‘You know? I’m just gonna check it out and see if I love as much as I think I love it” and I did. I ended up buying a house and, luckily, selling my house (in L.A.) right as the market was crashing – got out of there literally by a hair – by a hair!  The housing market was tanking as the house was up for sale.

“So, I moved to Maine and, like yourself, because of technology, I’ve got a studio in my home and I can do my shows and all my work (from home) – with the exception of going to Vegas and personal appearances. And, I love nature and that’s been my saving grace.

“I was just back in L.A. last week, doing my shows from there so I was in the traffic and all that and my whole body, seriously, went into like an anxiety attack. I was shaking!  I love to drive. I’m not a scaredy cat driver so it had nothing to do with that. It was just so intense and so much – I go, ‘I don’t know how I lived here!’  I probably would have had a very different answer for you if I was still in L.A.”

Nina loves to gush about her life in Maine.

“I have a lot of animals. I have dogs and cats and parrots and there are so many wild animals here. Chipmunks and squirrels and osprey and raccoons and the occasional moose and mink, otter, beaver.  I find solace and peace with nature and only when I’m removed from it for a certain period of time do I get kind of tweaked. I start shaking like I did in L.A.  Nature has always been my solace and it remains to be. That’s the balance. Now, it’s critical, actually. I have to have it.  I’m so hyper and that’s something I haven’t been able to conquer my whole life. I’ve been hyper since I little kid. Still hyper!

“The peace calms me down and it makes me realize, especially in a place like Maine where the people are so wonderful.  They’re workaday people.  They’re really down to earth. They’re really honest. They’re lobstermen, farmers - that type of thing. And I realized that there’s more to the world than the entertainment business and they don’t care what you do. They don’t care if you’re Brad Pitt. If you’re a good person, that’s fine. If not, they don’t care, they’re not going bother with you. It’s really a grounding and I thrive in that.

“I love my postmen. We have a two-person post office and ‘Tiny’ – who is not; he’s a very big guy – we don’t even have regular mail trucks!  He (Tiny) drives his own vehicle. He sits in the passenger seat and he drives with a stick! He has the stick working the steering wheel and, because he’s big enough, he can work the foot pedals.

“I found, the day before I was leaving for vacation, a little handwritten note saying, ‘Have a wonderful vacation. Be safe and we look forward to you coming back”. It almost made me cry. I got choked up. I carried that little note with me the whole time I was gone. He didn’t have to do that. He wasn’t doing that for any reason other than a sweet gesture. I lived twenty years in L.A. and I never even knew my mail man’s name and he probably didn’t know mine except for the fact that he stuck the mail in the box.

“It’s a very long answer to your question but those are the things that help and keep me grounded and also make me enjoy my work more because I gotta work to stay where I am and I love it so much, you know what I mean?”

In preparing for this interview, I wasn’t sure what Nina’s opinion was of MTV today as compared to when she VJ’d for them.  I was relieved to read an interview posted on her website, NinaBlackwood.net, wherein she says that she doesn’t like the current format there.  With that already established, I asked Nina what she thought would “work” for MTV and what changes would she implement if she were in charge.

“Well, the thing is, unfortunately for people like us who don’t like what they’re doing, that (MTV’s current format) is working for them. Jersey Shore has made more money for MTV Networks than any show they’ve ever had. So, the bottom-line is that it is working. I don’t know who watches this stuff. I don’t get it but that’s what’s happening.

“As far as MTV itself, what I would do is start another channel and forget MTV! Or, VH1 Classic – put the music oriented stuff over them; keep MTV – whatever it is now – over there.  Just keep it. It has nothing to do with music . . . or very little to do with music.  Just implement more music programming for people who enjoy it because I hear this all the time! ‘Where are the videos?  Where are the music shows?’

“So, there is an audience out there that wants to see – maybe not 24 hours a day – but maybe, like, three hours to show videos, two hours, whatever, separated throughout the day.  Have music like Storytellers that was a great show or Behind The Music - wonderful shows!  Have more of that.”

It’s been said, to borrow from the Buggles tune, TV Killed The Radio Star, that video killed radio.  I asked Blackwood what she thought killed video?

“Well, first of all, I don’t think video killed radio. That song was written before MTV was even on. It was written in ’78.  It wasn’t specifically about MTV and I actually think video enhanced radio at the time because it (radio) had been in the doldrums. In fact, radio was opened up to all these new bands that I wouldn’t have played in a million years, like Duran Duran, The Flock of Seagulls – for better or for worse.  Video is not what killed the radio star. But the internet is what, I think, killed – or it has been helping to kill – radio, the videos on TV and the record industry across the board. That has been the biggest threat, at least in my lifetime, to the music industry in general.”

When I asked Blackwood if she thought that the MTV’s format change was driven by the record labels’ lack of support for acts, including the financing of videos, she responded by saying, “That’s a good question, also. I don’t know. I think it’s kind of a chicken and egg thing. It really is because things started tanking all around the same time. The record labels.  All the mergers. Then you have radio going through the same thing. These big companies came in and bought up as many channels in one city as they possibly were allowed to. They restricted the formats. I hate to use a trite phrase but it’s all be kind of the perfect storm.”

I asked Nina what videos from back in the day epitomized the best and worst of video on MTV.  Her answer was both honest and diplomatic.

“Well, it’s a really hard question as to which ones epitomize but the first one that comes to mind when you ask that, I think, Money For Nothing, obviously, because it was about MTV. So that kind of epitomized it. As far as the worst, I can’t really say because there’s not one that sticks out in my mind that’s cringe-worthy. There’s nothing that I could specifically answer. I’m sorry. I can’t go, ‘Yeah! That one sucked!’

“Also, whether they hold up to the test of time.  I would have to go back and look at some of these and go, “Uh, that one doesn’t work anymore”. So, I’m sorry to be so evasive about that.”

With a long, distinguished, history making career such as hers, I naturally wondered if she would be coming out with a book anytime in the near future.  Her response was coy, to say the least.

“Oh, those things could be in the works.  Maybe . . . maybe . . .”

Well, until that darn book that may or may not be in the works comes out, I had to ask Nina how she wanted to be remembered after she’s gone to that great VJ studio in the sky.

“Oh, boy!  You know, we’ve often joked about our epitaphs – Mark, Allan, Martha, and myself  and J.J., God bless him, - that they would probably would say, ‘Here lies America’s first MTV VJ’ would probably be how I would be remembered. But, I don’t know, I would like to be remembered as somebody who really strove to keep her credibility and loved animals and nature – along with rock ‘n roll!”

Check out all that’s happening in the world of the lovely and talented Nina Blackwood at NinaBlackwood.net.  Also, if you have Sirius XM radio (and, if not, why not?), be sure and catch Nina’s show throughout the week on channel 8 of your satellite radio dial.  You’ll love it!