Muddy Bottom Blues
Program #228 (December 4 at 8:00 p.m. and December 5 at 3:00 p.m.)
Randall Bramblett a singer, songwriter, bandleader, and multi-instrumentalist based in Athens, Georgia. He plays keyboards, saxophones, guitar, mandolin, and harmonica. His sound is rooted in Southern funk, greasy R&B, swamp blues, roots rock, NOLA R&B, and jazz.
A seminal member of Sea Level, he is a sought-after sideman and touring musician who spent decades working with Steve Winwood, Bonnie Raitt, and Levon Helm, to name a few. Bramblett's many playing and recording credits include work with Clarence Carter, B.J. Thomas, Bettye Lavette, Bonnie Bramlett, Widespread Panic, and Delbert McClinton.
His earliest solo work -- That Other Mile in 1975 and Light of the Night the following year -- garnered critical acclaim but little airplay outside the South. He joined Sea Level and worked as a sideman and touring musician until 1980, when he left music to become a social worker. In 1988, he returned to play in Winwood's road band. He resumed his solo recording career on 1998's See Through Me, and signed with present label New West for No More Mr. Lucky in 2001.
He has issued studio outings regularly while working the road as both a bandleader and sideman. The reception to albums such as 2006's Rich Someday and 2013's The Bright Spots won him headline gigs overseas, while 2015's Devil Music and 2017's Juke Joint at the Edge of the World both reached the charts.
Bramblett was born in Jesup, Georgia in 1948. He learned to play piano, and later clarinet and saxophone, in public school. He studied religion and psychology at the University of North Carolina, intending to become a minister. An avid pop music fan, his head was turned from seminary when he found solace and inspiration in the music of singer/songwriters James Taylor, Carole King, and Bob Dylan. Bramblett abandoned his theological studies, relocated to Athens, Georgia, and began to pursue life as a songwriter. Because of his instrumental chops, he was able to secure work as a touring and session player.
He made his recording debut playing reeds and winds on Goose Creek Symphony's Words of Earnest in 1972 before becoming soul singer Clarence Carter's touring alto saxophonist -- he appeared on Carter's Sixty Minutes in 1973. After working with Atlanta Rhythm Section that year, Bramblett played on Cowboy's 1974 outing Boyer & Talton. By the following year, Bramblett's reputation had spread. He appeared on B.J. Thomas' Longhorn & London Bridges, Elvin Bishop's Let It Flow, Martin Mull's Normal, Bonnie Bramlett's It's Time, and on the Gregg Allman Tour.
He signed a solo deal with Polydor in early 1975 and released his debut outing, That Other Mile, which was credited by critic Robert Christgau as helping to usher in the soft rock (or "yacht rock") era. His sidemen on the date included Eric Weissberg, Paul Buckmaster, the Brecker Brothers, Hugh McCracken, Tommy Talton, and Chuck Leavell.
Bramblett followed in 1976 with Light of the Night that featured a smaller studio band including Leavell and bassist Will Lee. The set also featured a guest appearance from Allen Toussaint. Once more, it received favorable reviews but didn't chart. After working with Doug Kershaw on Flip, Flop & Fly, Bramblett resumed his professional ties with Gregg Allman by playing on Allman and Woman's (Cher) Two the Hard Way the same year. At Leavell's invitation, Bramblett joined Southern jazz fusion group Sea Level in 1977 in time for their second album, Cats on the Coast. He remained until the band split after 1980's Ball Room. In fact, Bramblett left music altogether "to sober up," in his words. After getting clean, he spent the next seven years focusing on a career as a social worker.
In early 1988, Steve Winwood came looking for Bramblett. After many hours of conversation and informal jamming, Winwood convinced Bramblett to resume his musical career and join his road band. Though the multi-instrumentalist only played in the studio on 1990's Refugees of the Heart, he was a bedrock member of the British musician's road group for many years. He played on the Traffic reunion tour in 1994, and worked the road with Levon Helm and Bonnie Raitt.
He joined blues guitarist Johnny Jenkins' band for Blessed Blues on the revived Capricorn label in 1997, and resumed his own solo recording career on See Through Me for the label in 1998. He continued to work with Jenkins on the road and in the studio, playing on the acclaimed Handle with Care (1999) and on Jenkins' final album, All in Good Time (2000). He began playing live with a number of high-profile Southern bands including Vigilantes of Love, Gov't Mule, and Widespread Panic.
Bramblett resumed his solo recording career with 2001's No More Mr. Lucky. While a de facto live member of Widespread Panic, he also put together a touring band that included longtime collaborator and former Sea Level guitarist Davis Causey. Bramblett quickly re-established his reputation for gritty, danceable funk and R&B on 2004's Thin Places and rejoined Winwood for his Soundstage performance and DVD. In 2005, he reunited with Leavell by playing on the latter's Southscape. A year later, he resumed his connection with Bonnie Bramlett and performed on Beautiful. Bramblett followed all of this activity by releasing his own widely acclaimed Rich Someday in 2006.
For 2008's Now It's Tomorrow, he wrote and arranged all of its songs. It marked the first time in a decade he'd worked without Causey. Bramblett remained a busy touring musician and also played on country singer Brantley Gilbert's 2010 debut offering Halfway to Heaven. He released his own somber roots rock set The Meantime the same year. In 2011, Bramblett joined Deep Purple's Roger Glover & the Guilty Party, for If Life Was Easy and toured with the group. In 2012, Bramblett's "Used to Rule the World" appeared as the opening track on Bonnie Raitt's Grammy-winning Slipstream (as did the song "Down to You" co-written with Raitt and George Marinelli). He returned to recording, with New West issuing the all-original program titled The Bright Spots in May of 2013. He spent the next year-and-a-half touring clubs and playing festivals, and was also the subject of an episode of PBS's Living Legends series.
Bramblett re-teamed with New West for 2015's Devil Music. The set featured guest spots from Mark Knopfler, Derek Trucks, and Leavell, and peaked at 15 on the Blues Albums charts. After a national tour that involved playing everywhere from roadhouses to international festivals, Bramblett and his band returned to the studio in 2017 and tried to capture the spontaneity and raucousness of their live sets on tape. In addition to recording a host of new originals that ranged from his own brand of countrified R&B and jump blues, Bramblett also engaged modernist jazz ever so slightly and cut a cover of Beck's "Devil's Haircut." The resulting album, Juke Joint at the Edge of the World, marked the first time a song by another writer appeared on one of his albums. The set peaked at number 11 on the Blues Albums chart.
After an international tour as music director with Marc Cohn and the Blind Boys of Alabama and a short break, Bramblett returned to the studio. November 2020's long-player Pine Needle Fire included the track "I've Got Faith in You," which featured former Cowboy guitarist Tommy Talton playing Duane Allman's original 1961/1962 Gibson SG -- which can be heard on the Allman Brothers' At Fillmore East -- on "Statesboro Blues").
(provided by Allmusic)