Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Interview with Randall Bramblett

Randall Bramblett had just finished a salad from one of Safety Harbor’s finest eateries when we (Debby & Laura) interrupted him for a short interview before the concert on March 25. Todd filled him in on the history of Safety Harbor as we settled comfortably on the bright, flowered cushions adorning the wicker couches in Casa Loco. The Casa is across from Todd and Kiaralinda’s house, Whimzey. Casa Loco belongs to them and is used for travelling artists and musicians, as well as friends. It doubles as a studio when necessary.

I was impressed with Todd’s knowledge of the local history, but it didn’t surprise me, because he and K. have a child’s enthusiasm for as much information as they can absorb about everything and everyone.

Laura is the consummate professional and had her pen poised and her I-phone set on record, but only after requesting permission. I was more or less a loose cannon who started out by informing Mr. Bramblett that I’d never heard of him before. If we hadn’t had the recorder, we wouldn’t have this interview because I didn’t write one damned thing down, and barely shut up the whole time.

Randall Bramblett is small in stature but has that certain “aura” of a person who’s special. He’s the guy you see on a subway and think, “He’s probably someone.” He settled on the couch across from us and had an easy smile as he crossed his ankle over his knee. He was wearing worn jeans and a black on black, buttoned shirt. It seems like he had blue eyes, because they twinkled. He ran his hand through tousled blonde/gray hair.

I asked him if he’d ever stayed in a place that had copper Bundt pans for a ceiling. He hadn’t.

We wanted to know if he was related to Bonnie Bramlett, even though the spelling is different. He’s not, but he knows her, (pretty awesome in and of itself). I asked him if he ever ran in to R.E.M. (They live in Athens, Georgia also). He said no, because he’s older. Again I had to make another needless comment by pointing out that R.E.M. is pretty old these days. His eyes twinkled when he said, “Yes, but I’m still older.” His wife has a restaurant in Athens called the Creole Market and he speculated that maybe Mike Mills had dined there.

So, armed with a recorder and excited about the house concert that we were soon to enjoy, we asked him a few questions…

LK: What should we know about your music? You’re kind of jazzy, bluesy?
DK: (Not really a category)
RB: It’s hard to categorize. It’s a mix of a lot of different music. I grew up playing and singing Soul music, but I was also influenced by Dylon, he had a sort of funky thing going too. Country rock, Americana. Gospel. I’m not a Jazz player.
LK: I don’t know where I heard that!
DK: When you listened to music when you growing up what sort of music would most embarrassing thing to admit to? I’m talking about when you were little. Not toddler, but you know, the gawky age…
RB: I used to listen to these piano records that were really schmaltzy. Andre Previn, Peter Yarrow. My older sister’s records – I think they came from her, or maybe my parents bought one of those Columbia “You get all the Classics” collections.
DK: Did you have a stereo?
RB: Yeah, if you could call it that. I don’t know if you could call it a stereo. A hi-fi.
DK: Did anybody else in your family play music?
RB: My sister played piano some. My mom was a kindergarten teacher. She played enough for Sunday school and kindergarten.
DK: Were you good church goers?
RB: Yeah. Southern Baptists.
DK: Where’d you grow up?
RB: Jessop Georgia. It’s in southeast Georgia, near Brunswick, near Savannah. Flat woods, swamp. Omaha River swamp. I spent a lot of time in the river. That made a big impression on me. It’s such a prehistoric looking place.
DK: Did you write things down?
RB: I tried to write some poetry back then. Mostly I was singing in the local high school band.
DK: Like a garage band?
RB: Yeah, a dance band really.
RB: So you guys all got together like in junior high or high school and decided who would do what?
DK: In high school we really started getting paid. We were playing all over by the time we were seniors in high school we were playing all over.
DK: All over Georgia?
RB: Yeah, and South Carolina. Occasionally North Carolina.
DK: Did you play guitar?
RB: I just sang.
DK: You wrote most of the music?
RB: It was all cover music.
DK: So you did covers, but you were good.
RB: Yes.
DK: There were some really bad bands back then too…
RB: I played through college with that band.
DK: So you all went to college and kept in touch?
RB: Yeah, we all played together all through college. I went to UNC some of them went to college at Georgia. I would hitchhike and meet where ever they were.
DK: Chapel Hill is a good fertile place for writers isn’t it?
RB: I think that was when I first heard James Taylor. And Dylon … I never really thought I could write until my senior year. I started fooling around more with the guitar. It was the hippie days too. UNC didn’t really even have graduation. There were so many protests going on. After that I stopped doing cover music and started trying to write songs. I played guitar since junior high but never really wrote until then.
DK: Self taught?
RB: Yeah
DK: We interviewed on of your fans who traveled a long way to see you tonight. Sheila says you play a bunch of different music – different instruments.
RB: Keyboards, sax, guitar… (chuckling) Sheila comes to God knows how many gigs. I’m not sure why
DK: She loves you, that’s why.
RB: She’s showed up in Tennessee, various places…
DK: North Carolina. She said she’s been as far as NC. And you have people coming from Naples.
LK: Who inspires you now?
RB: Occasionally I get inspired. I don’t listen to enough music. But when I heard Elbow this year – an English group – they’re huge - I got inspired. Unbelievable stuff.
DK: Have you ever heard of Chuck Prophet?
RB: Sure. Chuck was on the same label as me out west. I like him. I like hearing quirky things like Cake. I like Lucinda Williams a lot. A great poet. She likes to write lyrics.
DK: So you write all your stuff now?
RB: I have some co writers I work with sometimes. Mostly it’s me.
LK: So how’d you hook up with Todd and Kiaralinda?
RB: The 38 Festival in the Panhandle . It’s where they have this great singer/songwriter festival. Lots of venues. You play at different ones every night. There are probably a hundred or more different people playing.
This seems like a really cool community of people.
DK: We spread the love. You’re in good company playing here. We’re excited. We’re happy you’re here.
DK: Did you bring a road wrangler?
RB: I am the road crew. I was a social worker for a while. So, if you have any problems … (Laughing)
DK: So you did have a real job for a while…
RB: I’ll tell you what happened. I played strictly music for about 10 or 11 years. Had my own group and played with other groups, then I bottomed out in every way with alcohol drugs and everything. I was in New Orleans. Got sober, met my wife. Figured at some point my career was over so I needed to find another career. I want to University of Georgia. Got my MSW there. I got the experience. I was a drug and alcohol counselor. In the middle of school I got a call from Steve Winwood’s people. His music director heard me from Sea Level. He was always one of my favorites – and Traffic ― but I hadn’t picked up a horn in years. I could play sax keyboard and strings. I started getting calls back. It was a great experience.
I Just played with Greg Allman last week. And Leon Helm is one of my heroes. I just played with him. Playing with Steve [Winwood] was a great experience too. Right now I’m doing solo stuff, playing with Geoff Achison, … he is an Australian guitar player. His stuff is bluesy. He comes over for a few weeks. We always play together. It’s a fun life.

(Hi, this is Laura. I just have to say something before we run the credits...)

This was an amazing concert (March 25) and if you were there, you might like to know a little more about this man who should be even more famous than he is. I mean, like as famous as Steve Winwood, Greg Allman, Bonnie Raitt and others who he’s played with. Did you know that about him? He's just as talented as those artists, and in some ways, he shouldn't even be compared. His voice is nice, not overpowering, but rather easy on the ears and leaving you somewhat addicted. I'd say he is as talented with words as Bonnie Raitt ... His lyrics made my mouth water. Yeah, they're savory to the senses, and beautifully crafted.

Honestly, go buy his music. It won’t disappoint, I promise. In fact, there's a FREE song available, too - just in case you want to sample before you buy. His new CD The Meantime, and his older stuff, can be purchased through his website.

I'd love to compare notes and hear which song is your favorite. Drop us a line in the comment section. Are you an old fan or have you recently discovered Bramblett's music? And Mr. Bramblett, if you find your way here for some reason – maybe wondering what happened after those two writers sat you down and plied you with odd questions – well, rock on, man. You impressed the hell out of me.

And the amazing photos are by Holly Apperson. Thank you, Holly. You have a gift with a lens...

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