RANDALL BRAMBLETT is a musician, vocalist and "songwriter's songwriter" who's been around several blocks. Twice.
From his earliest days as a budding keyboardist and horn player, to his first brush with notoriety as a member of the highly respected Southern rock and jazz hybrid Sea Level, to stints in the studio and/or on the road with everyone from Americana pioneer Levon Helm (of The Band) to pop and R&B star Steve Winwood to jam icons Widespread Panic, Gov’t Mule and The Allman Brothers to classic rock figureheads Traffic and Deep Purple — Bramblett has literally been there and done that.
To hear him tell it, the Jesup native (“I grew up in the suburbs, or whatever they’d be called in Jesup,” he chuckles) gained an invaluable education in the process.
“When I first moved to Macon in the ‘70s and started working with Capricorn Records, those were my very first tours,” he recalls after a late night playing a Tallahassee, Fl. juke-joint with his current band.
“I learned how to put on a show from all those guys. I learned organ techniques by watching Gregg Allman up close. I learned a bunch from (Sea Level’s) Chuck Leavell, too. His piano playing is fantastic.”
Leavell, who has since gone on to become —among other things— the Rolling Stones’ keyboardist for the past 23 years, thinks the world of Bramblett’s skills as well. A few years back he famously described his old band mate as “the most gifted and talented Southern singer-songwriter musician of the past several decades.”
That’s an opinion shared by the likes of R.E.M.’s Bill Berry, who’s called Bramblett “the most talented and prolific songwriter I have the privilege of knowing.”
Yet this kind of praise clearly hasn’t gone to Bramblett’s head. Whether he and his Athens-based band of veteran players are tearing up a funky, soul-drenched storm in a small club or wowing thousands as the opening act for major artists —and diehard fans— like Widespread Panic or Bonnie Raitt (who recorded he and band mate Davis Causey’s “God Was in the Water” on her 2005 LP Souls Alike), he’s primarily concerned with enjoying himself, rather than dwelling on whether or not he himself is a household name.
“I learned that from Levon Helm,” he offers. “What I took away from my time with him was just the pure exuberance of playing music. Often, Levon had a better time in a juke-joint than some giant venue. That’s how he grew up — playing ‘Milk Cow Blues’ with The Hawks in little clubs. He reminded me you just gotta have fun and not take it too damn seriously.”
Bramblett and his supremely tight and tasteful band are increasingly in demand at various music festivals throughout the country. In fact, in 2007, they played two sold-out shows at the Savannah Music Fest as part of a double bill with famed Atlanta singer and guitarist Shawn Mullins.
“That was a really cool venue,” Bramblett recalls. “The people really listened.”
His band’s ability to mix roots-rock, Southern soul, alt.country, old-school funk and British Invasion power-pop into an infectious and hard-to-pigeonhole sound endears them to a wide variety of music lovers who aren’t nearly as concerned with the flavor-of-the-month as they are with touching, emotional songwriting that stands the test of time.
“We’re not like a Gov’t Mule or a Derek Trucks Band that does a lot of jamming,” Bramblett explains. “We’re a song-oriented band and we rely on crowds that like to listen. Sometimes they’re older. But last night we played to a lot of younger people — many of whom know me from playing with Widespread. Now, we’ll do a bit of soloing if we feel like it, but really, we concentrate on the songs.”Read our complete interview with Randall Bramblett here.