The story of Delaney and Bonnie is by now a famous one. The husband-and-wife team of Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett got their first recording contract in the soulful environs of Stax Records in 1969. The pair then briefly moved to Elektra (and were offered and accepted a contract at The Beatles' Apple Records before their prior association with Elektra negated it) before arriving at Atco in 1970 for their longest sustained recording contract. Though Delaney and Bonnie never achieved much in the way of commercial success, their albums remain some of the most beloved and influential records of the rock era. Such was their clout that famous "Friends" lined up to appear on each LP or on tour with the group. Among those famous friends were such talents as Leon Russell, Isaac Hayes, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker, Rita Coolidge, and Duane and Gregg Allman, just to name a few. The duo's fourth studio album and third with Atco, Motel Shot, might be their finest hour. It was reissued on compact disc last year by Real Gone Music in expanded form with numerous previously unreleased tracks. Now, Run Out Groove has brought that deluxe edition to vinyl in a splendid and lavish 2-LP set pressed on 180-gram vinyl.
Motel Shot sessions commenced under the aegis of Elektra with engineer Bruce Botnick capturing a loose, improvisatory feel from the band at his own home's living room! However, when the artists clashed with the Elektra brass over their planned move to Apple, they were shifted to sister label Atco and released two albums (one studio, one live) before circling back to the earlier material. Numerous songs were re-recorded for Atco, expanding upon the "living room" sessions done at Elektra. By the time Delaney and Bonnie got around to the Atco recordings, their core band of Jim Gordon, Jim Price, Bobby Keys, Carl Radle, and Rita Coolidge had moved onto Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour, though Bobby Whitlock stuck around. "Friends" (credited and uncredited) on Motel Shot include Cocker and Dave Mason, plus appearances by Buddy Miles, Duane Allman, Gram Parsons, and John Hartford.
The concept of Motel Shot was a simple one - to recreate the joyfully ragged sing-alongs that the touring band might have while in their motels on the road. A mostly acoustic, homespun affair, it was based around familiar blues and gospel songs, with some originals peppered into the mix. Few albums, then or now, would have dared to open in such brazenly uncommercial fashion with the revival rave-up of "Where the Soul Never Dies," "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," "Rock of Ages" - the first and third traditional songs, and the second a Christian hymn from the early 20th century famously adapted by the Carter Family. (Joe Cocker was uncredited on the LP, but his roaring rap is unmistakable on "Where the Soul Never Dies" as well as another traditional gospel tune, "Talkin' About Jesus.")
The musical strains established in those songs segued directly into the first original composition on the LP, Delaney and Bonnie and Carl Radle's "Long Road Ahead," with its church-meets-barrelhouse piano (likely from Leon Russell), downhome group vocals, and tambourine-shaking percussion. D&B achieved their most substantial chart hit (No. 13 Pop/No. 8 AC) with Delaney's sprightly "Never Ending Song of Love" (complete with a whistle-along), and solo songwriter Delaney also offered the upbeat "Sing My Way Home," one of three tracks enhanced by Duane Allman's recognizable slide. Leon Russell teamed with D&B to write the fiddle-flecked "Lonesome and a Long Way from Home," which could have passed for a traditional song.
A raw, emotional cover of Bob Wills' "Faded Love" underscored the album's rootsy spirit; though the western swing pioneer wrote the song with his father and brother in 1950, its melody dated back to 1856 (!). Blues standards were drawn from the songbooks of Chuck Willis ("Don't Deceive Me," authoritatively wailed by Bonnie) and Robert Johnson ("Come On in My Kitchen"). "Going Down the Road Feeling Bad," given a funky jam treatment here, was a "white blues" that became popular in both the folk and rock repertoires.
Eight bonus tracks from the earlier sessions have been unearthed, all exhibiting the same laid-back but solid musicianship as on the final album. Eric Clapton's "I've Told You for the Last Time" appeared on his 1970 eponymous debut; though it's well-performed by Delaney and Bonnie's group in acoustic style, it musically isn't of a piece with the other tracks. It's a testament to Bruce Botnick's work recording the "living room sessions" that the alternate take of "Long Road Ahead" is as immediate and vibrant than the subsequent, in-studio rendition. Alternates of "Come On in My Kitchen" and the rousing "Lonesome and a Long Way from Home" are also here, too, as well as more songs that didn't make the final cut. None other than Mac Davis co-wrote "Gift of Love" with Delaney. So pliable was the song that the duo Jon and Robin recorded it in two versions in 1969: one "top 40 style" and one "country style." Neither was a hit, but it's a happily catchy ditty. Other outtake highlights include the southern gospel number "Farther Along" and the 19th century hymn "What a Friend We Have in Jesus," both of which would have fit comfortably on the original release.
These two 180-gram discs pressed at Record Industry have been sourced from the original analog master tapes, and lacquers were cut at Sam Phillips Recording Service. The cover artwork has been derived from the original French pressing of the album; the U.S. version had a different cover, as did the Real Gone CD. Pat Thomas, who co-produced with mastering guru Bill Inglot, has penned an oral history of the album (featuring remembrances from Bonnie, Elektra founder Jac Holzman, Bobby Whitlock, and Bruce Botnick) which appears here as well as on the aforementioned CD. It's all housed in an attractive Stoughton gatefold tip-on sleeve, designed with period authenticity by John Sellards. That authenticity, naturally, extends to Sellards' exacting Atco replica labels on the records themselves.
The warmth of vinyl is ideally suited for the rough-and-tumble sound of Motel Shot - the sound of friends harmonizing in celebration of the influences that guided their careers in music. Run Out Groove's expanded vinyl edition does a great service to this seminal slice of Americana.
Run Out Groove releases are available at finer independent brick-and-mortar shops as well as via online retailers such as these: Music Direct / Sound Stage Direct / Acoustic Sounds / Elusive Disc / Bullmoose Music!