If awards were given for best supporting player in the Southern music scene, Randall Bramblett would have had a shelf of them by now.
Despite a 30-year professional career that includes high and low profile work with artists including but not limited to Georgia-based acts such as Cowboy, Gregg Allman, Widespread Panic, Vigilantes of Love and Francine Reed, Bramblett remains under the musical radar. The ex-Sea Level member and his hardcore fans hope that will change with the July 11 release of his fourth solo album since 1998—and third on the respected New West label—Rich Someday.
With his low boil, dusky red clay voice and poetic, if often obtuse, lyrics, Bramblett delivers his most stripped down work yet. Recorded primarily at drummer/producer Gerry Hansen’s Creekside Studios in Atlanta, the album’s relatively unvarnished, if not exactly raw, approach makes it more accessible than his last few efforts. After the recent dissolution of his 16-year association as backup musician in Steve Winwood’s touring band, Bramblett looks forward to devoting his energy towards his gradually yet consistently growing solo career. It’s been a long slow trip, but with honest songs and a voice that comes from the heart, Bramblett deserves the kind of success that one of his biggest supporters, Bonnie Raitt—who covered his “God Was in the Water” and invited him as opening act for two weeks of southeastern dates on a recent tour—enjoys.
We started this chat, which took place a week after the death of Capricorn’s Phil Walden, talking about his association with the iconic Georgia label owner and music executive.
HH:Were you close with Phil?
RB: I really thought a lot of him. He was very innovative and had a lot of courage to put the groups together at the time he did that. He’s a big fan of music. When I first came to Macon, I was with Cowboy, so I knew him from that, and then with Sea Level and seeing him at gigs. He then signed me to a solo deal (for 1998’s See Through Me, during Capricorn’s second phase) and I got to know him better then.
HH: You worked primarily as a horn player during your extensive career as a backup musician, but there is hardly any sax on this new album. Instead, you play acoustic guitar on almost every track.
RB: Part of it is the way the songs were written, with me and a guitar. Mostly it’s the nature of the material …it doesn’t call for horns. There is no need to put something on a song that is not needed. I’ve been a songwriter with a guitar my entire career, so that’s the way this batch of songs came out. Our drummer, Gerry Hansen, did a great job with directing the arrangements and instrumentation. He made sure that whatever we did was in service of the song.
HH: Except for longtime guitar player Davis Causey, you have a new group.
RB: We formed this new band a few years ago. He (Hansen) was the center of it and knew the other guys (bassist Michael C. Steele and guitar/mandolin player Mike Hines) really well. They all live in Georgia. Most live in or around Atlanta. The approach of this record was to do some sessions at Gerry’s place and see how the band records together. A live band doesn’t always work in the studio, it’s just the nature of recording. We started recording some things just for the fun of it and they sounded so good that we realized this was the right thing to do. We did it a few days a week for several months. We weren’t under the gun. We had time to play with songs and see what they really wanted. We were driving down GA 316 to Gerry’s house a few times a week. It’s a small studio. We were all cramped in the control room while he was out in the main room with his drums. We had time to explore and we set out to keep this as raw as we can. We wanted to leave in all the personality and mistakes and keep it as stripped down and trashy as possible. It’s more real sounding.
HH: These songs seem to have a similar theme. The characters that populate them are alone, but hopeful of better days. There is loss, beauty and joy.
RB: The way I do an album is not like a concept. Since the last record, I’m collecting songs and find the best group to work together. Then you see what they sound like afterward. We take it a song at a time. We felt our way through and let it evolve on its own. You can then look back on it after it’s done and see what it is.
HH: What are your touring plans for this album.
RB: Hopefully we can get out in front of more people. It’s kind of a “catch-22” thing with musicians like me who don’t have a history of huge record sales or a big fan base. You have a hard time getting an agent and a manager. Consequently you have a hard time promoting your record. You’re not going to sell a lot unless you are out there playing and we haven’t been able to tour on a sustained basis. That’s what we are hoping to do differently this time. I love being a sideman for people that I care about, but when it comes down to it, it’s my responsibility and my true love to do my own music.