When we had our first baby, Delaney couldn’t have fussed over him more if he had been Delaney’s own - and in a way, like every child he came across, he was. Delaney adored kids and kids loved Delaney. No matter how many people there were in a room, if there was a kid there, Delaney made that child his first priority – he went and got him some sugar. Kids were hugged and loved up and made a big deal over, not ignored or shunted aside while the big people talked. When you went to Delaney’s there were chickens to chase around, and Junior the horse to feed carrots to, and a yard full of dogs and cats to play with. There was a horseshoe pit, a swimming pool and a big front porch swing to swing on, and Mamo always had a warm hug and something good to eat on the stove. Delaney would show you his roses and even cut the prettiest, best-smelling ones for you to take with you. At Delaney’s, you forgot you were in Los Angeles, where ‘image’ is everything, bullshit is the language of success and style matters more than substance - you were somewhere in the back woods of Mississippi, and life was good.
When you went to visit Delaney, you drove past the white fences, and turned up the gravel road. You got out, unchained the fence (being careful so the dogs didn’t get out), opened the gate, locked it back up when you went through, then drove up the rest of the way to the house. You parked the car and walked up the drive, through the breezeway, past the studio and ‘61 Ford truck on the left. But you didn’t enter into Delaney’s house by the front door. You walked in from the back, through the kitchen. This was the heart of the home. Everything that mattered happened in the kitchen. You sat down at the kitchen table, talking and eating and laughing and cooking and singing.
All sorts of people found their way to Delaney’s. There was always a bed or couch available, and you could put your feet up on all the furniture and help yourself to whatever was in the fridge. There was always someone staying there for a little while till they got back on their feet, or a music legend just stopping by for a glass of Mamo’s sweet tea and a little pickin’.
Pickin’ was the heart and soul of life with Delaney. Singing and playing were the air he breathed, and he shared it with everyone around him. Music was in the dirt, in the flowers, in the walls and floorboards, on the roof, in the kitchen, in the bones and the very blood that ran through his veins. And everyone was welcome. The little studio in the shed on the other side of the breezeway was always packed with family, old friends, new friends, and strangers, and he loved to crowd as many people in as possible to sing the elaborate background parts that were his production signature. Music was a family affair, and everyone was family to Delaney.
When you are the spouse or the child of a person in the public eye, it can be uncomfortable and sometimes painful to have strangers lay claim to intimacy with that person based on the briefest of encounters – especially at a time of your own private grief. Delaney had a way of making each and every person he met feel special. He touched the lives of millions of people with his soulful music, raw honesty and loving spirit and as a result many people felt that they had a personal connection with him. But as much as he gave to the public, it was his family who knew him best and loved him most, and brought him the most joy.
Delaney was extraordinary. Yet, the way that he was extraordinary was how extra ordinary he was. What made him so amazing was that it wasn’t his talent, great as it was, that made him extraordinary, but his giant heart, his empathy, his understanding of life and human nature and his ability to view it with love and amusement even as it landed on him like a falling safe. What made him great - what touched every person who knew him, met him, heard him, or heard of him - was his deep humanity, the enormity of his ordinariness, his passionate love for life and living, of everything and everybody around him. He wasn’t about restraint or holding back. He did nothing half-way. He was just Delaney, and very few of us can say that we are that fully ourselves.
He was always, all the time, all about love. And when you heard him, you felt that love. And you walked around in the blanket of warmth and love that he spread over you. He loved his family madly. He adored his children, his mother, his brother, the ladies he married, and they were enclosed in his private circle of love. But the love didn’t stop there - anyone who encountered him, however briefly, was included in that love. If you needed something, he was there, no questions asked, with whatever he had at his disposal. But most of all, he gave of himself, and he gave himself. He moved furniture for me when I had barely met him. He showed up with his heart hanging out, and this is what made him a great artist. It was the fact that his heart was out there for all to see that reached us, and changed us, and opened our own hearts to him in return.
There was never a false note with Delaney - nothing that was not authentic and real. He was completely himself, warts and all, and if you didn’t like it, you could take a long walk on a short pier. His failures were as visible as his successes, and what you saw was what you got. He lived life all the way down to the bone - he fought, he yelled, he cried, he swore, he fell down and got up again. He didn’t try to impress anyone; he didn’t show one face to one person and a different face to someone else. He had integrity - in the true meaning of the word. He was firmly rooted in the good, rich earth of country, home and family, and he never abandoned those roots, but celebrated them, and they nourished him and made him who he was.
Delaney was a soulful man. He loved his Lord and was not ashamed to get down on his knees to pray. He was not ashamed to cry. He was not ashamed to kiss a grown-ass man and say, “I love you, honey.” He put everything - his pain, his tears, his joy, his passion, his fears, his dreams - into his music and shared it all with us.
There are artists, and there are artists. Some people are well-known because of their prowess on their instrument or voice; they are admired, they are amazing, they are iconic, they are impressive. But Delaney, with as much talent and accomplishment as any of them, belongs in another class. He was not above or apart or better or different - his genius was love, and his music reflected it like a still lake at sunset.
His daughter Bekka, who knew the part of Delaney that he shared only with his family, summed it up perfectly:
“My daddy was a giver. Some people have completely mastered their instruments, and they can sing any note in the world, but they’re not givers.”Delaney Bramlett was a giver.
Delaney knew the secret. Life is about giving. Love is about giving, and about forgiving – not about being perfect, but about making your mistakes out loud and getting back up and becoming stronger because of them, and maybe being a little more understanding of others’ mistakes because you’ve been there, too. He knew the secret and we loved him because he shared that precious secret with all of us.
So, go take your rest, Delaney, and hug Mamo's neck for us. We’ll see you a little further on up the road.