Randall Bramblett came screaming out of Georgia-based Capricorn Records' stable in the early 1970s, first in Gregg Allman's solo band, and then as a member of the jazz/funk quintet Sea Level. A piano and guitar player who also rules on funky tenor saxophone, Bramblett has one of those fiery Southern singing voices that can burn the blues—or rough 'n' tumble rock 'n' roll, or blood-boiling Stax/Volt R&B—straight into your brain.
With a promising solo career sidelined by drug and alcohol abuse, Bramblett left rehab in the late '80s for Georgia State University, where he earned a Master's degree in social work. His vacation from the stage was interrupted by a call from English rock legend Steve Winwood, who invited him along on a cross-country tour. And that worked out well: More than a dozen years later, Bramblett was still leading Winwood's road band, the only musician never laid off or otherwise replaced.
This led to gigs with, among others, Levon Helm, Gov't Mule, Widespread Panic, the Allman Brothers Band and Bonnie Raitt.
His confidence fully returned, Bramblett picked up where he left off, and each successive solo record has met more acclaim. The most recent, 2013's soulful The Bright Spots, was named Album of the Year by the prestigious allmusic.com.
CS: Congratulations on The Bright Spots. It must be gratifying to have such positive reviews after all this time. It's been a slow ride back up to near the top.
Randall Bramblett: Well, we're still virtually unknown outside certain areas. But this record got more attention; it was gratifying, reassuring that people got it. I don't know whether it was the songs on it ... I guess it was ... or the production, but a lot of people really related to it. And radio stations seemed to jump on it a lot more than they have on any of the other records. But still, we're not on any of the big stations, we're on Triple-A stations. We just don't reach a huge audience. But I know it's a great record. I feel very grateful to be where I am, even though it's not reaching a ton of people.
CS: Is this a solo show, or are you bringing the band?
RB: It's the four-piece band, and after Savannah we're going to New Orleans to play the Jazz Festival. These guys are fantastic players. They can improvise. They know how to play these songs, but they can also take 'em to different places. Mick Johnson, the guitar player, is just a great inspiration. Young guitar player from Boston, he's just inspired the hell out of me. I just love playing more than ever.
CS: Is it more satisfying for you to be in a band situation than to sit at the piano and sing by yourself?
RB: They're both good, and I enjoy both of 'em, but the energy of being with a band, and the interaction of playing with great players, I just love that. I can deliver the songs solo sometimes in a very striking way ... but it's not as much fun for me. I love the energy in the funk and the improvisation that you get when you play off each other. That's more fun. There's a place to present songs both ways, but as far as just selfish fun, I love playing with a band.
CS: You got a Masters in counseling, in social work. Does that ever come in handy, like when the drummer and the bass player are trying to kill each other?
RB: No, I don't do therapy! But it helps me to be able to talk sometimes, and listen sometimes, in a more healthy way. I think it's helped us be a healthier group. I mean, they're all great people and they're easy to get along with. But sometimes just being able to talk about things, in a way that is not the regular ol' arguing kind of thing, it's very helpful.
I didn't do it (counseling) that long, because I ended up going out on the Winwood tour, but I got a lot of compassion for the human condition, I tell you. And I think a lot of my songs came out of that.