It’s become a wonderful tradition for South By Southeast concert goers in Myrtle Beach. Right about this time of year, the Randall Bramblett Band – and we’re talking the full band here – head to the Grand Strand for a fast-paced, high energy show at the historic Myrtle Beach Train Depot. And when I tell you they blow the roof off the place, that Davis Causey’s guitar work defies description, that Michael Steele is a monster on bass, I’m not exaggerating.
Randall Bramblett has performed and recorded with Sea Level, the Allman Brothers, Steve Winwood,Traffic, Levon Helm, Bonnie Raitt, Widespread Panic, Gov’t Mule and more. His tunes have been covered by scores of others. In fact, Bonnie Raitt is covering his “Used to Rule the World” from Randall’s 2008 Now It’s Tomorrow CD on her next release. It’ll be the lead track and the second single to be released. Plus, they co-wrote another tune together that will be one of Starbucks’ free releases.
Randall Bramblett is a multi-talented icon in the music business. He’s more than proficient on guitar, saxophone and keyboards. His raspy vocals are passionate and soulful to the bone. But songwriting for this Jesup, Ga. native is akin to breathing, and that’s what I wanted to talk to him about during our telephone interview last week.
He was happy to oblige.
“I have a lot going on,” he tells me. “I’ve been writing, getting ready to put out another album. I’m in the process of demo-ing songs that I’ve written since The Meantime [his beautifully sparse 2010 recording that featured Randall on grand piano, Gerry Hansen on drums and percussion and Chris Enghauser on upright bass].
“I think I have enough for a record. I have to figure out a direction now.”
Did Randall write his songs as a concept album, I wanted to know.
“I’ve never done a concept album. They have a ‘feel’ after the fact, and I always like to think of it as an ‘album’ even with single downloads.
“The thing with me is I have so many different styles. My songs can be folkie or funky gospel or something else. But I don’t want the album to be too disjointed. A lot of it comes together from the players.
“But [for this next album] I’ve got a lot of strong bluesy R&B going on.”
It makes sense, when you consider that Randall grew up in the heart of soul country in southern Georgia, where he counted James Brown and Ray Charles among his musical heroes. Further influenced by artists such as James Taylor and Carole King, Randall began writing songs while still in high school.
In college at the University of North Carolina, he studied religion and psychology. But shortly after graduating, he moved to Athens, Ga., where he made contacts and honed his skills in the “Liverpool of the South.”
I’m always curious to learn how songwriters work at their craft … whether it starts as an idea or a line or a piano riff…
“I don’t write like Tin Pan Alley writers do,” Randall told me. “I don’t have an angle. Basically, I sit at my computer, two actually. One is for lyrics and one is for music.
“I’ll have sheets of paper with ideas from journaling written all over them.
“I usually write with a vignette or scene in mind. It’ll have some meaning, but I hardly ever write a story. I write more mood stuff.
“It’s similar to poetry, I think, hard to define … it has some openness to it.”
“Jason usually gets it started and I finish. He comes up with some great lines,” Randall laughs as he explains. “We still write together, on two acoustic guitars.”
“No More Mr. Lucky [released in 2001 and produced by John Keane of Widespread Panic] was my first record for New West Records,” he continues.
Another beautifully written album, it served notice that Randall Bramblett had achieved a new level of songwriting. Soulful blues, jazz, funked up rock and a Southern sensibility meld together in a standout recording.
The album’s opening track, “God Was In the Water,” feels dark and desperate, a spiritual longing or questioning, a feeling of being lost – recurring themes in Randall’s work. Written by Randall and Davis Causey, Bonnie Raitt covered the tune on her 2005 Souls Alike album.
Other notables include the uptempo “Get In, Get Out,” “Lost Energy” and Aching For a Dream, a tune about life choices, Neal Cassady and the Beat generation.
“I called Carolyn, Neal Cassady’s wife,” Randall says. “I found her on the Internet. She had a website devoted to Neal. She objected to my lyrics. She said he didn’t die counting the railroad ties in Mexico. She says Ken Kesey started all that.”
One thing all Randall Bramblett songs have in common is their emotion. I find it impossible to listen without feeling something.They push, they pull. They ask questions. They insinuate. They make me feel. Something.
The date for this year’s show is Saturday, March 10. The show starts at 8 p.m. And it will be SRO. If you don’t have a reservation yet, stop reading and shoot off an email with the number in your party to SouthxSoutheast@aol.com.
Music Feasts are $25 per person ($20 for SxSE annual concert series members).
Admission fees include a range of potluck meals and often homemade dessert (to which you are invited to contribute), wine, beer, soda and coffee. The Myrtle Beach Train Depot is located at 851 Broadway in Myrtle Beach. For more information, or to join the nonprofit group, log onto http://www.southbysoutheast.org.