At the Lobero Theatre on Friday night, I saw one of the most amazing performances that I’ve ever seen in the hundreds of concerts that I’ve attended, namely Bonnie Bramlett’s incredible take on her song “Groupie (Superstar).”
This “song about abandonment” was co-written by Bramlett and Leon Russell, and is best known from the hit version by The Carpenters under the name “Superstar.” But at the Lobero, Bramlett reclaimed and reinvented it as a torch song with just piano accompaniment, bringing tears to her stagemates’ eyes and those of many of the audience members.
After the most deserved standing ovation that I can remember, Eddie Tuduri summed up what we were all feeling with one word — “Wow!”
Bramlett was at the Lobero to support her old friend Tuduri’s organization TRAP, The Rhythmic Arts Project, an educational program that integrates percussion as a medium to address reading, writing and arithmetic, as well as life skills for children and adults with intellectual and developmental differences. Bramlett and Tuduri were neighbors way back when, as were host and noted actor Edward James Olmos and fellow performer Tata Vega.
The evening began with a touching movie about TRAP that showed footage of their program at work, and a moving introduction by Olmos in which he told of the magic of seeing kids talk for the first time thanks to TRAP’s activities.
The music started with a cool opening set by Paul Barrere (guitar, vocals) and Fred Tackett (guitar, vocals, mandolin) from Southern-fried favorites Little Feat; they had driven 500 miles to be part of the show.
Barrere and Tackett revisted Little Feat classics including “Sailin’ Shoes,” about which Barrere told that when he played it at his young daughter’s school he had to change the lyrics “cocaine tree” to “pecan tree” and “Willin’,” which was the song that led the late great guitarist Lowell George to form Little Feat at Frank Zappa’s “encouragement.” (Legend has it that Zappa fired George from the Mothers of Invention because of that song’s drug references.)
They also played a delightful cover of The Band’s “The Weight,” and the Little Feat classics “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now” and “Dixie Chicken,” with local harmonica whiz Tom Ball joining in.
Although not officially the case, the main act is most appropriately called Bonnie & Friends, a shortening of the name of the rock and soul powerhouse Delaney & Bonnie & Friends led by then-couple Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett, which struck a big chord in the late 1960s and early 1970s rock-‘n’-roll universe. Back then, the “Friends” were the likes of Eric Clapton and George Harrison.
At the Lobero, Bramlett’s friends included Rosemary Butler, who has sung backing vocals with an amazing number of artists, including Jackson Browne (think “Running on Empty”), Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan; Tata Vega, who has sung backing vocals with Michael Jackson, Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder; and Carl Graves, who had a couple of charting R&B singles in the 1970s.
All four of the singers got a chance to shine in the spotlight, with Butler nailing “You’ve Never Been Rocked Enough” and “That’s When I Find You,” Vega belting out a gospel song and “I Can’t Stand the Rain,” and Graves superbly tackling Wilson Pickett’s “634-5789” and Wonder’s “Superstitious.” It must be pointed out that with Bramlett, Butler and Vega on board, Graves had a backing trio to die for. Graves and Vega also did a wonderful cover of Sam & Dave’s “Hold On! I’m Comin’.”
Bramlett showed her remarkable range with the aforementioned “Groupie (Superstar),” the gospel piece “Long as I Got King Jesus,” and “Strongest Weakness,” which was written by her daughter, Bekka.
The evening ended with Delaney & Bonnie’s “Never Ending Song of Love,” with Barrere and Tackett joining in to give a fitting conclusion to a thrilling night full of love and stellar performances — all in support of a great cause.
— Noozhawk contributing writer Jeff Moehlis is a professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.