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Run Out Groove's reissue of Delaney & Bonnie's 'Motel Shot'

The communal spirit that existed, specifically in the early 70’s, was best captured first in the 1971 Delaney & Bonnie record 'Motel Shot.'

Delaney & Bonnie - And Friends
Motel Shot
(Run Out Groove)

4 stars

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By Ray Chelstowski

Most people consider Jackson Browne’s 1977 album Running On Empty to be the first rock record that captured that creative spirit of the road. The kind that soared through late night jam sessions in hotel rooms across American tour towns. It is true that Running on Empty did include songs recorded on the tour bus, backstage and in hotel rooms. But the communal spirit that existed, specifically in the early 70’s, began much earlier and was best captured first in the 1971 Delaney & Bonnie record Motel Shot .

At that moment it was commonplace for rock starts to drop in and out of existing sessions. Often their contributions weren’t even acknowledged on the liner notes. Instead these appearances became part of the rich fabric of rock urban legend. Sure, as time has passed, some of the truth has found better clarity. But some has simply evaporated, passing with the people who helped create the magic.

Motel Shot is a record that was intended to document this. However, even with this brilliant piece of American music there are historic holes that may never be filled. Here’s what we do know. The album’s title is a reference to the spontaneity of the road, a place where late-night jam sessions by touring musicians could capture something rarely found on stage. Performing in front of a paying audience has rules, expectations, and time constraints. These post show sessions weren’t for paying customers. They were for the musicians themselves. In this private community they generated music that was more revival based. These songs were performed with the fervor and conviction of the converted in a Sunday morning congregation.

Arrangements all tend to hang on Leon Russell’s piano. It parades through each song with a majesty that again references the kind of churches that Delaney grew up in. From there the record unfolds like a musical review. Joining Russell was Gram Parsons, Dave Mason, Joe Cocker, Bobby Whitlock, Jim Gordon, Carl Radle, and Duane Allman who’s beautiful slide work make Sing My Way Home an album standout.

Ironically, the spirit of community that inspired this record led to many of its members peeling off to form Mad Dogs & Englishmen with Joe Cocker and Derek & The Dominos with Eric Clapton. However they returned to help lay this record down. Even Buddy Miles did a little bit of drum work on a Samsonite briefcase, being credited as “Johnny Bramlett”.

The truth is that the record wasn’t recorded in a motel at all. The original session were laid down in the living room of recording engineer Bruce Botnick, who had produced every album for The Doors’. It was intended to be a prospective release for Elektra. After Delaney & Bonnie had a falling out with Elektra, Atlantic had them record the material in a proper studio. They were looking for a more radio ready version of the album so Delaney & Bonnie and their friends ended up doing almost all of it over again.

Even with the refinement that the studio did provide the record has a true southern porch music. The songs are loose, and fly about concerned more with energy and vibe than with the kind of execution most of these musicians are best known for. On side A, it’s hard to not love Long Road Ahead, a Bramlett penned track (one of the few among traditional folk and blues cuts) that demonstrates in part why Eric Clapton was so drawn to their music. Delaney Bramlett had a vocal pitch and tone that was eerily similar to Clapton’s. That’s likely why when he heard their first albums (at the moment he heard Music From Big Pink) Clapton gravitated toward the duo and allowed their music to help guide his future. The song fits neatly among these gospel and country standards, while enjoying a singular quality that made it sit firmly alongside the music of bands like Blind Faith.

And then there’s no getting away from the soulful exchange between Bonnie and Joe Cocker on side A’s closer Talkin About Jesus. It’s the basis for almost every stomper on Mad Dogs that would follow.

The record is a well-balanced affair, seamlessly mixing cuts from both the living room and the studio together in a manner that’s cohesive and natural. Many years later outtakes of the record, those cut in the living room as well as in various hotel rooms on tour, emerged on CD version of the record. They further expand upon how effortless these impromptu sessions were for such a seasoned group of musicians. The entire recording experience captures a fantastic rock moment.

In that spirit, Run Out Groove Records has rereleased the album on 180h black vinyl. This is the first reissue of the record on vinyl since its original ATCO release in 1971. What really sets the record apart is the care given to the quality of the entire product. Lacquers were cut at Sam Phillips Recording Service in Memphis. The vinyl was pressed at Record Industry and packaged in a gatefold tip-on Stoughton sleeve. And the album cover here changes, picking up art that was used in France alone. It’s a first rate offering, equal in weight to the music that it houses.

By 1972, Delaney and Bonnie had parted both personally and professionally. Some in turn consider this their best work. In that regard, the single Never Ending Song Of Love did chart, peaking at #13. But churning out hits never seemed to be the intention of this record or this act. Instead, the music they made celebrated a moment in time. One that they helped define and one from which their music can be quickly traced back to. Motel Shot is a celebration of American music made by people who all cut their teeth on the gospel, country, and blues they heard in the towns and counties they called home.