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Built to last: A conversation with Randall Bramblett

Randall Bramblett will play Hayesville March 30. Ian McFarlane photo Randall Bramblett will play Hayesville March 30. Ian McFarlane photo

At 76, singer-songwriter/keyboardist Randall Bramblett has been a musical artist most of his life. In recent years, a new outlook on not only what he does for a living, but also what it means to be human amid a life immersed in creativity and connectivity, has emerged. 

“Back in the old days, it was looking for whatever we could to get high and party — it’s not just a party anymore,” Bramblett said. “It’s more about respect, love for each other and awareness that we’re all not going to be here forever — it adds a depth to the music and the personal relationships that wasn’t necessarily there before.” 

That sentiment is something brewing in Bramblett’s mind as of late. More so when reflecting on the recent memorial in Atlanta, Georgia, for his longtime friend and collaborator Tommy Talton, a country-rock legend in his own right, who passed away last December.  

“I’m a better person than I used to be, with people and with treating the music with respect to my own creativity, my own soul,” Bramblett said.

In his younger years, Bramblett will admit to having somewhat of a reckless nature, where he would “blow through life” and it was more “about being free, so don’t even worry about anybody else.” Nowadays, he counts his lucky stars to be able to see through all of that as time continues to march on.

“I’m not abusing my spirit and my body anymore,” Bramblett said. “I just want to be true to myself and true to the music, to exploring — respect people and just be more aware of their feelings.” 

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Bramblett came up in the bountiful, vibrant southern rock scene of the 1960s and 1970s. It was a setting centered around Capricorn Records in Macon, Georgia, in an era where acts like the Allman Brothers Band and Marshall Tucker Band reigned supreme.

“It was a really fun and exciting time,” Bramblett said. “There was so much energy and experimentation — places to play and people to play with.” 

Raised in the small town of Jesup, Georgia, Bramblett started playing music at an early age. He eventually attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, graduating in 1970 with degrees in religion and psychology. Pushing further into his love of music, Bramblett found inspiration and solace through the words and tones of Carole King, Bob Dylan and James Taylor.

“James Taylor woke me up to songwriting,” Bramblett said.

Following college, Bramblett entertained the idea of entering seminary school, only to then be accepted into the prestigious Harvard Divinity School, But, Bramblett soon found himself at a personal and professional crossroads — choose the church or pursue his love of creating and performing music.

“They were both paths to expanding and learning — growing, really — which was something I was committed to,” Bramblett noted. “Even though I did love my religion courses, as far as devoting my life to more study, I decided I’d rather just play music.” 

Ultimately landing in Athens, Georgia, in the early 1970s (a place he still calls home today), Bramblett began making connections with other musicians and bands in the vast college town.  

“There was a lot of experimental music going on the in late sixties and early seventies — groups like Traffic [in England] and Colonel Bruce Hampton in Atlanta doing freeform jazz,” Bramblett reflected.

All of which would parlay itself into incredibly intricate jam sessions in Athens and beyond — profound moments of focus, clarity and connectivity in the sacred realm of live performance and improvisation.

“People were smoking weed and taking acid, things that opened people’s minds to the possibilities of trying to be free with music — seeing how far they could go with their consciousness,” Bramblett said.

From Athens, Bramblett wandered down to Macon where he would cross paths with Talton and his storied country-rock group Cowboy, who was under Capricorn Records. Those sessions would open up more doors for Bramblett to work with other artists on the Capricorn roster — Gregg Allman, Elvin Bishop, Bonnie Bramlett.

“There’s just such a mystery and a magic to [musical collaboration],” Bramblett said. “Sometimes magic happens between people and sometimes it doesn’t. When you’re making a record and playing around in the studio, you’re putting together this weird puzzle. When it all comes together, it just feels magical and rewarding — it has to be the right people, the right intention.”

Of all the people Bramblett has jammed, recorded and toured with, including the likes of Traffic, Bonnie Raitt, Gov’t Mule, Widespead Panic, Robbie Robertson and Steve Winwood, one name still sticks out — Chuck Leavell.

“[Chuck’s] just one of the great side men of all-time — he’s so focused,” Bramblett said.

A longtime member of the Allman Brothers Band and keyboardist/musical director of the Rolling Stones since 1982, Leavell found creative solidarity with Bramblett. This led numerous collaboration with Leavell’s famed, yet short-lived jazz/rock ensemble Sea Level throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s. 

“We had some good years [with Sea Level],” Bramblett reminisced. “But, Capricorn folded and we got lost like a lot of people [on the label] did. And the thing that came out of all that, for me, was the relationship with Chuck — we’re [still] good friends and played some gigs together recently.” 

With a new album of material due out later this year, Randall Bramblett is simply enjoying the mere fact that, even after all these decades, he still genuinely looks forward to getting up each day and exploring another corner of the mysterious musical universe — onstage or in the studio, on his own terms and in his own way.

“I get to play my music and I don’t have to worry about pleasing too many people or selling records,” Bramblett said. “I just do what I want to do pretty much, which is amazing.”

Want to go?

Randall Bramblett will hit the stage at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 30, at the Peacock Performing Arts Center in Hayesville.

Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $36.50 for adults; $31.50 for students, military and ages 65 and older; and $12.50 for children ages eight and under.

For more information and/or to purchase tickets, go to thepeacocknc.org, call 828.389.ARTS or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. 

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