Lost in Harrison’s rush to tell a tall tale was the person who may have actually written much of My Sweet Lord and who had already allegedly been cheated out of not only song credit but a massive amount of royalties: singer-songwriter Delaney Bramlett.
When George Harrison took the stand in a New York City courtroom in January 1976 to defend himself against charges that he had stolen a good portion of The Chiffons’ classic He’s So Fine and turned it into his biggest solo hit, My Sweet Lord, his memory of the song’s creation was admittedly foggy. But that did not stop him from spinning one hell of a yarn for the judge and jury.
Legal documents reporting on Harrison’s testimony reported that the former Beatle insisted that Billy Preston and a group of faceless musicians and backup singers had thrashed out an early version of My Sweet Lord while on tour in Copenhagen, Denmark. His testimony continued that a week later, Harrison and Preston had repaired to a London recording studio and, in a session that Harrison insisted he did not play on, created the basic musical structure of the song.
Harrison’s alleged fabrication did not impress anyone and the result was that The Chiffons prevailed and Harrison ended up paying $587,000 for his alleged theft. But while the payout put a legal end to the matter, the question of who really wrote My Sweet Lord remains a rock and roll conspiracy theory favorite.
And herein lies this tale.
Bramlett,with his wife Bonnie, parlayed a cool mixture of soul blues, country and rhythm and blues into a number of best selling albums during the mid 1960s. He met Harrison in London in December 1969 while touring the world with his all-star lineup, Delaney, Bonnie and Friends, which included the likes of Eric Clapton, Dave Mason and Billy Preston. Harrison was feeling the performing itch in the wake of The Beatles recent breakup, expressed a not too veiled desire to join the tour and Bramlett was quick to welcome him aboard.
Delaney Bramlett died on December 7, 2008 as a result of complications from gall bladder surgery. However, Rock Cellar Magazine contributing writer Marc Shapiro talked to Bramlett in a interview conducted for his book All Things Must Pass: The Life Of George Harrison (Virgin UK, St. Martins US) in 2000.
In excerpts from this exclusive interview Bramlett matter of factly dropped the bombshell that it was he that should have gotten the lion’s share of the credit for My Sweet Lord.
Mark Shapiro: It is rumored that the song My Sweet Lord came about during the Delaney, Bonnie and Friends tour in 1969. Can you describe the origins and details?
Delaney Bramlett: George [Harrison] came up to me one night after a show on that tour and said “You write a lot of gospel songs and I’d like to know what inspires you to do that.” And so I gave him my explanation.
I told him that I get things from the Bible, from what a preacher may say or just the feelings I felt toward God. George said, “Well can you give me a for instance?” He wanted to know how I would start.
So I grabbed my guitar and started playing The Chiffons melody from ‘He’s So Fine’ and then sang the words My Sweet Lord/Oh My Lord/Oh My Lord/ I Just Wanna Be With You…
George said okay. Then I said “Then you praise the Lord in your own way.” As it happened Rita Coolidge, who was on the tour, and my wife at the time – Bonnie – were sitting there and so I told them that when we got to this one part, they should sing “Hallelujah.” They did. We ran down the example a few times. George seemed satisfied. He said okay and that was the end of it.
DB: It had to be shortly after the All Things Must Pass album came out and My Sweet Lord was released as the single. I was surprised and not very happy about it.
I immediately called George up and told him that I didn’t mean for him to use the melody of He’s So Fine. He said “well it’s not exactly the same,” and I guess it really wasn’t. I could tell by listening to the song that he did put some curves on it. But I guess that didn’t stop him from being sued.
But you had to feel, at that point, that the words were largely yours and that you would end up with some of the writing credit and some of the royalties?
DB: That’s what I thought at the time.
But something happened to change that?
DB: I went out and bought the record and saw that only George was credited with writing the song. Now I was upset. When I saw that I was not credited I called George and said “George, I didn’t see my name on the song.” He promised me that it would be on the next printing of the record. So I let it slide, thinking he would make good on that. George admitted to me that the song, to a large extent, was mine. But I was never given credit for the song and I never saw any money from it.
It would have been easy for you to jump in with a lawsuit of your own. But you didn’t. Why not?
DB: George and I had been real good friends up to that point. And my feeling was that I did not want to give up my friendship with George for the sake of a song.
Did George feel the same way?
DB: No. We haven’t spoken since the whole My Sweet Lord situation came about. It makes me feel sad. There are no hard feelings from me. I believe, because we haven’t spoken in years, that he felt worse about it than I did. To this day, I just think that the whole thing was an oversight on his part. He just didn’t follow through with it.
But the whole My Sweet Lord situation did not end there, right?
DB: No. When the whole My Sweet Lord issue went to trial, I received a call from George and his lawyers. They wanted me to fly to New York to testify on his behalf. But I had a previous engagement for the time they wanted me and they couldn’t change the film so I couldn’t go.
So they got in touch with Bonnie, and she went and testified. And the irony was that even though Bonnie was sitting there with George and me that night, the judge considered her testimony hearsay and wouldn’t allow it. If he had – who knows. I might have had a case against George after all. But I still wouldn’t have done it.
Despite getting caught with his hand in the legal cookie jar, Harrison refused to admit any wrongdoing and was defiant in the wake of the court decision. “I don’t even want to touch the guitar or the piano in case I’m touching somebody’s note,” said Harrison. “Somebody might own that note so you’d better watch out.”
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