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Did Delaney Bramlett Really Write 'My Sweet Lord' ?

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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.

George Harrison Eric Clapton Delaney Bramlett

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.
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.

Delaney Bramlett; 2008

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.

Eric Clapton, Bonnie Bramlett, Delaney Bramlett & George Harrison

When did you realize that George had actually taken your backstage example and turned it into My Sweet Lord?
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.”
(YOU DECIDE: IS “MY SWEET LORD” A RIP OFF OF “HE’S SO FINE?” CLICK THIS PHOTO-LINK)

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  1. Music, humor and a deer-man- I’m hooked! Looking forward to the next issue. Can I buy a hard copy for my waiting room?

  2. As it happens, I was married to Delaney and I have the original paperwork regarding the trial. Once again Delaney’s memory is somewhat clouded. This version he speaks of is quite different from the version he initially gave George’s attorney’s. It is not true. In the documented statement May 1977 Delaney is quoted as saying that a good example of some gospel music that he Bonnie and Bobby Whitlock (my husband)…would sing would be something like O Happy Day. A song that Delaney had produced for Dorothy Morrison. While George had heard The Original Delaney and Bonnie record and was interested in their music. He had begun writing his own gospel song upstairs after a show. He came downstairs where Delaney, Bonnie, Bobby, Billy Preston, Rota Coolidge and other band members were and wanted to know what they thought of his new song. Delaney says he likes it. They all began to jam..George began to vamp..singing “My Sweet Lord”and “Hallelujah “.. (Delaney tells George to say what he wants to say) Billy Preston started to play (the chords George had worked out) band members start playing tambourines.
    He says although the song was simple he didn’t think George would have or could have written it without him.
    (Delaney was prone to saying that about everybody)
    He States and I quote “At no time did it cross my mind that evening that the song George had started sounded like any other song I knew.”
    It goes on. The fact is that while George may have been influenced by Gospel Music he wrote the song himself.
    George was also very generous and handed the Rosewood Telex to Delaney which he sold for nearly half a million dollars.

  3. Bobby Whitlock claims that none of this happened. He was there during all the recording and played on All Things Must Pass.
    Incidentally Phil Spector produced “He’s So Fine”.
    Delaney did not want to go to trial because he would have had to swear under oath that what he then said was true.
    Which it wasn’t. He only wants credit for something he had no part of.

  4. All the background parts on My Sweet Lord came about on the fly after the recording . It was just Bobby (Whitlock) and George singing the background.

  5. Delaney has also claimed to have been at the All Things Must Pass sessions, he never was.
    And that he owned Duane Allmans Les Paul Gold Top (not true)…that guitar belongs to Scott Lamar “.

  6. By the way…He’s so Find is hardly a gospel song. The only reason they wanted Delaney at the trial was to confirm that he did not see any resemblance to George’s song My Sweet Lord.

  7. Delaney Bramlett is clearly a performer who generates a soulful,, powerful musical atmosphere around himself. In this way, he’s similar to George Harrison…. the large personality and talent. When you write all the time and play all the time, music is your life. It’s easy to feel proprietary about the actions you take in life, in this case, musical creation. Who had the idea first? George started singing it at some point and felt as if it was his emotion, his thought and his song, My Seeet Lord is a beautiful piece of music, performed in a unique way. The smilarity to the Chiffpons record is too big to ignore though… their melody found its way into his brain and he appropriated it for his own use… it’s obvious they got there first. Does that make it any less his? No! It’s his heartfelt, beautiful work and he’s got every right to claim it. BUT… He still needed to pay the person who wrote “He’s So Fine” in the first place…. Because it was definitely that writer’s idea. So he paid. As far as Delaney’s contribution… Unless you were in the room when it happened you’ll never know. Sounds like he’s a guy who says a lot of things, and some of them no doubt are true. This one may be, but really, who the hell knows. There’s an old saying…” Amateurs imitate, professionals steal. Musical evolution is a slippery, incestuous process.

    • John H Curry on

      I like this. I agree He’s So Fine is the basic melodic idea of My Sweet Lord. And Harrison did in fact think his lord was “so fine.” If Harrison stirred the memory of the Chiffons tune subliminally in the mind of his listeners then he’s communicating. Creating art. There’s a whole lot of difference between these songs that plagiarism laws ignore. I guess if you wrote He’s So Fine you might want some inclusion in the copyright and some remuneration and that’s O.K. But it’s not “stealing.” Art is a body of work shared by artists. My view anyway. Imagine the renaissance painters arguing over who “owned” perspective. I love your concluding sentence.

  8. So does anybody know if Delaney actually taught George to play slide which it says in Delaney’s Wikipedia page and pretty much nowhere else?

  9. George Harrison plays slide guitar on the Beatles classic Drive My Car. That was considerably before he was paling around with the Bramletts or even Billy Preston. Perhaps it was George who taught Delaney to play slide.

  10. And thank you, CoCo, wherever you are these days, for setting the record straight on all this. I still love Delaney Bonnie & Friends music and always will. But our generation has seen many times how foggy and unreliable are the recollections of our music heros as they try to remember who said what and who was sitting on the couch that night and where they were on what day as they traveled the planet giving concerts and staying up all night partying and imbibing and celebrating their fast-paced lives. Thank you, CoCo, for sharing the official transcript with us.

  11. But meanwhile… when is DB&Friends alumnus Eric Clapton going to settle up his royalties for Rita Coolidge writing the beautiful piano part to Layla and getting no songwriting credit for it? That would be a nice bit of old karma for Eric to take care of, the next time he’s thinking about auctioning off 200 of his guitars to charity.

      • No, Mark, Dirk is correct. The Layla piano coda was written by Rita as “Time” and Jim, who she was dating at the time “borrowed” it. Jim is credited on the record.
        And thank you CoCo for your insights. And for those that want to learn more about that period of time in music, I very highly recommend Bobby Whitlock’s Rock & Roll Autobiography.

  12. It only took 30 years for Pink Floyd to settle accounts with Clare Torry after ripping her off for Great Gig in the Sky.

  13. It’s good that the late Ronnie Mack,writer of HE’S SO FINE,got to see his song become a hit in ’63 before he died…..and a decade later his estate was paid by George Harrison for ‘borrowing’ his melody.Ronnie was a great songwriter.RIP