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Deborah Bonham and Peter Bullick discuss the deep blues of ‘Bonham-Bullick’

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From the beginning, blues music has been about feeling, about emotion, about transcending oppression, about righting wrongs and healing hurt through music. For most musicians that closely identify with the blues, it’s an indelible part of their makeup that can’t be denied.

Blues lovers and performers Deborah Bonham and Peter Bullick personify that notion on their self-titled LP, “Bonham-Bullick,” a multi-faceted blues album containing lesser known or obscure titles composed by a number of blues greats and some contemporary artists, including one from Maine.

Bonham and Bullick have been bringing the blues to fans in the U.K. and beyond with their band for more than 25 years. They knew they were destined to be together from the day they met in 1990 at the wedding of mutual friends. Peter supplied his band as a wedding gift and when Deborah got up to sing a song, he says “That was it, really, ever since that night.”

Bonham fell in love with blues music through her big brother’s band. The sister of Led Zeppelin drummer, John Bonham, and the aunt of drummer Jason Bonham, Deborah says she was inspired at a young age to do the homework and trace the music’s lineage back to the original singers and performers. A powerfully emotive vocalist, Bonham has a voice that inspires the listener to absorb the feeling conveyed in the song’s lyric.

Bullick, originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, was drawn to blues through the guitar and players like Peter Green, Paul Kossoff, Eric Clapton and Hubert Sumlin. He already had a reputation as one of the U.K.’s tastiest blues guitarists when Paul Rodgers of Bad Company and Free invited Peter, Deborah, and their band to back him on his Free Spirit tours of 2018 and 2019.

Bullick’s guitar work on this album paints a virtual blues panorama delivered with a stunning array of tones and textures. He says his preferred tools were his trusted Les Paul paired with vintage Marshall and Cornford tube amps, the latter a beloved British boutique amp no longer being made.

“Bonham-Bullick” contains seldom-heard songs originally recorded by blues greats like Albert King, O.V. Wright and Johnny Taylor but also more contemporary artists like Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees), Chris Wilson, Bernard Fowler (backing vocalist for The Rolling Stones) and Stephen Stills.

One of the album’s many highlights is “When It Don’t Come Easy,” composed by Patty Griffin, a native of Old Town. It’s a stop-you-in-your-tracks kind of song delivered with spellbinding vocals and guitar.

I reached out to Deborah Bonham and Peter Bullick to find out how the remarkable “Bonham-Bullick” record came together. The following interview aired in its entirety on the web-based jam-band station www.JEMPradio.com. It has been edited here for space.

The Maine Edge: Both of your backgrounds are steeped in the blues. What initially drew you to blues music and who were the first artists that really grabbed you?

Deborah Bonham: For me it was growing up with Led Zeppelin. From the age of 6 I was listening to everything they were doing and then tracing it back to the original blues players. Then I got into Motown, soul, funk, James Brown and everything else. Even before Led Zeppelin, when John was playing in various bands with Robert Plant, I picked up on all of that. My parents always had music playing – Mahalia Jackson, Billie Holiday, Etta James, it was with me at an early age.

Peter Bullick: It was the guitar riff and the guitar solo that first grabbed me. Also the solo from Bill Haley and the Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock,” Chuck Berry, and we had a load of Elvis stuff in the house. Then it was Peter Green with Fleetwood Mac, Paul Kossoff with Free, Eric Clapton with John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, B.B. King, and also Hubert Sumlin, the guitarist for Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. For me it was all about the guitar and how it could express the soul.

TME: On the Bonham-Bullick LP, you recorded songs from well-known names, but you dug deep to find some lesser-known titles. How did you go about choosing the 13 songs for this album?

DB: I didn’t want us to do an album of songs that other artists have already done to death. I wanted the band to do some classics but also some that are more obscure and more contemporary. A few friends got involved and we had about 100 songs at one point then I whittled it down based on knowing what we could bring to the song. There’s no point in doing a straight copy, you’ve got to bring yourself to it but you’ve got to keep the respect for the original artist.

TME: Deborah was it challenging at first to pursue a career in music with the sort of built-in expectations that come from having a famous last name?

DB: I think you’re absolutely right but I didn’t think about it at that time. I just knew that this was what I wanted to do. When those challenges started to happen it was quite shocking that people would have expectations about Led Zeppelin or John when it came to my music. He was my brother and I’m incredibly proud of him but at the end of the day it’s my name. The bottom line is I needed to do the name proud. If people expect me to do Led Zeppelin they’re going to be disappointed because that’s not what I do (laughs). It’s amazing when I think of how many times in my career people have thought that, you know?

I’m in a business where he had achieved the highest accolades one can obtain. Unfortunately with that high accolade came his passing. There isn’t a day that I don’t mourn for him and miss him. I’d rather he was here. I’m incredibly proud of what he achieved and I happily and openly say to people that Led Zeppelin is my favorite band of all time.

TME: One of the most powerful songs on the new album is “When It Don’t Come Easy,” written by Maine native Patty Griffin. She was born in Old Town, just a few minutes away from where I’m speaking to you now. Patty had been involved professionally and romantically with Robert Plant for a number of years. How did you come to choose her song for the Bonham-Bullick album?

DB: (laughing) That came from Robert. We’re very close and Robert knew what we were going to do and offered a few suggestions. Patty is a most incredible lyricist and songwriter and this one just blew me away. The lyric just resonated with me and that was the main reason we chose it. When I sang it the tears were coming to my eyes, it was so emotional what she’d written. We put it in 3/4 time and made it a bit more gospel-sounding. Peter’s guitar solo on that song really had the tears streaming down my face, it’s so beautiful.

TME: Another killer track is “Bleeding Muddy Water” written by Mark Lanegan, who sadly passed away a few months back. Did you know Mark?

DB: We didn’t but I absolutely loved his “Blues Funeral” album then I discovered he was working with (Led Zeppelin bassist) John Paul Jones. When I heard “Bleeding Muddy Water” I just knew what we could bring to it. As we listened back to the mix I couldn’t wait to send it to Mark. I wanted to find a way to get in touch with him through John Paul Jones or some other way when we received the news that he had passed away. We were pretty gutted over that. I think he was very much an underrated songwriter and solo performer.

PB: We recorded the song “The Changeling” by the Australian artist Chris Wilson. He had passed away from cancer a few years ago but we received a lovely letter from his widow and daughter.

TME: In 2018 the two of you went out on the “Stars Align” tour with Paul Rodgers, Jeff Beck and Ann Wilson. Peter, was it a little nerve-wracking to play guitar with Jeff Beck so close by? And Deborah, the same question for you regarding Ann?

DB: (laughs). Just a lot! I had to go out every night with Ann Wilson at the side of the stage. She’s one of my go-to influences, just the most incredible vocalist. I grew up listening to “Dreamboat Annie,” “Little Queen,” and “Barracuda,” I just love the music of early Heart. Then years later this opportunity comes up and there she is and I was a complete dork (laughs). I went up to her and could barely speak but she was so generous and so beautiful to me. She put her arms around me every night and couldn’t have been more lovely. Pete, were you nervous around Jeff?

PB: Jeff said he was incredibly nervous (laughter). Really, Jeff is probably in the top 3 on every guitarist’s list of favorite guitarists. He’s so unique and in a category of his own that he’s never battling for position with anyone. I kept that thought in my head which might have kept the fear at bay because I knew I was never in danger of a comparison. By the way, if you ever meet Jeff Beck in person, don’t talk to him about guitars or strings or plectrums or anything like that. He’ll steal your woman, drink all of your beer and leave (laughs).

Last modified on Wednesday, 20 July 2022 07:21

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