An Interview with Susan Lanier - Bramlett: The BLUES lets you know you're not alone on the "down" part of the ride

SUZE LANIER-BRAMLETT has been on stage since the early age of 11, when she won Best Young Actress in Dallas, starring in the play “Winnie, The Littlest Witch.” Her one woman show, “SWAMP CABARET” has been playing to packed houses in the LA area. The recent release of her new CD, “SWAMP CABARET,” integrates her love for singing, songwriting, stand-up comedy & poignant storytelling.

Suze is an American film and television actress. Born as Susan Jean Engledow in Dallas, Texas to Gene and Dorothy (Lanier) Engledow, she moved to New York City to pursue an acting career in 1967 where she attended New York University. After appearing in numerous off Broadway productions, TV commercials, and indie films in which she appeared as Jean Lanier, she relocated to Los Angeles in 1974. Lanier's best known for her recurring role on Welcome Back, Kotter where she played John Travolta's girlfriend, Bambi. During the 1970s, she guest starred on shows such as Barnaby Jones, Electra Woman and Dyna Girl, Alice, Police Woman, Eight Is Enough & Switch. In 1976, she starred alongside John Ritter and Joyce DeWitt in the second pilot for Three's Company on ABC as Chrissy. In 1977, Lanier starred in the original cult classic, The Hills Have Eyes. Lanier also starred as Sandi Chandler on the television series Szysznyk from 1977 – 1978.

She was a series regular on Tony Orlando and Dawn's Rainbow Hour for a season on CBS doing stand-up and comedy sketches with the show's guests. She also recurred on the series Sha Na Na doing sketches with guest artists like Chuck Berry, Freddie Prinz, George Carlin, etc. Other credits include starring in the TV pilots: The 416th (w/Richard Lewis); Over & Out; & Wilder & Wilder. In the late 1970s, Lanier starred at The Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles in a production of Tennessee Williams' (né Thomas Lanier Williams, to whom, like actress Diane Ladd, she is related) The Night of the Iguana, which starred Richard Chamberlain. In the 1980s, Lanier had her own country-blues band and performed in the LA club scene integrating her original music material with her stand-up comedy. She wrote music with her future and present husband, legendary rock/blues artist, Delaney Bramlett, writer of "Superstar" and "Never Ending Song of Love" fame.

She has one son, Eric Dylan Thomas, rhythm guitarist for the punk band, The Dickies. She continued to act in movies of the week such as, Her Life As A Man and Madame X, A Man With Two Lives, and had recurring roles on TV in the soap, Days of Our Lives, and the sitcom, So Little Time with the Olsen Twins in 2001. She starred in 2003 in the Los Angeles theatrical production of "Last of The Honkey Tonk Angels" with Leslie Jordan (from Will & Grace). Presently, she enjoys collaborating songwriting with Delaney, including the song "I'll Be Satisfied" from his upcoming RISE UP album, and continues to be involved in theatre & film using the name Susan Lanier-Bramlett.

Photographer- Lanier became a portrait photographer for magazines, book covers, album covers, etc., and in 2005 was voted one of LA's top ten photographers by Backstage West.

Interview by Michael Limnios

Suze, when was your first desire to become involved in the music & who were your first idols?

My happiest childhood memories were at my grandfather's  (Thomas Lanier) house sitting on the old front porch in East Texas.  He had an upright piano on the porch and he would play and family & neighbors would come over & bring instruments and sing gospel & country songs.  It was heavenly.  He was poor & had no everyone would sit around and sing & tell wonderful stories.   He was my very 1st idol.  His best friend was Johnny Horton's dad.  Johnny Horton had a huge hit on the radio, "The Battle of New Orleans".  Johnny jammed on the porch with us a couple of times.  He was definitely an idol, as well as, Ray Charles and Bob Dylan.


What was the first gig you ever went to & what were the first songs you learned?

I was 12 years old,  and I had saved my babysitting money to go hear Ray Charles in downtown Dallas.  He was always my all time favorite.  My friend's mother had agreed to drive us to the concert.  Ray was a NO-SHOW that night.  I was heart-broken.   I learned "Georgia" and most of Ray Charles's material.  I loved Stevie Wonder, as well, and learned "Fingertips".  


What does the BLUES mean to you & what does music offer you?

The BLUES is written & sung from the heart and the soul, with no commercial motives in mind.   The artist is willing to express his or her pain whether it be a broken heart, hard times, a loss, or just sharing an experience or observation from the artist's point of view.   It's written organically and is pure.   The origins of the blues started as a way for the slaves to communicate with each other in the fields.  My late husband,  Delaney Bramlett, worked in those same Mississippi fields as a child, and was taught to play the blues when he was six years old by a share cropper named R. C. Weatherall.  Delaney wrote music everyday of his life, mostly starting each song with a blues feel. I, too, being from East Texas, came from the same influence.  Music offers me a way to never be bored or lonely...Delaney would say, "when you have nothing else, at least you got the music".... 


Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?

My favorite acting experience was starring in the play, "Night Of The Iguana" at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles with Richard Chamberlain, Dorothy McGuire, Raymond Massey and getting to work with the great, Tennessee Williams.  I love to work in live theatre.   My lowest point in my acting career was being replaced by Suzanne Somers in the TV series,  "Three's Company" in the role of Chrissy.  It nevers feels great to fail, but like the old saying, "What doesn't kill us, makes us stronger".  I believe that to be true.


I wonder if you could tell me a few things about the story of  “Little Miss K-BOX”

I had won an acting award in Dallas when I was 13 years old.  I was acting in a local theatre there called, Theatre Three.  K-BOX was the #1 rock 'n roll radio station at the time in that area.  They decided to have a teenager on the air to do high school dedications and to talk about school activities by someone the "kids" could relate to.  They offered me the job,  and it was a great experience.  I loved the music and loved being on the air.


What do you learn about yourself from music?

I learn something about myself every time I listen to music, no matter what type of music.  My mother passed away  last Spring and the other day, I had on some classical music in the house.  It was much too painful, and I had to change it.   I put on some Bonnie Raitt, and I soon began to cheer up.   Music makes me feel all the emotions that are in the human experience.  It can make me feel wild and naughty, sweet and innocent, sad and pensive; I could go on and on. 


Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?

Without question or hesitation, my most interesting period of my life was the 31 years (some off, some on) with my husband, Delaney.  There was never a dull moment with him.  He was always creating music, but also was fascinated and supportive of my career, too.   We wrote a couple of TV theme songs together...we were always working on one project or the other.  But, just simply living life with him was wild and wonderful.  He was by far the funniest person I ever met.  Humor and passion for living kept us connected.    


Where did you pick up your style, how would you describe your contact to people when you are on stage?

My style was influenced to some degree by Delaney, of course...some of it had to rub off.    I love to watch Amanda Palmer, of the Dresden Dolls.  She is SO theatrical and committed to expressing what is going on with her in the moment.  I loved Janis Joplin, and I listen to Bettye LaVette and Beth Hart. My own style evolved from the musical theatre, and my own country blues roots.  Also, I did stand up comedy on television when I was younger.  So, my performances are a combination of all of the above, and I love to make a connection with the audience on a personal level.  I combine story telling with music.  


What experiences in your life make you a GOOD artist, how do you want to be remembered?

Every life experience becomes a part of your art...some experiences more than others.  The painful things that have happened probably influence my own work the most, but the happy things that happen, like falling in love, also have a profound influence.   I would like to be remembered with a smile and a quiet thought:   "she could light up the room". 


Do you think that your art comes from the heart, the brain or the soul?         

I think art comes from God.  God is the INFINITE CREATOR.  When an artist is given the inspiration and talent to execute their art, whether it be music, dance, painting, whatever form, that is a gift, whether it's ever acknowledged commercially or not.  The sin is to ignore the gift. 


I wonder if you could tell me a few things about your meet with Delaney Bramlett

Delaney and I met in 1977 the night after he had seen me star in the horror classic, "The Hills Have Eyes".  He was with a friend, and said, "I'm gonna marry that girl"...I'm sure as a joke.  The next night, as fate would have it, I walked into the Troubadour in Hollywood.  He saw me and asked for my phone #.  The rest is history.  We fell in love the 1st night we were together.  And yes, later married.

Are there any memories with Delaney, which you’d like to share with us? Three words to describe him.

There are too many memories to write in an interview.  Our relationship spanned different eras of our lives.  We were young togther when we both had young children, had a break, then got back together when we were older up until he passed.  His passing was the hardest thing I have ever experienced.  It's been 3 years, but seems like yesterday.  Which leads to your next question....three words to describe him: Bigger than Life.  Full of Love.  A Musical Genius.


Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us.  Why do think that is? Give one wish for the BLUES

The BLUES is truly timeless and I believe, always will be.  The music form has not varied as much as some of the other forms, like rock.  The BLUES will be around just as long as people continue to "get the blues".  Life is a roller coaster with ups and downs, no matter who you are or where you live.  The BLUES lets you know you're not alone on the "down" part of the ride.


What’s your passion, what turns you on? What do you think is the main characteristic of you personality that made you an artist? 

My passion is creating.  I love songwriting, singing, performing, acting in films and  or the stage, and photography,...but I also love painting a wall in my home, creating a new dish to serve my friends, taking an old piece of furniture and doing something cool with it.  It's a rush that I get from the creative process, itself.  


The "Swamp Cabaret", how did this project come about, what characterizes your style?

I had a country blues band in LA in the 1980's.  It was great fun & I had a nice following.  I was playing venues like the renowned Palomino Club.  My son was young at the time, and it was hard to make enough money to live.  I moved on to photography for many years.  Delaney brought me back to the music about 10 years ago.  We started writing again.  I was asked to do a gig in 2007 , and Delaney encouraged me to do it.  My music, for the most part is Southern Country Blues...

My grandparents lived in the "swamppy" part of TX near Louisiana...thus "SWAMP";...and "CABARET"  because I love New York City and the theatre .  Cabaret is generally an intimate, smaller venue, art form.  It's live;  it's storytelling; it's music.  


What do you believe will be the turning point of our civilization?

As John Lennon said, "WHEN THE WORLD CAN BE AS ONE".    I don't know if that will ever happen...certainly not in my lifetime.  Even in the U.S. , the Democrats and Republicans grow further apart each day.  It's not about the good of the people anymore.  It's all about greed and power of certain entitled groups.   In the acting world, the box office stars make millions and millions of dollars for one week of work.  Whereas, an actor with a significant role, but not the "star", barely makes enough to support his family.   The system is broken so badly and seems only to be getting worse.   In the U.S., people are losing their homes, health care, money for education.   Music is the universal language.  Maybe it will be the one thing to help bring people together.


What do you think of CABARET & SOUTHERN ROCK music & how close are they to the BLUES?

The first cabaret opened in 1881 in Paris.  It was a place that people could go where they did not have to take off their hat; they could talk, eat, smoke.  There were no rules.     Cabaret is enjoying a resurgence, maybe because of the economy and people can only take so much of "reality TV".  They want an escape from "reality".  My show 2 weeks ago at the M Bar in Hollywood. was on the Saturday before Halloween.  People came in costume and drag.  It was fun and wild.  I combine mostly my original music, political satire, comedy, & storytelling.  That environment gives you a place to forget your own BLUES.   For instance, the song "SOUP KITCHEN" on my CD, "SWAMP CABARET" is about being broke, on the street, and having to eat in a soup kitchen, and is as bluesy as it gets.   Southern rock is just a derivative and evolution of the BLUES.


Media or talent plays the most important role for an artist to get discovered?

I really hate to say this.  I would have to say MEDIA, especially these days.  The biggest U.S. celebs today are Kim Kardashian, Snooky, Paris Hilton!  What talent?  THERE IS NONE.  They pay a publicist to get the name out; make a sex tape, and start making millions of dollars.   It's truly a horrible statement about the value system of our society. There are literally thousands and thousands of talented musicians, songwriters, singers in LA, Nashville, all over the world that are truly, truly gifted.  Without exposure, it means nothing, except for their own inner satisfaction and perhaps the enjoyment of their family and friends.  And to some artists that is enough, and that's not a bad thing.  Many people don't want to be famous or to deal with the price fame brings.  


Happiness is … attitude. I'm not sure I believe in happiness.  My goal these days is to have a "peaceful, easy feeling"...which is not always the case.  Don't get me wrong, I have happy moments, days, times, but internal peace has more meaning to me.  Finding peace comes with acceptance of what is, like losing the ones you love, getting older, watching the news.


How do you get inspiration for your songs & what musicians have influenced you most as a songwriter?

My inspiration comes from my own life experiences...what's happening to me or what I'm feeling at the moment. Delaney would comment often regarding his own songwriting, that  sometimes he would write about what was happening to him personally, OR he just might write about something someone else is going through.   Without question, Delaney influenced me most as a songwriter.  He lived to play music; he lived to write music.  He was writing a song the day before he passed.  I will never be the musician that he was.  But, I will continue to express myself through my own music as long as it continues to bring me fulfillment and enjoyment and maybe, just maybe it will bring enjoyment to somebody else out there who hears it.


What do you feel is the key to your success as a musician?

I have never thought of myself as a musician, per se.  I am more of an entertainer, really.  Success is a relative word.  Many people would say I have had a successful career.  To me, Bonnie Raitt, Adele, Aretha Franklin have successful careers.  Who knows what the future holds?  I'll just keep doing my "thang", and keep having fun doing it.  And I guess that's being successful.


Suze Lanier - Bramlett's Website




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