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Bobby Whitlock Talks About Derek & The Dominos, Duane Allman, Gram Parsons,

Eric Clapton and more...

by Mitch Lopate

GRITZ: I see you released a new album on the Grapevine label, and it's called "It's about Time." Tell me (about) "It's About Time," Bobby. WHITLOCK: Well, it's not a double or a triple, but a quadruple entendre. It's about time I had some product out; it's a song about, it's about time that we changed things and made this world a better place to live. The song speaks for itself. That's pretty much it; you just really have to listen to the song and the lyrics to understand what it's all about, because it is all about "time," and it's gonna be recorded in one century and released in another. So it's a whole time frame - I wrote it the day before we bombed Saddam Hussein, okay? -

"and the children crying in the streets,

sons and daughters dying at their mothers' feet,

it's about time

to be set free,

it's about time,

it's our destiny.

Sooner or later, we're gonna get along.

Sooner or later, we're gonna sing a song

of peace.

Lovin' your fellow man,

As far as the eye can see.

Hand holding gentle hand,

It's About Time. So that's the essence of it.

Interesting, 'cause I'm gonna tie that back into a song you wrote about 30 years ago when you were talking about being aware of time, as a young man. A friend of mine that I was talking to that's a guitar player, Peter Young, that's gonna play with me, just yesterday: I've always known, when I was even a little child, what I was gonna do, and about incarnation and reincarnation. I've always been aware of this thing - I've discussed it with my wife, Vivian, and everything - I've always known what I - that this was my destiny. I've always known this. I've never had any aspirations of being president of the United States, or senator, or anything like that, or owning a shipping company. I've always known this, and I've always known that all the changes that I'm going through and I've gone through, have led up to this point in time in my life. Peter said, "That's pretty amazing!" (laughs).

So you've always known music was your medium. Even when I was very small, less than three feet tall. I've always known, and I've always known that I would be in this position, and I've always known this. I've never forced it--it's never been a forced issue. My uncle Troy told me - he's dead now - and he played flat-top guitar and mandolin - he said, "Do it because you want to, not because you have to, and it will make sense," and that whole thing just brought it to light to me. This was when I was real young, because you can't go out and do what I do to make money, because then you won't make money. Money is just the aftermath - it follows you. My whole thing is like I have something to say; there's so many ways to say "I love you." There's been--how many times has the song been written? and it's a different song every time, but the same message. But it's kinda like I'm a faucet; a spigot, rather, a water faucet that turns on, and all of these things are in the air, all of these ideas and melodies and messages are in the air. I'm one of these people that are channeled in that area, that is attracted to (this). I have this ability to just say things and sing things and play things that just strike home that are real natural. I don't mean that in any other way - there are people who are destined to be directors of companies and there are people who are destined to be great golfers; I'm destined to be projecting this message and sing the way I do.

One of the songs from the Layla box set, and one of my favorite songs that you helped co-write follows this: "Tell the Truth," which is just what you've been saying. Yeah, that came to me one night. I was at Eric's house; (I) stayed at Eric's for six months and then we got a place in town - we called it "the Domino flat." It was 'hell on wheels,' I'm telling you, we were a terror. But we were young and out of control. It came to me: the whole world was shaking, and it felt like it. The whole thing came to me, and I made up chords. It was an open 'E' but everything was backwards. Eric helped me on the very last verse, and I just wrote the whole thing that night - it just came to me - "the whole world's shaking, can't you feel it? A new dawn's breaking, I can see it." And there was a new dawn, and it was a new dawn in my life, and there was a new dawn in that it was a new day.

That's great. So you've been very much aware of what's going on in the world and changes we've been coming through - to the millenium - I think more people are becoming more aware than people are becoming afraid and leery. They understand that there's a humanity that needs to be involved in this whole life process and concept. I believe that more people are becoming more centered, spiritually and moralistically. I believe things are turning around - I know I am. I know that I'm changing, that I'm growing, and that I have grown. I would hate to turn around and suddenly, I'm 92 and never experienced this whole life process.

Back to your early years, when you were younger, and you knew you were going to become a musician - was part of that because you were born in Memphis and you were so much steeped in the Memphis sounds? (thoughtfully) No. Like, when I was real, real little, it was just a part of me--it was in my soul, and in my spirit. I sang all the time. I always knew it - I'm talking about real little, like a little bitty boy. Not eight (years old), but smaller. I just always knew it! I mean, I chopped cotton and picked cotton, rode the back of bean planters and stuff as I was growin' up out in the country, in Arkansas. But I always knew that I was goin' to do - it was in my spirit. It was the heart of me. I always knew this. It's nothing I set out to do - like I just didn't suddenly turn 15 years old and decide to play. It's something I've always done: sing and sittin' down and playin', it came as a natural thing to me.

What did you start out (playing) first - was it guitar or was it keyboards? It was guitar! My grandmother, "Big Momma" King, used to sit me down on her lap when I was about three or four years old, and had this old National dobro. It had hula dancers on the front and on the back, and she'd sit down and play me (softly sings gospel-style) "turn your radio on, get in touch with Jesus." She had long hair down to the ground, and she gave that guitar to me when I was about 14, and I immediately sprayed it black. Then it got lost, over the years. Then someone, a girl named Genya Revan, who was with 10-Wheel Drive, called me one time, out of the blue, and said, "I have something that belongs to you." I left it with her in New York, because I knew it was going to get lost in the shuffle. As it turns out, I got the guitar back and I restored it. I put her name on top of it, inlaid it - after all those years!and I played it on the record (the new release).

Speaking of guitars, I want to skip to a song that you're known for, off the Layla album - it's the last one, "Thorn Tree in the Garden." Who is that about? You don't know what that was about? No, but I sure would. I know what your lyrics say, but it seems like everybody was! No, there's not very many people - I've only told this story - one time. I don't think that anyone would believe me, but I'll tell you: it was about a dog - a little dog that I had. I used to live at the Plantation - remember the song, "Shoot-out at the Plantation" that Leon Russell wrote? There was thirteen of us: "Indian Head" Davis, Jimmy Karstein; there was a bunch of us living in this house in California. And I had a little puppy that I named after Delaney's daughter, Bekka Bramlett. So I had a little puppy and a cat, and I was one of thirteen people that was living in this house in the Valley. This guy - I'm not going to give his name because I think that would be inappropriate - said, "You need to get rid of these animals, we can't have--there's too many people in this house at the same time, anyway. There was Chuck Blackwell, who played drums with Taj Mahal; I mean, there was thirteen of us living in this house! And so I got rid of the cat; I took it out to Delaney's house in Hawthorne, CA, and left that with Delaney and his mom out there. When I got back, I wasn't going to get rid of my dog, Bekka, but I got back and this guy had taken my dog away, and it really upset me. Rather than doing anything physical or anything like that because it really hurt me emotionally, I was thinking, well, 'a snake in the woodpile,' this and that; then I went, no: 'thorn tree in my garden.' And so I wrote the song, sittin' in my bedroom and the "thorn tree in my garden" was this guy who had disposed of my dog. And the song is about my little dog, and he was the thorn tree in my garden. It's not about a woman or anything; it's about love.

For a favorite pet - that's really nice. Speaking of Delaney Bramlett, how did you two guys meet? played all the clubs in Memphis and in the South during the mid-'60s, and everybody came - I was the first white artist signed to Stax records, on their "Hip" label - their so-called "pop" label at that time. I hung out with Steve Cropper, my mentor and a friend to this day; "Duck" Dunn was my first producer. I was there when the Staples Singers did "Long Walk to D.C." and Albert King did "Crosscut Saw" - I was in the studio. Every time that Stax was open, you used to go down on McLemore (street) and not worry about being killed - I was there! Every time the doors opened, I was there - it opened at 9:00 a.m.; I was there at 8:30 a.m., and I stayed all day and night. I watched them do "Hip Hugger" and "Slim Jenkin's Joint" and everything like that. And then I used to go out on the road with Booker T. and the MG's. I went to Lanskey Brothers and got a lime-green suit - the collar went out to my shoulders - and I sang when Isaac Hayes and David Porter quit goin' out on the road with the MG's, I would go out and sing out in front and do all the Otis (Redding) songs and stuff. So, I was hooked up like that. Well, "Duck" Dunn discovered Delaney and Bonnie in a bowling alley in Hawthorne, CA., and he brought them to Memphis. It was the second album - it was the first record - but it turned out to be the second album, done in Memphis. He brought them to one of these clubs I was playin' called the Cabaret Club - now it's a tuxedo shop - but I played all the clubs: The Louisian' Club, Paris Theatre - everything! At the Paradise - I'd go down to the Paradise and I'd be the only white person there. In a sea of black folks, I'd be the only white person at the Paradise, and not afraid or threatened or anything. Everything was copacetic then. It all changed when Martin Luther King, Jr. got killed. But "Duck" discovered Delaney and Bonnie in this bowling alley and brought 'em to Memphis. They came down - everybody would come, like Eddie Floyd, and Cropper, and "Duck," and they would all come and sit in with my band. All I did was soul music, and Booker T and the MG's stuff, and I did "Expressway to your Heart," remember? and Young Rascals stuff - that's all I did. If you didn't know how to play "Midnight Hour," I wasn't gonna be bothered with you. I never had heard Eric Clapton or nothing; I didn't know nothing about no Cream or anything like that. I wasn't interested in all that diddley-diddley stuff, and pink hair and everything; I was like strictly into rhythm and blues. He ("Duck") brought Delaney and Bonnie to hear me one night - it was a Thursday - and they heard me and said, "We're gonna put a band together. Would you like to come to California?" I said, "Yeah!" and I was gone on Saturday. I just packed my doo-wah diddy bag, and I had my Nehru jacket on, and got off the plane in California, and I ain't never been nowhere, except to Macon, GA., with the MG's, flying - that's the first time I ever flew. I went to California and you know, things changed (chuckles) big time (laughs).

I'll say. I know the album you're talking about; that's the "Home" album, the one they called "Home." Yeah, well, it's the second album, but it was really the first one that we recorded. The first album released was "Accept No Substitute," and that was on Clive Davis's label, Electra.

I have both of those; they took me a while to track 'em down, but they were worth the effort - you're right, that's full of rhythm and blues and soul. Yep, that's who was playin' on it - it was the Stax guys. We did it all down at Stax. As a matter of fact, I still got my jacket off that Electra album, I still got that coat. That's the only piece of memorabilia I have, really. It's got Leon Russell - we did "Ghetto" - boy, it's a real, real good record.

It's definitely one of the nicest things I've heard. Jumping ahead: now you're in England with Delaney and Bonnie as part of their Friends, and you're on tour with Eric Clapton. Whose idea was it, on the inside jacket picture, to have you guys walk through the desert carrying all your gear? Barry Feinstein - the guy who did all the photography. We went out in the desert - you remember a guy - I can't believe I remember - Albert Grossman - he managed The Band - that was his Rolls Royce. And Barry's feet (hanging out the window). We went out to the Joshua Tree. Gram!

Parsons. He discovered Delaney and Bonnie - we were playing in Snoopy's Opera House; five dollars a night, five nights a week. He's the one who connected us with everybody - really, Gram did. But that's Barry's feet hangin' out, and Albert Grossman's Rolls Royce. We just went out there and was walkin', and it just happened, it was one of those things - we went out to the Joshua Tree, where that boy - his road guy took him out to the Joshua Tree after he died.

I was wondering, because I noticed everyone's carrying gear but Delaney! ( laughing) Is there a common denominator there or what?

That's why I kinda wondered, who set up the shoot, because I figured in the desert, it must have been hot and dusty. I see Eric's carrying an electric guitar case! And I'm carrying a guitar - he's got mine, and that one was his.

That album is one of the most exciting live albums I ever heard. (matter-of-factly) We moved fixed stages. You gotta figure we had Jim Gordon, Jim Keltner; both of 'em on drums, we had a guy named Tex (Johnson) on congas, Bobby Keys, Jim Price, Leon Russell, Rita Coolidge, Delaney and Bonnie, myself!

Dave Mason! !Eric Clapton, Dave Mason, and George Harrison - I mean, that was one serious, serious band! We were a tough act to follow - we opened up for Blind Faith in America, and we were shuttin' 'em down. We were getting front-page reviews, and that's where we met Eric. I mean, we were blowin' them away. They were doin' "Can't Find My Way Home"; they had Stevie Winwood in the band, and Ginger (Baker) and Rick Grech. See, we befriended Eric - he couldn't believe our camaraderie - we always hung out in hotel rooms and stayed up all night, playin' guitars and singin' and raising hell, telling people to go to sleep and quit bangin' on the walls (laughs). But that was our nature - we'd do it on the airplanes, we'd sing on the airplanes and stuff, that was our nature. Eric really loved that camaraderie, and he wanted to work with us. Delaney - I remember standing outside - we were in Maple Leaf Gardens, in Toronto, and we played there, and we were lookin' at Blind Faith, because we opened up for them. He said - he was lookin' at Eric - "What do you think about him playin' with us?" I said, "I think it would be great - he's a great guitar player, but he's gonna have to do somethin' about them pink pants!" (laughter). That's kinda how it went.

Oh, no! (laughing) This is true. And then I went through my tenure with the whole Delaney and Bonnie thing, and we went all over the world - I mean, it was a great band, a great thing that happened, and I learned a lot. I kept my mouth shut, except when I was singin', and my ears and eyes wide open. When it came down to doin' it, I couldn't be with Delaney and Bonnie any more 'cause they were fussin' and fightin' all the time. Everybody had been goin' through drugs and doing all that shit. I called Steve Cropper - I had married an old girlfriend and we were living across the street from Delaney and Bonnie, and they were fightin' with each other - it was just awful. I called Steve Cropper and said, "I gotta get out of here; I'm hooked up with a woman who wants me to go back and chop cotton and drive tractors, and I can't do that!" And he said, "Why don't you go over and see Eric?" I said, "I don't have any money!" and so Steve Cropper bought my airplane ticket, and I had $120 in my pocket. I called Eric and I said, "Hey, man, do you mind if I come over and visit for a minute?" He said, "No, come on over, I'm just getting my hair cut." Little did he know, I showed up the next day, and that's really how it happened. So, (Steve) Cropper gave me the advice to call Eric, and also bought my airplane ticket, and my first wife's ticket back home. I gave him credit on my album (laughs): thanks for the advice. Thanks for the advice and the ticket, Steve! (laughter.)

That's really kind of you. I see by the liner notes off the "Layla" box set, that you, with Dave Mason, who was an original member of the early Dominos; you were looking to have a Sam and Dave type of approach to the band. That was my idea - that's what I figured out how to - I was kind of a fire under Eric's ass as far as it was, vocally, 'cause he wasn't real secure with his vocals. His first album, as a matter of fact - we did the "Eric Clapton" album, with Delaney and Bonnie and Friends - but Delaney sang all the songs and Eric just came up back behind him and sang exactly what Delaney had sang. Delaney put everything, all the vocals down and Eric came back behind and just put 'em down, exactly like (sings softly): "I'm lovin' you, lovin' me, it's all the same!" Eric was real insecure vocally. He's more secure now, but he ain't Otis Redding, but I mean, he's a good singer. But I put a fire under his ass, and it was an option that I took, just to - our band was open - we didn't want no chicks, and no horn players, we wanted a four-piece rock 'n roll band, and we did it, and I chose to it like Sam and Dave. He'd (Eric) do a verse, I'd do a verse, we'd do one together, we'd do the things together, I was doing harmonies and all that, so that's how that all came to light.

I love, for example, on "Tell the Truth"! I was doin' my 'John Lennon' low harmonies. That was my John Lennon stuff. John Lennon would do a lower harmony under Paul (McCartney), and I would do that kind of a thing. It was whatever the song called for and dictated, is what went down. Sometimes, the best part is no part at all.

You did it also on that Chuck Willis song, "It's Too Late" - you came in right behind Eric, also. That's right. It's just whatever it felt like, whatever it felt was right. That's what went down. We all trusted each other enough - we were professional enough to let each other have room, and space, and I believe that's true, at this point in time in my life: Hey, am I gonna tell Jim Horn what to play? (laughs). Am I gonna tell Steve Cropper what to play? (laughs). No, I'm not! I'm gonna leave it to their good judgement, 'cause they know - they hear it - they see the 'big picture.' I mean, I see the 'big picture.' If I'm doin' something with someone else, or for someone else, I know what my part is. Just like I said earlier, sometimes your part is no part at all. You can always make up something, but then that 'something' just very well may not be the one that sinks - that goes in the hole. I think, "less is more."

Now we're up to the time period when the Dominos have begun to jell, and you're in the Criteria studio in Florida. I saved the original Layla album jacket from 30 years ago. Inside, there's a picture of a handsome-looking guy wearing a bandana, with his arms folded, a white shirt, hair tucked back over his ears, looking confident, like he owns the world - there you are. Yeah, I was feeling real confident about everything. I mean, we were in there, doin' it. I told Tom Dowd - I got the idea from him when we did George Harrison's "All Things Must Pass" album - that album is just Derek and the Dominos with George Harrison and sundry guests. We were a constant - we were a mainstay of that whole album. Phil Spector was so funny in the control room; man, they really needed to have the whole thing running in the control room. And, plus, we did the "Apple Jams." When we got to Miami, I told Ronnie and Howie Albert, and Tom Dowd, "If anybody walks in, it's just tape; just turn it on!" - whether it's Eric by himself, or me and Carl (Radle), or whomever it may be, just turn the tape on. So that's how we wound up with all those jams and everything.

You have four or five long jams on that box set. (enthusiastically) Oh, big time! When we were doing the band, we would play in 'E,' - just 'E' - (laughing) for hours and hours and hours down at Eric's house, and we had a complaint from a neighbor: Can you guys change the chord? (more laughter). Just change keys, please! (laughter).

That's great! I'm thankful the LP photos are in color, because there's a great color shot of you with your arms around a very special guy: Duane Allman. Yeah!he was my bro'. His brother (Gregg) had gone to California, and was doing that Hollywood thing. Duane and I, we were close; see, I knew Duane before I knew Eric or anything. Duane and I had been mates for years - we were friends for years.

He also played on "Motel Shot" and "To Bonnie from Delaney" with you, with Delaney! That's right - so he went back a long ways with us, you see. It was just one of those coincidental things - they (the Allman Brothers Band) happened to be playing down in Florida. It all evolved - Tom (Dowd) wanted him there, and I wanted him there, and he was excited about this Eric Clapton-thing. Eric had never really heard about the Allman Brothers, or Duane, or anything, but when he walked in, boy, it just really completed the picture. We were in the middle of recording at that point in time, and then Duane came in and it was just like - brilliant. He was my - I was his 'little brother,' he'd say, 'cause Gregg was off in Hollywood. But Duane and I, we were - we were womanizers!

Oh, no! I'll put it to you like that (mischievous laughter). I think that's as gentle as I can be with that! (more laughter). We were on the phone, and Macon, Geoirgia was busy in Miami! (laughs).

You told me that Gregg is godfather to your daughter. That's a fact!

He was there at the hospital - tell me about the story. I had moved to Macon, after the Dominos and all that. I went down and talked to Phil Walden; that's when I started my Capricorn (label) tenure, and I moved down to Macon. When my first child was born - my daughter, Ashley - she has writer's credits on one of the songs, "Born to Play the Blues" - that's another story - and also is singing on the album that's coming out here in the new year - when she was born, my first album with Capricorn came out the day my daughter came out. (laughs) I was in the waiting room and Gregg came walkin' in with a six-pack of Heineken, sits down and says, "I knew you was by yourself," and he sat with me. We heard when my baby was born, and he's my daughter's godfather.

That was "One of a Kind" (1975); is that correct? That would be it. It's one of a kind. She's my only daughter, and she's gorgeous, and sings, and is so talented, and so is my son, Beau, as well as my son, Chris, and my other son, C.J.

That's wonderful. Thinking back to Duane for a second, there's one of those jams, the last one, #5 - you guys go on for 18 minutes, and Duane does some marvelous sawing away with that bottleneck - I swear to God he's sawing away at the strings!you guys had a wonderful time on those long ones, those long jams. That's what we did. If you listen to that album from front!from the start to the end, everything is exactly where it was and how it came about. There wasn't a positioning of 'this song comes here, and this song is gonna be placed in number five (slot)' - it was exactly how it went down. Everything is exactly how it went down. When we went back and we had room for another song, Eric said, "We got room for one more song." I mean, we didn't have enough songs for--we didn't have enough material for one album, much less a double album. I went out and wrote some lyrics in the middle of the whole thing, on "Keep on Growing."

Great song! Yeah, we used to do that as a jam. We had another jam that we used to do called the "Airport Shuffle." But "Keep on Growing" was a jam, and we just put it down. They were gonna trash it - I said, "No, gimme a second. Gimme a pen, and 20 minutes." And I went out into the lobby of Criteria and wrote the lyrics and went back in and tried to sing it, and it wasn't for me to sing, but Eric and I could sing it together, perfect - it worked out perfectly. But I wrote all the lyrics in, like, 20 minutes. (sings in a husky voice) "I was standin'!" - you know, that whole thing, it just all came out. I said, "No, we can't trash this song!" And so a lot of that went down as we were there! Next thing you know, we were going in and Eric and Tom Dowd said, "We've got room for one more song," and they said, "Bobby, would you like to put something on here?" I said, "Well, this is kind of a 'love' album', and so that's when I said, "How about 'Thorn Tree in the Garden'? Tom Dowd, in Producer magazine--one time, I read an interview, he said that (song) is perfect stereo recording: with the voice, and the bass, and Jim Gordon with the little bell, and the guitars: Duane and Eric, and myself - he said that is the epitome of a perfect stereo recording. And that comes from the man! - Mr. Dowd - and I felt real proud about that. So, they closed the album with it, 'cause it was the last thing that we did. I'm real proud about all of that; I feel real good about all that I've done, what I've accomplished, maybe the lives that I've touched, and the changes, and maybe a difference, in a little ways, somewhere or another, you know? As a matter of fact, there was a party that was goin' on, and this was in Columbus, OH; it's got that university there. These people had a party for me after one of my shows. And so I went to the party, and I had to catch a plane, and I said, "I've got to go," and they said, "No, you've got to wait - you need to wait, there's somebody coming to see you." I was getting ready to walk out the door when this man and woman walked up. They said, "We've just got to say 'thank you.'" And I said, "Why is that?" See, I never really knew about what kind of impact that we, as writers and artists and singers and players have on the world. They said, "We've just got to say, thank you." I said, "For what?" They said, "Thorn Tree in the Garden." He said, "I was just getting ready to leave my wife - I walked out the door - I was walking out the door and the song came on the radio. I turned around, and we were arm-in-arm." I said, "Thank you very much, I'm flattered," and he said, "You don't get it," and he went, "come here, boys!" And there was two curly-haired, red-headed kids come walking up; two boys, they were twins. He said, "Without you writing that song, I would have never been with her and we wouldn't have these children, and we have a good life." Suddenly, I knew that I had a role in this world, and that it was an important thing that I'm doing.