Layla, and Many Other Songs of Love
Bobby Whitlock Talks About Derek & The Dominos, Duane Allman, Gram Parsons, Eric Clapton and more...
by Mitch Lopate
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.
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
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?
We 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!
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!
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!
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."
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.
(softly) I'm glad to capture that story.
Isn't that a good story? That's the gospel truth. I hope these people read this article and remember it, and contact me. I wish I knew who they were, because they changed my life - they changed - those two people, and those two red-headed curly-haired boys, changed my concept of and my view of my perception of where I am in the scheme of things on this planet.
That's a great tribute, Bobby, I'm glad you got a message like that; that's wonderful. Let me ask you about two of your bandmates who can't participate for a number of reasons. I'm speaking of Jim Gordon and Carl Radle. I was very sorry to read about Jim's illness (author's note: paranoid schizophrenia - he murdered his mother during a psychotic episode and remains under heavy sedation in an institution) during the '80s - he was a marvelous, versatile musician. What's your take on Jim Gordon?
He had the heart of a freight train, and there wasn't nobody at home. He could play like a locomotive, but when you looked in his eyes, there wasn't nobody home. I told him he needed to get help. A long time ago, he said that he heard voices. I told him, "No, that's like, I go to the closet; that's that 'small, still voice,' that's called a conscience. He said, "No, I hear voices," and that was a long time ago. All the drugs and everything - maybe that part of the brain that assimilates things had gone because of all the heroin and the cocaine, and the morphine, and everything. Maybe he had done too much of it, the seratonin (level). Maybe he had eliminated his brain of being able to put things together; I don't know, it's just my philosophical thinking. I feel for his family - my heart goes for and to his family, and it's a tragic situation that he's in, but he put himself in there, and it's a choice that he made. He could have stopped doing those drugs and sought help, but he chose not to, and it cost him his life, it cost him the lives of all of his family members, but on top of everything else, it cost his mother her life. It's real, real sad.
I heard he could play non-stop - he just wouldn't stop drumming.
That's it! Like I've told you: like a locomotive, like a freight train. He's probably one of the most talented people that's in jail for the rest of their entire life for a major atrocity.
I was amazed that he only played keyboards on some of Delaney's albums - he never touched the drums (on some songs). Of course, he put the coda on "Layla."
That was him and me. You hear that real big-sounding thing; that was him, and you hear where it's real screwed up, that's me. So, Tom Dowd put both parts together - the piano coda. That's Jim and myself at the end of that thing. (earnestly) As a matter of fact, he did not write that - he did not write that. Jim Horn wrote that. Absolutely true, and that's a fact: I can attest to that. I'm a witness. Jim Horn showed him that - Jim Horn just did my album - and Jim said, "Lemme show you somethin', and I went, "Whoa!" - he did! I remember Jim Gordon and Rita Coolidge were livin' together up on some canyon, and I was stayin' in the house down below, and they were upstairs, and they were trying - Jim Gordon played me this thing, and they were trying to put it together, him and Rita. It turns out, Jim Horn actually really wrote that coda. Like I say, I'm tellin' you the truth, I'm a witness.
Another person: was Carl Radle an underrated bass player? I don't think he ever got the credit for what he could do.
No. He was a downbeat player, and I mean that in a positive way. He wasn't (sings a funky, popping bass shuffle) - he wasn't one of them upbeat, slap-em, back-em kind of a deal. He'd go over there and put his head down and stand in a corner, and just play and do the thing he was supposed to do - he was just right there on the money. I remember one time when we was playin' in Great Britain - it cost them a pound to get in - we didn't charge them anything - and we played this club that was upstairs - jam packed! I looked up at Carl and he had those round John Lennon glasses and they were just frosted over. It was steam from everybody that was in there (laughs). He was wild!.was absolutely wild, but a great player. A silent raver - I never saw him with a woman, never saw him with a man, never saw him with a woman. Then, one time I walked into his hotel room and he had six women in bed with him, and I said, "Awright!" (cackles of laughter). And he's layin' up there with a big shit-eatin' grin on his face! (more wild laughing). He had three on one side and three on the other. (gleeful laughter). (proudly) He had his legs crossed; it was just totally, totally too cool! (peals of laughing) I just opened the door, looked in, smiled, shook my head and closed it, and turned around and walked away.
That's great, that's great!
Lots of stuff I never told anybody; nobody knows this insight!
No, that's why I called you! (both laugh). By the way, your songwriting, and people covering you - did you know Buckwheat Zydeco covered "Why Does Love Got to be So Sad?"
Yeah, and he's too cool - that guy can really play a (Hammond) B-3. Vivian, my wife, got me a Buckwheat Zydeco thing, but it doesn't have "Why Does Love Got to be So Sad?" on it. But I've always wanted to hear that, and I haven't been able to get hold of it yet. But, that guy can really play a B-3, man!
I've heard him do that; I heard it back in the late '80s, and it took me a second to realize what he was doing. I recognized the melody; of course, it didn't have the guitar wash that we recognize.
He's a real player, man, he knows what to do on a B-3. Not a whole lot of people know what to do on a B-3: I can only say there are four people, like Jimmy Smith, Booker T. Jones, Buckwheat Zydeco, and me. That's the only four people I know that know how to operate a B-3, and I don't mean that egotistically, I mean that as a matter of fact.
Hmm, 'cause I was going to say, Gregg (Allman) plays a B-3.
Yeah, but Gregg has one that's all - he asked me one time, he said, "You get more sound out of one Leslie than I ever heard. Can you fix my organ?" I went in back of his organ and it's all the electric stuff - I mean, he had taken the guts out. I do it real natural. I can tweak it up and everything. Yeah, Gregg's a great B-3 player, don't get me wrong. He's one of my favorite - he's one of the soulfullest white guys I know.
But as you say, you feel more comfortable on that B-3, yourself.
I'm comfortable right there.
That's an interesting point you made about the sound of your organ - listening to the Dominos live CDs that I've got, as well as the studio material - you used to put out a tornado of sound; it literally swirled - it moved, and you could see it moving around - I could, at least.
Yeah, in your mind. On this album I've got coming out, I've got a 1959 Hammond B-3 that's never been played by anyone but myself, with two Leslies. I set one Leslie on one speed and one on the other. And on some songs, I put three organs on, which means there's six Leslies goin', and they're spread out, and you would never know it, unless I told you. It's the most awesome instrument - it's a powerful, powerful instrument. Not loud-like, but it's powerful: it's got a lot of dimension and depth about it. If you'll be gentle with it, it can be huge.
That's what you did. It's kind of like watching a genie pop out of a bottle in slow motion - how the cloud filters up out of the bottle!
Yeah, that's a good synopsis of it. What I do, I go in the back of the organ and work in the back side of it, go into it, and I get the most output out of the power amp, to where you don't overdraw out of the Leslies, and I change the vibrato and the tone sounds, but it's things that are like, personal things. I couldn't tell someone how to do it and they go do it and do it the same way - it would be like someone telling me how to tune a guitar. I wouldn't be able to do it like them. Except, Duane told me, "Just tune it like you play it. If you want an open 'E,' make an 'E' and tune it." (chuckles). That's how I learned to play slide, from Duane, and his technique. It's a personal thing: no one can get an Eric Clapton sound except Eric Clapton. I can go and get Steve Cropper's guitar and let him turn it on, tune it up, and put it the way he plays it, and I could put it on, and I would not sound like Steve Cropper. There's a touch!it's something that's real elementary!but ever-so huge.
Let me ask you about some people who have had the pleasure of working with you - a little name-dropping here: John Prine.
My buddy. "Slow Boat to China," and "Silent Night," "All Day Long" - I did a bunch of stuff for him.
Yeah, the "Great Days: The John Prine Anthology." You also worked with Steven Stills!
Yeah, "Down the Road." Yeah, as a matter of fact, he left me that thing - we were at Criteria again, and he left me that to mix - Ronnie and Howie Albert and myself were down there. There was one song, "City Junkies," that was a song that I have, that we were doing, and it wasn't called "City Junkies," it was called something else, and he took everything off and rewrote everything. Ronnie and Howie Albert looked at me and said, "He just ripped the song off, right in your face!" I said, "Yeah, that's okay, I don't mind" (laughs). He wound up leavin' me and those guys to finish all the vocals and mix the whole thing! Then I took it back to Colorado. So I was actually a producer on it, not just a player. Then he went up there, to Colorado, and did the number - changed everything around.
You also worked with Dr. John: "Sun, Moon and Herbs," you did the vocals in 1971.
Sure did! Aren't you good!
Yeah, I did a little research!
Yeah, it was Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger and myself. I could tell you something else that you don't know: I worked on Exile on Main Street. (sings) "I don't want to talk about Jesus, I just want to see His face!" Yeah, I did that, but it took them so long in those days - everybody was doin' dope; Keith would come in at 4 o'clock in the morning, and nod out in the middle of a solo - I'm not talking bad about him or anything like that, but I mean, you do things around everyone else's schedule, and Mick and I were sittin' out there, but they neglected to put me down as a credit on the album. Jimmy Miller was producin', Andy Johns was the engineer, and when I told Jimmy about it, he went, "Oh, no; man, I forgot!!" I went, "Hey, that's all right, 'cause I know." Bill (Wyman) knows; Charlie (Watts) knows.
You were also on Bonnie Bramlett's "Lady's Choice" (1976).
Yeah, that was a Capricorn thing - we sang a duet. You done your homework, haven't you?!
Well, one of the people who covered you is a favorite of mine: Mike Nesmith.
He did "Bell Bottom Blues," didn't he? Cher did "Bell Bottom Blues."
Mike has an album I like: "From the Radio Engine to the Photon Wing." Mike Nesmith covered you, George Jones!
George Jones, Tom Jones, Glen Frey!
Jeff Healy! Did you work with Jeff Healy? A very interesting guitar player, a heckuva guy!
Yeah, I did the "Hell to Pay" album with him. He explained his guitar playing to me: it's all a mathematical type of a deal for him. He can play straight-up; he can play with it hangin' on his shoulder, but he said, mathematically, it worked better for him with it on his lap. He's an incredible player. I took him around - I picked him up at his hotel room, in Memphis, and got up on the elevator, and he was comin' out his door, and I said, "You don't have a mind (someone to help him around) or you don't have someone! He said, "Nah, they just put me in here, and I found my way." He got in my car and he said, "This is a '73 Mercedes." I said, "What? How do you know that?!" (laughing). He said, "I can tell by the smell. This is an old 72-73 Mercedes." I said, "You're absolutely correct!" (chuckles happily). I took him to a record store - I called in advance and told them I was bringing Jeff Healy - he was opening up for B.B. King, down on the river. Jeff is the sweetest guy in the world. I called this record store down in Memphis and told them he's a 78 (record) buff - he's big on the old 78's. We went in - he could take a record - they had all of 'em down for him, so he could get to ('em) - pull it out, run his hand around the outside, his thumb across it, and touch the center of it, and tell you how many times it's been played, who it is, and what record company it is.
I just swallowed really hard!
This is true! I've seen it. When it came time to pay for the records that he got, he took it out, took his money out of his pocket - say it was $25-26 - he felt the $10, put that down, felt another $5, and a $5, and a $1 - I mean, he could feel it! And he was exactly right. When I walked him out on stage - B.B. King was down on Mud Island - he said, "What are we looking at?" and I said, "You got the Mississippi River on your back, and you got a sea of Afro's in front of you. Sixty thousand Afro's, and you could walk across, and you'd be right straight in downtown Memphis with a beautiful skyline." He said, "Thank you. Nobody ever tells me anything!" I took him out to eat - no one ever tells him anything or what it looks like - I find that amazing.
Me, too. Speaking of 'Kings,' let me change from B.B. to Albert, 'cause Delaney turned me on to Albert King in a big way. I understand you played with Albert King.
Albert - two weeks before he died - I was all bent out of shape about them rerouting my flight from New York down to Atlanta and back to Memphis, and I flew over, and I could see my house. I had to go to Atlanta, then come back to Memphis, and I was all bent out of shape - I told Vivian, "I can't stand this, why did Delta change (my flight)?" Nonetheless, I got on the plane, and there was Albert! I walked in, and he was right there. I sat down and we talked the whole way. He was goin' on, this was his last record that he'd done, at Gary Bell's place - it's now called "The House of Blues" - but it was the last record that he had done, and I always told Vivian, "You gotta meet Albert King one of these days!" and I said, "I guarantee you, the first thing he's gonna say, (drawls in a deep voice) "Ah known little Bobby since he coulda barely looked over the console!" (laughs with glee). And sure enough, I got on the airplane, and there was Albert, sittin' there in his bowler hat and everything, and all stretched out, and we sat there and talked, and he was all upset about what they had done to his last record - it turns out to be his last record. He was all upset about it - he said, "It don't even sound like me!" I wrote a song with a boy named Danny Green, called "Blues Man," and that was on the record, and that was one of the last songs he ever recorded. Albert - he was a big, tall guy - he couldn't read nor write, but he could count that money! We walked off the plane and Vivian was there, and I said, "Vivian, this is Albert King!" and he said, (drawls in a deep voice) "Ah known little Bobby since he was barely" - just like I said! (laughs).
Would you believe that he has a new release that's just come out with Stevie Ray Vaughn?
I wouldn't doubt that; it's probably the last session that Stevie Ray did (authors note: the session was in 1983), and that was done at Gary's studio as well. He had just come out of rehab, and he was havin' a difficult time, Stevie Ray was. He couldn't get the sound out of 13 amplifiers that he could get out of one. I mean, he literally had 13 amplifiers stacked up. He was havin' a real difficult time with everything - I talked with him about it and everything, down at the Peabody. He said, "Goddamn, Bobby, when I was druggin' and drinkin', it wasn't a problem: I just used one amplifier. Now, we're up to thirteen!" (laughs). Tryin' to look for that sound!
Bobby, let me go back in time for one second: were you on a Canadian train tour (with Delaney and Bonnie) about 1970?
Nah, as a matter of fact, I wasn't on that tour. That happened after I left.
I know some of the stories, and the cast was so good: Janis Joplin, the Dead!
I can tell you some stories about Janis Joplin and everything in the back of a limo, but not me with her - I won't tell those. Those don't need to be told, because those people are still alive, except for Janis.
A little more name-dropping, then I'm gonna jump back to your releases: Bill Graham?
Bill Graham was cool. He was a cool guy - you could walk into his office - he had a real small office - you could walk in, and up on the right was a Derek and the Dominos poster.
His autobiography, "Bill Graham Presents!" (Doubleday, 1992) is really funny. I'm looking through (it) and don't see any mention of the Dominos; of course, they mention the Fillmore West, where you guys played - actually, you played at both Fillmores, East and West.
Yeah, at the East, we did two nights in a row.
We were talking earlier, that there are two live Derek and the Dominos releases. One has the four of you guys leaning on the fence; that's the earlier one, and they (Polydor) just put one out about three years ago, called Live at the Fillmore, which has some alternate mixes that were not released. They were talking about how you guys went on and on - your piano was just rolling.
I'm real basic when it comes to piano - I'm real basic when it comes to anything. Singin', I'm basic - I sing the song. I don't do no hot licks or aerobatics, or acrobatics or anything with my voice. That (imitates vocal squeals) makes me all nervous. I just sing the song. No, it's all real simple. The first song I ever did on piano in a recording situation, the very first song I ever played piano, was on George Harrison's All Things Must Pass album called "Beware of Darkness."
Mmm-hmm, I know the song!
And it was just like, too cool: all of a sudden, a window - a door opened in my mind. It just happened. I listened to some of my early stuff with the Dominos, you know, like dink-dink-dink-dink; real sloppy but real basic, but real good and simple, no over-done things. I lost one of the tendons in my right hand and I told 'em, "Hook it up to the other tendon on my middle finger because I know me - I'll try to be playin' like Chuck Leavell, or something," 'cause I'll be trying to get fancy. Chuck's one of my favorite players, and he's one of my best friends. He's my tree-huggin' buddy. He's got a big thousand-acre tree farm down there!yes, he's a sweet guy, I love him to death.
Back to your work: you've got Bobby Whitlock (1972), which is hard to find - it's out of print, but you've got a couple of things there: "A Day without Jesus", "Dreams of a Hobo"!
"Dreams of a Hobo" is the very first song I ever wrote in my life.
How are we gonna find these things?
I think MCA bought it.
Interesting songs you've got here: "Back Home in England." You've got a real thing for England, don't you?
Yeah, but that was a song that I wrote in a dream. It came in a dream - I used to keep a tape recorder and a pencil and pad by my bed, and I was in California, and I dreamt that whole song, and I wrote it down and sang it - I woke up in the middle of the night and sang everything, right then.
Would you rather be living in England?
No, I have an affinity for that place, that's why I think I'm so comfortable down here in these hills in Mississippi. Everybody thinks of Mississippi as the delta land - it's not. It's all hills and hollows and rivers and creeks and streams and stuff around here. There is the delta, but I don't live in the delta. This looks more like England or Wales or something with trees. I'm surrounded by a national forest, and I'm out here by myself.
You also did "Where There's A Will, There's a Way." That's the best song on that live album (with Clapton), as far as I'm concerned.
(proudly) Thank you very much! I appreciate it. Delaney helped me with the very end of it. That song just came out of me - just fell out of me, as do most songs, just fall out of me. You know how baseball players get in a batter's slump, or a pitching slump - I get in a songwriter's slump sometimes. I always do, and it's a change - it's a growing period, it's a growth process. But "Where There's a Will, There's a Way" is just one of those things that came out.
That's a great song; I absolutely love that song!
On the live album, it's totally cool, the live Delaney album. I've got a new version of it that I'm doin' now, that's (growls) real funky and snaky. It's totally cool. I'm gonna put it on my next record that's comin' out.
Delaney did that on his last solo album: he changed "Let it Rain," he did it as the original calypso idea. Delaney cut it the way he originally wanted it to be, with that calypso steel drum sound. I asked him about that, and he said Eric wasn't ready for the vocals and so he did it in that kind of rocker style.
The original song was Eric's song, and it was called "She Rides." (sings) "And she rides, chocka-chocka-chocka, and she rides, do-do-do, and she rides like a new beginner." Then Delaney came in, and they changed it to "Let it Rain." It was called "She Rides." I'm not talking bad about Delaney or anything, I'm just sayin', this is the truth! If you want to do the in-depth interview, this is it!
Okay, I know you guys are close. You also have some other things out: "Raw Velvet" came out in 1972, "One of a Kind," when your daughter was born; "Rock Your Sox Off!" (1976) - I was just going overseas in the navy at that point, and I never got a chance to get hold of that.
They re-released it on CD, and it sold, the day it came out, it sold out.
Nuts. I had to go for some Japanese imports to get "Motel Shot" and "To Bonnie from Delaney." Well, that tells something about you: you're a man in demand!
Well, I hope that this new thing that I've got coming out - it's taken me a long time to get emotionally, psychologically, and physically prepared for doin' what I'm doin' now, and all these songs that are on this album, all of 'em are sincere, they're the truth, they come from the heart, and hopefully, they'll make a difference, somehow, some way. I'm 125-150 percent in my head and in my heart, I'm there, and I'll be there, and I'm gonna play the songs that no one's ever got to hear, like "I Looked Away" and "Anyday" and things like that. All those people bought all those records and everything - if I went out and bought a record, I would want the artist to play me the song, and Eric hasn't been playing any of those songs. I'm gonna make sure that I do those kind of songs from the Dominos thing, because people paid a lot of money for those records and they're still paying money for those records! I would like to hear the people that created them - I would just like for the people to say thank you. So, I'm gonna be doing old Dominos stuff; I'm gonna be doing my new stuff. I'm gonna be doing some of my other things. I know through my recording statements and stuff throughout the world, what's being played where, and it's very strange - like "Thorn Tree in the Garden" - people in Germany and France and Australia, they love that song. "I Looked Away," and "Anyday," there are all these great songs that Eric doesn't play at all, and that's okay, he's Eric Clapton, he can do what he wants to do, or he can not do what he doesn't want to do. But, I believe it's my obligation because if I were on the other end of the role, I would want you to play me the song that I bought - the song that I love, the song that I listen to - if I went to your concert, I would really appreciate you playing me that song. Not something that Elmore James wrote - nothing bad on Elmore James, okay, or Robert Johnson, but, hey: can you play me "Why Does Love Got to be So Sad?" or "Tell the Truth" (laughs) - something like that? That's where I'm at, and that's what I'm gonna do.
Give the people what they want.
Yeah! They deserve it - they paid a lot of money for those records! Those things - they weren't cheap! A double-album was not cheap! Now, a triple or quadruple CD is not cheap.
That's for sure. Last person in mind - I wanted to ask about how he influenced you: Ray Charles?
Yeah! - totally cool. I got a good story: I wrote this song, and I couldn't get arrested in Nashville, because I was too soulful. I wasn't 'country' enough. And I wrote the song, called "Someone You Should Know," and I sang a lick in there, and it goes (rising vocal wail), "Hey-y-y, hey-y-y-y-hey-y-y, now that it's o-o-over, there's nothin' more I can say-y-y, 'cept that I'm too sorry for sayin' just a little too-o-o late!" It's called "Slip Away." But the lick, "Hey-y-y, hey-y-y-y-hey-y-y", that was me singin' Ray Charles. Well, when he did the song, he did it exactly like I sang it, except he put a Ray Charles lick in at the end of it; you know, "Where you goin', woman, get back in here!" kind of a thing. He just really earmarked it, just totally cool. But "Slip Away," I wrote one night, just me and the piano, and I took it in to this lady at CBS, Bonnie Garner, and it was just a cassette, and I said, "This song is for Ray Charles!" and I left and went to California. Six months later, I got a telephone call, and a tape in the mail, and a letter, in one day, the same day, and it said that Ray Charles told me that he was gonna - when he did his definitive country album - he was gonna do everything and mix it, and wait, and then do the world a favor, and go back in and cut "Slip Away." And that's what he did, and they sent it to me. And he sang it exactly, him goin' "Hey-y-y, hey-y-y-y-hey-y-y, now-w-w-w that it's o-o-over" - that's me singing Ray Charles singing me!
That's great! That's great.
Yeah, I think that's the ultimate compliment. It sold, but I don't care if it sold one record - just the fact that he did that is like the ultimate professional, talented musical kind of compliment that anyone could ever pay - I mean, money would not compensate that. It's the best thing in the world for me, that suddenly, I realized, that (gesture) was too cool - there is relevance to all this.
Okay, Bobby, this has been an absolute treat and a treasure. Thank you so much for being a musician and songwriter, and an inspiration for so many of us.
Thank you very much. Between yourself and this guy down in Nashville; he sent me some stuff and it's just him and his wife; it's not just, it is his wife and him, and it's just totally cool. He plays the slide, and bottleneck, and they're playin' the stuff, and he sent me a letter that just really inspired me, and at this point in my life, some people like yourself, and like this boy named Ricky Davis and his wife, that means a whole lot to me. You don't know how big this is in my world, that someone really does care, and that I've made a difference, and that's real important to me.
Well, we're gonna tell the story of those two red-headed curly-haired boys!
I think that's perfect, and I wish that they'd get in touch with me. I would like to see them, because, you know, I'm partially responsible for that. That's why - Eric was playin', he had that song by J.J. Cale wrote called "Cocaine," and I took my kids to see it, to see him in Memphis. In the middle of the thing, he did that (sings notes) "duh-duh-duh-duh-cocaine!" It turned all of the lights on in the Coliseum. I told Eric, "Hey! You got a responsibility here. Anybody that doesn't have any on them is gonna go get it - because they believe in that." I realize my responsibility and what you say and everything, what we have to say (as role models). It has an impact on people, and you've got to be cautious about what you have to say. It's all about love and peace and togetherness, being able to listen. I think that's where it's all at.
Thanks again, Bobby, for letting me listen to you, and much obliged for everything.
Cool. Good interview - I appreciate your candor and frankness.