Bobby Whitlock Talks Layla

Videos by American Songwriter

(Derek and the Dominos: Jim Gordon, Bobby Whitlock, Eric Clapton)

In Austin, Texas, so many famous artists and living legends haunt local club stages, it’s hard not to get blasé about our embarrassment of riches. James McMurtry and Jon Dee Graham share Wednesdays at the Continental Club, where Graham’s old True Believers bandmate Alejendro Escovedo does frequent Tuesday residencies; Small Faces/Faces keyboardist Ian McLagan has Thursdays at the Lucky Lounge; Bob Schneider, the BoDeans’ Kurt Neumann and Fastball’s Miles Zuniga can be seen weekly at the Saxon Pub. Zuniga’s in the Resentments, which hold down the Sunday slot just after Bobby Whitlock’s hour-long set with his wife, CoCo Carmel.

Yes, that Bobby Whitlock, the Memphis native best known for his contributions to Delaney & Bonnie & Friends and Derek & the Dominos – which he co-founded with Eric Clapton, as well as co-writing half of the stellar cuts on “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs,” along with co-producing, playing keyboards and singing. He and Carmel moved from Nashville to Austin five years ago.

To mark the publication of “Bobby Whitlock: A Rock ‘n’ Roll Autobiography,” and the 40th-anniversary re-release of “Layla,” Whitlock recently reflected on his rock ‘n’ roll life – including his relationship with CoCo, which nearly mirrors Clapton’s storied romance with Pattie Boyd, the subject of his tortured masterwork. Just as Boyd was George Harrison’s wife when Clapton fell for her, Carmel, a singer, bassist and saxophone player, was married to Delaney Bramlett when Whitlock fell in love with her. They wed in 2005.

Here’s what he had to say about Derek & the Dominos and the rock ‘n’ roll classic that is “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.”

We knew it was a special record, because it just happened, but we didn’t know it would be the record that it turned out to be because we wasn’t out to make some great record. We was just out puttin’ down these songs and doin’ the thing. It was just part of the flow, it was just part of us goin’ out and playin’ and singin and doin’ what we do.

I wrote, sang, played and produced that record. Eric and I put the band together. That’s an incredible legacy. That and “All Things Must Pass” and all of that. Since October, it was the 40th anniversary of Eric’s first record that I was on; the Delaney & Bonnie & Friends box set that came out, that’s got 56 tracks that I’m on; “All Things Must Pass” came out [reissued on vinyl], and I’m on all but one song on that whole thing, and now the new 40th anniversary [“Layla”] comes out. So you put that 40 years together, it’s worth 160 years of great music that I was a part of. I really don’t think I have any room to complain about anything.

People identify that album with Duane Allman and Eric. That’s all right. I’ve outlived it, I’ve lived through all that. I’ve heard all that Skydog talk all these years about Duane makin’ that album [Skydog was Allman’s nickname]. Lemme tell you what, our voices define that album. That’s it. Bottom line. Our voices and our songs define Derek & the Dominos. Other than that, that’s just two guitar players goin’ at it. And Duane’s completely out of tune. I mean, they put two slide guitarists at the end of ‘Layla’ and both of ‘em are out of tune. Someone asked me the other day, they said, ‘Well, do you think it would have been a different album if Duane had not been on it?’ I said ‘Yeah, it’d be a different album. Eric’s a great slide player, and all the playing would have been exactly in tune.’

The box set is incredible. It’s three different configurations of box sets. They really surpassed themselves when they put this one together.

I went through every bootleg – every bootleg that there ever was of Derek & the Dominos, I’ve had, and gone through ‘em all, and so I know everything about Derek & the Dominos. So they were asking me this and asking me that. I’m the only one. There’s nobody else. There’s just Eric and me. [Bassist Carl Radle died in 1980 and drummer Jim Gordon, a schizophrenic, is in prison for killing his mother.]

The band didn’t break up, it just kind of dissipated. Eric and Jim had a fallin’ out, and then Jim’s picture was gone from the mantle, you know what I mean? Next thing you know, Carl’s is gone. So it was just one of those things, the band, we never really broke up. It just dissipated. It was time to change. Eric locked himself away for a couple of years, and that was that.


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  1. This reads like Bobby Whitlock’s sad attempt at revisionist history in an attempt to elevate the importance of his own (slighted) role in the project. Apparently he feels it is necessary to trash the worthy contributions of others.

  2. Bobby’s opinion is undoubtedly more valid than most people’s on the subject of the Layla album but I can say for sure that there would not be a copy of Layla in my music collection if Duane hadn’t played on it.

  3. I guess if one reads this with negative feeling, naturally it sounds harsh, anything would! I think that Bobby is expressing his feelings in a positive light, he did afterall write/co-write the songs, was a founding member and contributed considerably. Duane was a session man at the time, and was brought in as a guest. Allman fans will never be satisfied, and as I have found anyone who mentions anything about Duane’s out of tune playing is in fear of being burned alive.

  4. I think there is a whole lot of truth in what Mr. Whitlock says about Duane Allman being out of tune in Layla. Even Tom Dowd once pointed out that the mix of the slide guitars was magic because they were out of tune. Other thing is that Mr. Whitlock indeed wrote half of the songs on the album and had a huge vocal impact. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying so. The thing I don’t understand is why Mr. Whitlock seems to be unable to leave the past and treat us with some magic albums he once made with musicians like Clapton and Harrison. Apparently Mr. Whitlock only flourish when he collaborates with famous guitarists

  5. I too recently interviewed Bobby Whitlock, and after reading some of the comments here am concerned that some readers appear unaware of Bobby’s success as a SOLO artist;his career as a respected songwriter and singer did not end upon the demise of Derek & the Dominos.

    Bobby Whitlock CONTINUES to write, and has had several major artists record his SOLO songs, including Ray Charles (Slip Away), Tom Jones (This Time There Won’t Be No Next Time), and George Jones (He’s Not Entitled to Your Love). Numerous artists have recorded his material, including Sheryl Crow (Keep on Growin) and Derek Trucks (Anyday).

  6. I’ve always thought that Whitlock’s singing and writing on the Layla album have been underappreciated, and he does deserve full credit for that. That said, I don’t see the need to keep slinging it at Duane, who’s obviously not around to give his side of the story, and Eric. In another recent interview Whitlock took pains to argue that he co-wrote Bell Bottom Blues but Eric being such an egotist couldn’t deal with the idea that Bobby co-wrote as many songs as Eric, so Eric had the publisher leave Bobby’s name off. Maybe true but kind of a nasty thing to bring up at this point. Did he give away the royalties to the songs he is credited for? If not, the fact that the album keeps getting rereleased, and people like the Allmans and Derek Trucks are re-recording the songs, should be some solace. Also, memories being what they are, and it’s 40 years ago — for example, he says here that “next thing you know, Carl is gone, but I’m pretty sure Carl Radle was credited with playing bass on at least 461 Ocean Boulevard and There’s One in Every Crowd, and possibly several more Clapton albums. So was he “gone?” And I’ve never seen or heard it claimed that Whitlock produced the Layla album. And it’s hard to know exactly how critical his playing was to All Things Must Pass or Delaney and Bonnie’s records. Finally, maybe Duane was out of tune (slide guitar being what it is, what exactly is “being in tune” anyway?). So what? People live to hear the guitar playing on the album over and over. Maybe, Bob, there’s something more to being a great musician than being in tune. Tom Dowd was a trained musician and engineer but he obviously appreciated that, if he left it on the album.

  7. All you need to do is listen to the songs Anyday or Layla, really listen to them, to understand that both Bobby and Duane were absolutely critical to the sound of the album. That being said, Duane isn’t on Bell Bottom Blues, and that song is one of the strongest, most emotionally compelling on the album. Nor is Duane on the live Dominos material (both the official Fillmore releases and the many boots), and all of that material is fantastic. Bobby’s singing was in my opinion a much greater part of their overall sound than he is given credit for. I’ve got many bootlegs of Eric playing Layla on his tours in the 70s, and they are all missing something, and it’s not Duane’s slide – it’s Bobby’s vocals. There are some really lousy sound quality boots out there of Dominos shows in St. Louis and Owings Mills MD, rare occasions where the Dominos played Layla, and while the sound is terrible they are still far better for the inclusion of Bobby wailing away in call-and-response with Eric. He’s right that the voices where what made that record, and that band’s sound, just as much as the guitars.

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