Cult Classic: Bobby Whitlock-Bobby Whitlock

Before embarking upon a solo career in 1971, Memphis born Bobby Whitlock, had worked with some of the biggest names in music. His career started when he was just seventeen and signed to Stax Records. He went on to work with Albert King, Booker T. and The MGs, Sam and Dave and the Staple Singlers. Then in 1968, Bobby Whitlock joined one of rock’s supergroups, Delaney and Bonnie.

A year earlier, in 1967, Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett formed what would become one of rock’s first supergroups. Over the next five years, everyone from Dave Mason, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, King Curtis, Leon Russell,Rita Coolidge and the Allman Brothers were members of Delaney and Bonnie. In 1968, Bobby Whitlock joined Delaney and Bonnie and featured on two albums.


Bobby Whitlock made his Delaney and Bonnie debut, on their debut album Home. It was recorded during 1968 and 1969, at Stax Studios, Memphis. Accompanying Delaney and Bonnie, were the Stax house band plus a few friends. This included Bobby and Leon Russell. Once Home was completed, it was released later in 1969.

On the release of Home, it failed to chart. Delaney and Bonnie’s debut seemed to pass record buyers by. However, the reviews of Home were mostly positive, and the album would later be reissued. By then, critical acclaim and commercial success would’ve come Delaney and Bonnie’s way. This started with Delaney and Bonnie sophomore album, The Original Delaney and Bonnie and Friends (Accept No Substitute). 

The Original Delaney and Bonnie and Friends (Accept No Substitute).

Released to widespread critical acclaim in July 1969, The Original Delaney and Bonnie and Friends (Accept No Substitute) saw everything from blue eyed soul, country, gospel and soul melt into one. Hailed as one of the best albums of 1969, it’s a surprise that The Original Delaney and Bonnie and Friends (Accept No Substitute) only reached number 175 on the US Billboard 200 charts. After the release of The Original Delaney and Bonnie and Friends (Accept No Substitute)., Delaney and Bonnie and Friends headed out on tour with Eric Clapton. 

On Tour with Eric Clapton.

On their return from touring with Eric Clapton, Delaney and Bonnie released their live album, On Tour with Eric Clapton. It was released in March 1970, and peaked at number twenty-nine in the US Billboard 200 in April 1970. Over the Atlantic, On Tour with Eric Clapton reached number thirty-nine in Britain and was certified gold. Meanwhile, Delaney and Bonnie were working on their third album, To Bonnie from Delaney. However, by then, Bobby had joined Eric Clapton’s latest supergroup, Derek and The Dominoes.

Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.

When Bobby Whitlock joined Derek and The Dominoes, he never realised, that he was about to become part of musical history. Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs would become a classic album.

For Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, Eric Clapton wrote or cowrote nine tracks. This included Keep On Growing, Anyday, Tell The Truth and Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad with Bobby. Bobby also contributed Thorn Tree in the Garden, which closes Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, Eric Clapton. These nine tracks, plus five cover versions, would become Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, Eric Clapton, which was recorded in Miami.

At Criteria Studios, Miami, what can only be described as a supergroup began recording the fourteen tracks on 28th August 1970. Joining Eric and Bobby were guitarist Duane Allman, bassist Carl Radle and drummer Jim Gordon. This band recorded the fourteen tracks, including Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs’s centrepiece Layla, which tells of Eric Clapton’s infatuation for Patti Boyd, who was then married to George Harrison. It would become a track that will forever be synonymous with Eric Clapton. By the of 2nd October 1970, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs was completed. It would released in November 1970.

When Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs was released in November 1970, reviews were mixed. That seems strange, given Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs is now regarded as a classic album. However, in 1970, some critics viewed Eric Clapton and Duane Allman’s guitar playing as macho posturing, and the love songs as lightweight. As is often the case, music critics are prone to rewrite history. Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs is a case in point. Still, the album sold well.

Despite the mixed reviews, and a limited promotional budget, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs managed to reach number sixteen in the US Billboard 200 charts. This resulted in Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs being certified gold. Still, Polydor viewed Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs as a commercial failure. Part of the problem was some record buyers weren’t aware of Eric Clapton’s involvement.As a result, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs was rereleased in 1972. However, there was no followup to Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. Derek and The Dominoes was a one-off project. Following the demise of Derek and The Dominoes, Bobby Whitlock embarked upon his solo career.

Bobby Whitlock.

Having been a member of two supergroups, Bobby Whitlock decided to embark upon a solo career. He was determined to make the move from sideman to frontman. So Bobby got to work on what would become his eponymous debut album, Bobby Whitlock.

For what became Bobby Whitlock, Bobby wrote eight tracks and cowrote two more. Bobby cowrote Where There’s A Will with Bonnie Bramlett, and A Day Without Jesus with Don Nix. These ten tracks would become Bobby Whitlock, which was recorded at Olympic Studio’s Studio B. 

Recording of Bobby Whitlock took place at Olympic Studio’s Studio B, between January and March 1971. Bobby was joined by what joined by what can only be described as an all-star band. This included  Delaney and Bonnie and three members of Derek and The Dominoes. Bassist Carl Radle, drummer Jim Gordon and guitarist Eric Clapton provided an enviable rhythm section. They were joined by George Harrison on guitar. Bobby had played on George’s Magnus Opus All Things Must Pass, and was repaying the favour. Other guest artists included bassist Klaus Voormann, drummer Jim Keltner, saxophonist and trombonist Bobby Keys, trumpeter Jim Price and guitarist Jerry McGhee. As for Bobby, he played piano, organ, twelve-string guitar and acoustic guitar. Once the ten tracks were recorded, Bobby went looking for a record company for his debut album, Bobby Whitlock.

Before that, George Greif, Jimmy Miller’s manager got in touch. He wanted to become Bobby’s manager. So Bobby flew to Los Angeles to meet George and his business partner Sid Garris, at their offices on Beverley Boulevard. After a lengthy discussion, the three men headed to ABC-Dunhill Records’ headquarters. That’s where George and Sid introduced Bobby to Jay Lasker, President of ABC-Dunhill Records. Bobby played Jay his eponymous debut album. Having listened intently, Jay Lasker signed Bobby to a two album deal. 

The first of these two albums, Bobby Whitlock, was released in March 1972. Bobby Whitlock’s release would’ve been earlier. However, ABC-Dunhill Records objected to some of the material. Eventually, Bobby Whitlock was released in March 1972. Reviews of Bobby Whitlock were mixed, ranging from critically acclaimed to favourable. One of the problems was, that critics kept comparing Bobby Whitlock to Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. That wasn’t fair, as Bobby Whitlock was a solo album. It just so happened that many of the same personnel featured on both albums. Despite the mixed reviews, Bobby Whitlock reached number 140 in the US Billboard 200 charts. While Bobby Whitlock didn’t reach the heights of Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, Bobby’s solo career was underway.

Where There’s a Will opens Bobby Whitlock. Literally, the arrangement explodes into life, with the all-star rhythm section driving the arrangement along. It includes drummer Jim Gordon and George Harrison on rhythm guitar. They’re joined by Eric Clapton on slide guitar. Bobby delivers a gravelly, rocky vocal and adds flamboyant flourishes of keyboards. Later, Bobby Key’s adds the finishing touch, when he unleashes a blistering saxophone solo. This seems to spur Bobby and his all-star band on, as the track reaches a rocky, dramatic crescendo where elements of blues, rock and Southern Rock unite.

Song For Paula shows a very different side of Bobby Whitlock. Just an acoustic guitar, bass and piano provide the backdrop for Bobby’s vocal. It’s tender, heartfelt and has a vulnerability. As it grows in power, so does the arrangement. Jim Gordon’s drums, guitars and Bobby’s Hammond organ are joined by a piano. By then, Bobby’s vocal veers between hopeful and needy. Accompanied by backing vocals he unleashes a soul-baring vocal. Then when the backing vocals drop out, Bobby’s all-star band kick loose. They add an element of drama, and add to the emotion in this hopeful paean. 

As Bobby plays Eric Clapton’s twelve-string guitar, Traffic’s Chris Wood adds a wistful flute on A Game Called Life. Meanwhile, Delaney adds bass and a confused Bobby delivers a vocal full of bewilderment. His relationship’s at an end, he’s got his “suitcase in his hand,” and he wonders why? Backing vocals flit in, strings swirl and a flute wanders across the arrangement. All the time, hurt and confusion is omnipresent in Bobby’s vocal.

As Bobby plays acoustic guitar and delivers a worldweary vocal on Country Life, Jerry McGee’s crystalline guitar and Carl Radle’s bass marches the arrangement along. Meanwhile, Delaney and Bonnie add backing vocals. All the time, Jim Keltner’s drums add the heartbeat to this laid-back slice of country music.

The gospel tinged A Day Without Jesus was penned by Bobby and Don Nix. Bobby’s vocal is akin to an outpouring of emotion and sincerity. The rhythm section create a slow, sometimes dramatic backdrop. Meanwhile, washes of Hammond organ and gospel influenced backing vocals are the perfect foil to Bobby’s heartfelt vocal. 

Back in My Life Again is quite different from the two previous tracks. A driving, scrabbling rhythm section and funky, chiming guitar drive the explosive arrangement along. They’re aided and abetted by stabs of blazing horns and a Hammond organ. Atop the arrangement sits Bobby’s gravelly, joyous vocal. He turns the track into a celebration, when he sings “now that you’re Back in My Life Again.” His all-star band raise the stakes, storming their way through the track. That’s until the tempo drops and a trombone soars above the arrangement. This allows Bobby and his band to regroup, before grandstanding their way through this celebration of love.

The Scenery Has Slowly Changed sees Bobby drop the tempo again. A crystalline guitar floats above the understated arrangement. It’s joined by Bobby’s croaky vocal and Eric Clapton and Jim Gordon on guitar. This allows Bobby’s vocal to take centre-stage. It’s rueful, and full of emotion and regret, at the love he’s lost and is missing. Later, Bobby’s vocal becomes a hurt fuelled vamp, where he delivers the vocal as if he’s lived and survived them.

I’d Rather Live the Straight Life is another country-tinged track. Seamlessly, Bobby, accompanied by his all-star band, create a track that sounds as if it was recorded in Nashville, not London. Unlike the other tracks, which were produced by Bobby and Andy Johns, Bobby and Joe Zagarino produce this track. It features bassist Carl Radle and Bobby and Jerry McGee on guitar. Their guitars are at the heart of the track’s success. Bobby’s vocal  is throaty and charismatic. Later, Delaney and Bonnie add backing vocals, that give the track a raucous, singalong sound. They’re the perfect foil to Bobby, on this  country-tinged track.

Just acoustic guitars and percussion accompany Bobby on The Dreams of a Hobo. His vocal is thoughtful, tender and wistful. This shows another side of Bobby. It’s captivating, beautiful and dreamy.

Closing Bobby Whitlock is Back Home in England. It’s another wistful, dreamy track. Just guitars, lush strings and drums accompany Bobby’s vocal. It’s a cathartic outpouring of emotion. Especially with the swathes of strings and meandering guitars for company. They ensure that Bobby Whitlock ends on a beautiful, emotive high.

Having been a member of two supergroups, Delaney and Bonnie and Derek and The Dominoes, Bobby Whitlock decided now was the time to move from sideman, to frontman. So, he signed to ABC-Dunhill Records and released his eponymous debut album, Bobby Whitlock, in March 1972 and reached just number 140 in the US Billboard 200 charts. However, Bobby Whitlock was released to mixed reviews.

Bobby Whitlock was an album that divided the opinion of critics. Partly, this was because they compared Bobby Whitlock to Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. Given it was a classic album, released by Eric Clapton, an experienced artist, this was hardly comparing like with like. The critics also compared Bobby’s voice to Eric Clapton and Delaney Bramlett. Eric and Delaney, the critics announced were better singers. That may have been the case, but Bobby’s voice brought the ten songs on Bobby Whitlock to life.

Whether it was emotion, heartache, hope, hurt, joy, melancholy, neediness or sadness, Bobby was able to bring this to a  song. Sometimes, his vocal sounded lived-in, worldweary and gravelly. Seamlessly, Bobby a versatile vocalist, could switch between country, gospel, rock and Southern Rock. So could his band. They also took diversions via blues and funk on Bobby Whitlock. The result was a captivating album, Bobby Whitlock.

Although Bobby Whitlock wasn’t a huge commercial success, and divided the opinion of critics upon its release, it’s an album that falls into the category of hidden gem. Just like so many albums, Bobby Whitlock passed many record buyers by. They never heard Bobby Whitlock, or any of Bobby’s other solo albums. That’s a great shame, as Bobby Whitlock is a hugely talented artist. Sadly, most people remember Bobby Whitlock as a sideman, rather than frontman.

No wonder. As a sideman, Bobby Whitlock played with everyone from Bonnie and Delaney, Derek and The Dominoes, George Harrison, Dr. John, Eric Clapton, John Lennon and The Rolling Stones. However, between 1972 and 1976, Bobby Whitlock released a quartet of solo albums. The first of these was Bobby Whitlock, his cult classic that’s variously beautiful, celebratory, emotive, ethereal, joyous, laid-back and rocky. 

Cult Classic: Bobby Whitlock-Bobby Whitlock


1 Comment



    Leave a Reply

    Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

    You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

    Facebook photo

    You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

    Connecting to %s

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

    %d bloggers like this: