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Published: 2013/08/30
by Brian Robbins

Bobby Whitlock: Domino, Solo, CoCo & Tellin’ The Truth

It struck me that the two albums work well side-by-side in this collection – but by the time you get to the Raw Velvet tracks, all of a sudden it’s your handpicked band … it’s no longer Clapton and Gordon and Radle and the rest. It’s a tribute to your band that Raw Velvet holds up so well with the earlier star-studded album.

The thread of continuity is me – that sound; that feel is me. And those songs are ageless, man. They hold up; and that has to do with from whence they came.

Things that are built around a fad or a phase that a culture is going through come and go. But something that comes from deep inside of you is ageless.

That’s right.

The Raw Velvet tracks capture your emergence as a guitarist. I don’t think a lot of folks were aware of how much electric guitar you were playing back then.

I was just getting started. Eric was showing me chords and certain things that he did; I could play acoustic guitar and write songs, but I’d never played electric guitar until then. Yeah, I got lessons directly from Eric and from George Harrison – and from Duane Allman on playing the bottleneck. I had instructions from the masters, man. (laughs) Plus, I’d been around Steve Cropper and Delaney – who was one of the finest rhythm guitarists there was. Delaney was totally underrated in that department.

Nowadays the guitar is just another extension of me.

You can hear it on Carnival, the new live album. There’s some fine playing on there.

Thank you; thank you.

So let’s talk about Carnival. Many of these songs were birthed in the Dominos’ “boys’ club” atmosphere, but these versions with CoCo’s vocals and sax playing are something else. It’s like these songs were waiting to sound like this.

It is. Sometimes it takes a long time for something to take root; to come into its own. And that’s what it feels like these songs have done. I’m just glad I made it through my past – there were a lot of us that didn’t, you know? I’ve been around to watch all this stuff grow and it has kind of nurtured itself.

I’m just coming into my own, as well – and I’ll tell you why: CoCo does for me what I did for Eric. She rips me up; she puts a fire under my ass, man. It’s a spiritual thing – lifting and supporting each other; it really is.

Supporting each other is one thing; it’s a unique relationship to be able to work together the way that the two of you do.

When we first got together, it seemed like a natural course of events. We’d been best friends for a long time before that. And I said, “Let’s play. Let’s play music and document our life together, starting right now. And that’s what we’ve done right along for these twelve years – we’ve lived a life that we’ve documented.

Our songs are part of that: that’s the truth of Bobby and CoCo in what you hear and what you see. Those photos inside this Carnival record – those are for real. And the songs? That’s the real deal, man. We’ve been together for twelve years and this is our tenth recording … and it seems like everything has been leading up to this one.

Tell me about the band on Carnival.

They’re the finest players around, period. They’re all in demand – our drummer Brannen Temple hangs out with the Dixie Chicks and has played with Eric Burdon. Jimmy Pettit played bass with Joe Ely for decades. And Jeff Plankenhorn is one of the premier guitarists out there – period. There are a lot of great musicians here in Austin and we are so blessed to be friends with them.

The older songs are immediately recognizable, but at the same time, they’re more than just covers. For instance, “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad” has a different vibe to it on Carnival. I guess I would describe it as sounding more soulful and not as desperate.

It’s in the pocket, where it’s supposed to be. It was like a runaway train on the Layla album, man. But these songs have evolved. You’ve got to be honest with yourself if you expect the world to believe the songs you sing … it’s not so much rhyming words as it is telling a story; telling the truth. Every song is a story with a beginning, a middle, and an ending. That’s the kind of stuff that’ll stay with us forever.

The new songs nestle in there with the classics nicely. Coco’s “Nobody Knows” has a great, raunchy groove.

Oh, man – it’s one of my favorite songs to play. These guys are all good at what they’re supposed to do. Everybody’s listening.

And her sax on “Little Wing” is just lovely. People know that song, but her sax work puts a new spin on it and adds even more depth to the emotion of the song.

CoCo is the greatest sax player I’ve heard in this age of music. King Curtis is gone, you know? I’m talking about really playing. All anybody has to do is just listen to this album, man.

When the two of you write together, do you have definite roles?

No – she may hear something and say, “That’s it – right there.” Or I’ll hear something that she’s working on and say, “How about if you repeat that part …” or whatever. Our thing is, we don’t have any set parts when we write together; it’s a natural thing … it all just flows.

The album ends with “Tell The Truth” which seems fitting as – correct me if I’m wrong – it’s one of the first songs you wrote when you went over to England to join Eric in what would eventually become the Dominos.

That’s right: I was living at Eric’s house at the time. We’d been on one of our marathons, writing and messing with different tunings and stuff – open B; open C; a lot of broken strings, man … (laughs) … just to see where it would take us.

We landed on open E, which is a pretty standard tuning – and I had this idea. I could just hear it; sounded like something Keith Richards would write – a Stones rhythm thing, all backwards and stuff.

About that time Eric said, “Oh, man, I’m going up to bed.” So he went upstairs, which was right above the living room. It’s like 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning and I just sat there in front of the fire, working on that song. The sun started coming up over the English countryside and I’m sitting in the front room of this big house of Eric’s … arched windows and everything … and I’m singing at the top of my lungs like Otis Redding, man. My world was changing; the earth was shaking; everything was changing – and I could feel it. Those first two verses and chorus and everything just spilled out of me.

Later, after the sun came up, Eric’s coming down over the stairs in his tattered brown robe. I said, “Man, I wrote this great rock ‘n’ roll song!”

And he said, “I know, I know – I’ve got the third verse written.” I’d been down below him all night (or what was left of it) singing at the top of my voice and he could hear me through the floor. We finished it up after breakfast.

For a while there, we could do no wrong, man. Every time we turned around, the songs were just flowing … until Eric’s romantic well ran dry and he had nothing to draw from.

Drugs and alcohol had taken their hold on us and we couldn’t just fake it. I can tell you from the voice of experience, man – you’re not open. You might think you are, but you’re preoccupied with the drugs and alcohol that’s in your system. I’ve tried – and it just does not work.

I’ve been away from all that crap since 2000. And this new record is up there with anything I’ve done. Period. Sonically, it’s light years ahead of some of the older stuff that I thought was great then … but I can’t even put next to what we’re doing now.

Well I guess that’s a part of growing, right?

Yeah, you got to keep on growin’, man.

See? You had that part figured out a long time ago. (laughter) Bobby, I want to thank you for taking the time to talk today – and thank you for all the tunes over the years. Keep ‘em coming – you and CoCo.

My pleasure, Brian. Thanks very much, man.

*****

Brian Robbins wears his tattered brown robe over at www.brian-robbins.com

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