Classic Rock Corner

Bobby Whitlock: Derek's Main Domino Dishes On Layla & More

It's been an active, and retroactive, time for singer-songwriter/keyboardist Bobby Whitlock, best known as one of the playing pieces in the Eric Clapton-led group Derek and the Dominos, along with bassist Carl Radle (who died in 1980) and drummer Jim Gordon, currently in prison for fatally stabbing his mother.

And while his decades-old work has recently appeared on both a live Delaney and Bonnie box set and the 40th anniversary edition of Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, he and wife/musical partner CoCo Carmel remain busy.

The Memphis-born keyboardist has also put his life story down in Bobby Whitlock: A Rock 'n' Roll Autobiography (275 pp., $35, McFarland). Written with Clapton authority Marc Roberty, it is an intense reading journey, filled with stories and anecdotes new to even the most dedicated classic rock reader about Whitlock's tumultuous life both on and offstage.

Rocks Off spoke with the piano man about his horrific childhood, why he never liked the piano coda to "Layla," and playing really loud in Houston.

Rocks Off: Some of your passages about how much you were physically and mentally abused by your father are tough to read.

BW: I can't believe that I'm still here on this world. The abuse that man did on all of us...you know, some of my family are upset with me that I put those stories in the book, but it's the truth. My mother said all the same things. People have said 'Oh no, Preacher Whitlock couldn't do those things,' but I know because it happened to me. But he only [abused] me, my mother, and then my brother after I left. And he'd hit you were no one could see [the bruises].

RO: As a young Memphis musician, you got to spend a lot of time just hanging out in the Stax studio and playing.

BW: Well at the time, I didn't know how special it was. But I learned so much there from people like Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn, Albert King, Booker T...David Porter and Isaac Hayes were just songwriters then, and they'd come in wearing very slick matching outfits. David just contacted me a few days ago on LinkedIn!

Then there was [Booker T & the MGs] drummer Al Jackson. You know how he got that sound? He would take out his wallet and put it on the snare drum! That's the Al Jackson sound!

RO: You are unsparing in your criticisms of the Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett's personalities. Could they have been a bigger act but for those?

BW: Oh yeah. But it was all drugs and egos.

RO: Derek and the Dominos were basically the backing band on George Harrison's All Things Must Pass. Tell us something about him most people wouldn't know.

BW: He put rubies in his driveway. The drive to his house was paved with rubies in it!  

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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero