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great bobby whitlock interview in crawdaddy

April 7, 2011

I’m a big fan of Bobby Whitlock. Catching his regular Sunday set at the Saxon Pub was one of the best discoveries I’ve made here in Austin. Whitlock’s autobiography was released at the end of last year. Admittedly I haven’t had a chance to read it yet as I’m currently embroiled in some heavy Civil Rights Movement reading – but it’s next on my list! In the meantime, here’s a great interview with Whitlock from Crawdaddy! magazine.  Also, below is a reprint of my September story on Whitlock’s Saxon Pub residency. Go pick up his book, and if you live in Austin – get over to the Saxon!

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Music Magic: Happening Weekly

(originally published on Lanch787, Sept. 1, 2010)

Get out your calendars. You now have plans on Sunday evenings.

But be warned: 6pm on Sunday is a rather unassuming time slot for the kind of show that Bobby Whitlock and CoCo Carmel put on every week. Retreating from the blistering heat last Sunday, I found myself nursing a Shiner in a dark corner of the Saxon Pub on South Lamar. The blinds were drawn tight and I kept forgetting that there were still hours to go until sundown. It didn’t hurt that the performance I was witnessing was late-night headline caliber.

Bobby Whitlock, along with his musical partner and wife CoCo Carmel, have been playing this gig in residency for the past four years, with only a minor seven-month interruption while Whitlock was working on his autobiography. You see, it just so happens that Austin-resident Bobby Whitlock is certifiable rock & roll royalty.

Derek & The Dominos

Born in Memphis in 1948, Whitlock became a part of the legendary Stax recording family at a young age, learning from and playing with the likes of Steve Cropper, Booker T., and Duck Dunn.  Through Stax, he was discovered and picked up by Delaney & Bonnie. The timing was opportune as Delaney & Bonnie & Friends then landed the opening gig on supergroup Blind Faith’s 1969 tour. During the tour Eric Clapton took a particular interest in Delaney & Bonnie’s unique brand of southern blues-rock. Blind Faith imploded shortly after the tour and most of the Delaney & Bonnie group went to England to join up with Joe Cocker’s unit. That’s when Whitlock, at the behest of Steve Cropper, showed up on Clapton’s doorstep and began a musical partnership that would help to spawn one of rock’s seminal albums: Derek & The Dominos’ Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.

Whitlock was a vocalist and keyboardist for the band, and on their album, he shares five writing credits with Clapton. The closing song on the album is his own “Thorn Tree in the Garden.” While Derek & the Dominos went the way of Blind Faith (that is to say, dissolution after one magnificent album and tour) Whitlock has continued to play, write, and record. His songs have been covered by names like Ray Charles, George Jones, and Sheryl Crowe. He has released several solo albums, and he and CoCo Carmel are currently at work on their fourth collaboration.

While that is a brief and altogether unworthy recap of an amazing career, it’s really just a sneak preview as Whitlock has an autobiography slated for release this fall. Co-written with music historian Marc Roberty and featuring a foreword by ol’ Slowhand himself, Whitlock’s book will certainly be a most welcome addition to the rock & roll library.

In the meantime, all you Austinites can count yourselves lucky that he’s taken up residency in our fair city. Whitlock and Carmel’s set is a soul-powered delight, with Whitlock’s rich, smoky, could-have-been-the-third-Allman Brother voice filing the room. Playing just a pair of acoustic guitars, the duo ripped new life out of Dominos classics like “Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad” as well as offering up a selection of their own tunes. In the second half of the set, Whitlock shifted to the keyboard and multi-instrumentalist Carmel picked up a saxophone for few songs, including a riveting version of the old blues and gospel standby “John the Revelator.”

Beyond the music though, Whitlock is about as charismatic as they come. Stopping between songs to wax philosophically on any number of topics, he shifts from a musician to some kind of Cosmic Rock & Roll Revival Preacher. Carmel, a radiant Michelle Phillips-esque beauty, just playfully rolls her eyes as he expounds on the “divine nature” of the Layla album, one of his many entertaining tangents that evening.

That night, as I walked out of Saxon and back into the still-blazing sunshine, I felt like I’d just been let in on one of Austin’s great secrets. So really, do yourself a favor and the next Sunday evening you’re just lazing around, head down South Lamar, pay the $10 cover charge (an insane bargain) and spend an hour with the one and only Bobby Whitlock.

 

Bobby Whitlock and CoCo Carmel play the Saxon Pub every Sunday at 6pm. Cover is $10. Saxon Pub is located at 1320 South Lamar. For more information, please visit their website.

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