Among The Forgotten: Bobby Whitlock

Originally posted March 27, 2007

I saw Bobby Whitlock in concert once. He was doing an acoustic set as one of two opening acts for Joe Cocker in the spring of 1972. Rick and I saw him at the now-demolished Metropolitan Sports Center in Bloomington, Minnesota, just north of where Mall of America sits now.

It was a tough gig for Whitlock, as his solo set was shoehorned in between the raucous nonsense of the opening act, Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show, and the more serious but still freewheeling sound of headliner Joe Cocker. I think he performed for a little more than half an hour, seated on a high stool under a spotlight. Most of the songs he performed were pulled from his self-titled debut album, released that spring (and posted here in January), but his largest round of applause came when he began the introduction to “Thorn Tree In The Garden,” the song he wrote that closed the landmark album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, released in 1970 by Derek & the Dominos.

Layla is often regarded as Eric Clapton’s triumph, with Duane Allman receiving props for pushing Clapton to new heights. All that is true, but the record was also Whitlock’s triumph, as he not only wrote the album’s closing song but also co-wrote with Clapton five of the album’s other songs: “I Looked Away,” “Keep On Growing,” “Anyday,” “Tell The Truth,” and “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad.”

I’ve always thought that as fans and critics have for years directed deserved adulation toward Clapton and Allman for the brilliance of Layla, those same fans and critics have tended to overlook Whitlock and his contributions to the record – as a songwriter, as a keyboardist and acoustic guitarist and as a singer. We tell stories, we critics and fans do, shaping what we know and believe we know about our favorite performers and our favorite pieces of music into narratives. The story of Layla, the album, has become over the years first of all the tale of Clapton’s love for Patti Boyd Harrison and his resulting anguish, and secondly, the tale of Allman bringing his astounding talent to a project that was already filled with astounding talent and helping to make what would have been a very good record into one for the ages.

What got lost, it seems to me, was Bobby Whitlock’s story, the tale of the kid from Memphis growing up steeped in that river city’s musical tradition and becoming a strong enough session player at the legendary Stax studios that he became the first white performer signed to a Stax contract. His years there and then with Delaney & Bonnie & Friends honed his skills and allowed his talent to shine. And then Clapton selects Whitlock to be one of the regulars in his Derek & the Dominos project, and at the end of the project, what could have been a tale of Whitlock and Clapton crafting one of rock’s greatest albums becomes other tales.

I imagine Whitlock shrugged, went back into the studio and created his debut, then went out on the road, where I saw him in Bloomington, Minnesota. He kept going back into the studios during the first half of the 1970s, releasing Raw Velvet in 1972, One Of A Kind in 1975 and Rock Your Sox Off in 1976. The first of those three was on Dunhill, which had released his 1972 self-titled record; the other two were released on the Capricorn label.

The record presented here today is Rock Your Sox Off, the last of Whitlock’s four albums of the 1970s. (Raw Velvet and One Of A Kind will be shared here, too, very soon.) It’s of a piece with the rest of his work, and its songs wouldn’t sound out of place on records by either Delaney & Bonnie & Friends or Derek & the Dominos. In fact, one of them was on Layla. Whitlock opens the album with his own take on “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad,” reclaiming at least some of his portion of the legacy of those legendary sessions and that legendary record.

Track list:
Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad
If You Only Knew Me
Sweet Mother’s Fun
The Second Time Around
Brand New Song
Bottom of the Bottle
(It’s Been A) Long Long Time
Make It Through The Night

Bobby Whitlock – Rock Your Sox Off [1976]

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2 Responses to “Among The Forgotten: Bobby Whitlock”

  1. Finishing Off the Whitlock Oeuvre « Echoes In The Wind Archives Says:

    […] find the March post about Whitlock here. I didn’t include the January post about his first solo album because the post was essentially a […]

  2. Belated Wishes To Mr. Whitlock « Echoes In The Wind Archives Says:

    […] I’ve indicated elsewhere, I think Whitlock’s part of the Derek & the Dominos story tends to get lost in the stories of […]

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