By Peter Lindblad
|Bobby Whitlock learned to play the Hammond organ|
from Booker T. at Stax Records
To Bobby Whitlock, art is art. It doesn't matter if he's making music or doing something else – like making jewelry, his more recent pursuit – the creative process is the same.
"There's no difference in designing a piece of jewelry, writing songs, carving a piece of wood or anything ... painting pictures, no, it's all the same and really ... as a songwriter, I'm just the vessel or the instrument," explained Whitlock, a founding member of Derek and the Dominos. "And the same holds true in jewelry design, wood, root art ... any of the stuff that I do, and it's that way for any artist. They're the tool, the instrument."
Whitlock's humility is sincere. Having played with Delaney & Bonnie and Friends at the height of their popularity, and then performing keyboards on George Harrison's legendary All Things Must Pass album, before teaming with Eric Clapton in the short-lived super group Derek and the Dominoes, Whitlock has every reason in the world to boast.
|Bobby Whitlock with his|
second solo album 'Raw Velvet'
At home, however, he's just Bobby, quietly creating art out of whatever's available, including the cedar stumps and logs he's collected over the years from a river area near his home in Austin, Texas. To him, what he does is "sacred art." It's natural and organic, like his root art, and it has very little to do with the modern world.
|Bobby Whitlock's "The Mountain Ring"|
"It comes from sacred place," said Whitlock. "I didn't sit around with a computer and an imaging machine come up with it. Nobody did. It's not involved. As a matter of fact, I cut out some people in my experience who wanted me to do that. They wanted me to start using computerized imagery, and I'm like, 'No, no, no man ... hell no. That's like using a rhyme book (laughs)." In his Southern drawl, Whitlock added, "That ain't happening man."
His mentors at Stax Records certainly would not approve of that sort of thing either. As a teen growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, in the mid-to-late 1960s, Whitlock spent a lot of time hanging around Stax artists, including Sam & Dave, Booker T. and the MGs, the Staples Singers and Albert King. It was where he received a priceless education in soul music, having learned to play the Hammond organ watching Booker T. Eventually, Whitlock became the first white artist signed to Stax's Hip label, doing rock 'n' roll and R&B.
"What I brought with me from that time was simplicity," said Whitlock. King's guitar playing "emobodied" that, Whitlock added. So did Steve Cropper and his playing, as Whitlock cited Cropper's solo on "Green Onions" as a prime example.
"He may not be Eric Clapton in the fluid department, but there ain't but one Eric Clapton," said Whitlock. "For Eric, it's all in the wrist. Well, you've gotta have that wrist (laughs)."
A lot of people wish they could play like Clapton, including Whitlock, himself a guitarist. "But then it wouldn't be special if everybody played like him," Whitlock said.
There were plenty of special artists at Stax, including the songwriting team of Isaac Hayes and David Porter.
"I met them when they were a songwriting team at Stax," said Whitlock. "So I watched them work. I watched songs come into expression in one room and taken into the studio room, the artists' auditorium – Stax was an old movie theater ... taking it to the auditorium and recording it on a four-track machine upstairs."
Observing Cropper work his magic in the studio and the control booth, expertly and skillfully taking a recording from a 2-track to cutting acetates and incorporating fades, Whitlock was exposed to a kind of artistry that others never witnessed.
|Bobby Whitlock played|
keyboards on two 1969
Delaney and Bonnie albums
So the subjects of Whitlock's songs, as well as those of his art, come straight from his own experiences.
"It's all brand new," said Whitlock. "Every moment is a learning experience."
And he's tried to soak it all in, as he said, "I sure am enjoying the ride." Part of his secret, he says, is "surrounding myself with people who are better at doing what they do than I am at what I do."
Some of those people were Cropper and Donald "Duck" Dunn and Don Nix, who were all set to produce a Whitlock solo album for the Stax subsidiary Hip, when Whitlock left to join the husband-and-wife team of Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett in a soul revue project they were putting together. Whitlock played keyboards and sang vocals on two 1969 Delaney and Bonnie albums, Home and Accept No Substitute.
In the beginning, Whitlock compared the situation to a family. "We were all really close," and he says that "carried on until 'D&A' got involved." And by D&A, Whitlock means "drugs and alcohol." Whitlock said everyone could relate to one another and "nobody told anyone what to do." Whitlock said it was similar to "birds flying." That situation wouldn't last, though.