Bobby Whitlock's ups and downs with Delaney & Bonnie

Rock/soul revue's instability, substance abuse led to group's downfall
By Peter Lindblad

Bobby Whitlock is doing jewelry design
these days, along with music and other
artistic endeavors
Almost from the very start, the soul/rock revue Delaney & Bonnie and Friends was a band of musical vagabonds, the lineup always in a state of flux.

When Bobby Whitlock, reared at Stax Records, joined up in the late 1960s, however, he found it to be a close-knit assemblage of talented artists, even going so far as to call it a "family." They were kindred spirits, according to Whitlock, passionate and knowledgeable about Southern music and making themselves right at home in the nurturing environment of Stax.

At the same time, there was constant turnover, and Whitlock sympathized with Delaney Bramlett, knowing that the transience vexed him.

"It's frustrating to be the leader of it, because it's always changing," said Whitlock, the keyboardist/guitarist who would go on to help form Derek and the Dominos with Eric Clapton and play on George Harrison's All Things Must Pass album. "If everyone is always going, and everyone is always changing and every situation always changes. Everyone wants to better themselves, and the doors of opportunity are always open for everyone to get themselves on a higher plateau."

Whitlock eventually did likewise, but he remained with Delaney & Bonnie from 1968 to 1970, playing keyboards and lending vocals to 1969's Home and Accept No Substitute albums. Members at the time included a horn section consisting of Bobby Keys and Jim Price, bassist Carl Radle and drummers Jim Keltner and Jim Gordon, with guitar god Eric Clapton becoming lead guitarist midway through the summer of 1969 on a U.S. tour.

At first, everything ran like clockwork. Then, the group began to suffer from a chemical imbalance. "That carried on until D&A got involved. I call it 'drugs and alcohol,'" said Whitlock. "That kindred spirit seemed to fall to the wayside. In the beginning, everyone could relate to each other."

Bobby Whitlock performing with
his wife, CoCo Carmel.
Nowadays, Whitlock has a family with wife Coco Carmel, the two forming a husband-and-wife musical duo. He said she does everything well, and added that " ... she sees the big picture. She saw the big picture in me before I did." Coming into focus currently is Whitlock's art work, including his jewelry design. Whitlock is currently auctioning a piece called the "Mountain Ring" and preparing to see his works to the public. Information regarding the ring can be found here:

Whitlock works in a variety of mediums these days, including root art, wood carving and painting. As a musician, versatility has always been his calling card, and he was called on to do something with Delaney & Bonnie that was a bit out of his comfort zone.

"Yeah, I was surprised. I didn't know I was going to be singing chick parts number one," said Whitlock. "It all worked out. I kept my mouth shut and my eyes and ears open, because I was surrounded by great people, but I had always been surrounded by great people, always."

That was the case at Stax, a place that had been his home, where he cut his teeth with Sam & Dave and Booker T. & the MGs. "When I got with Delaney & Bonnie, I left my career at Stax to be with them," said Whitlock, who had become a part of a disciplined unit that prized tightness and efficiency. "It was like being with James Brown. It was Delaney's way or no way at all."

Bobby Whitlock at the piano, with Eric Clapton on the guitar.
Delaney & Bonnie excelled at vocal harmonies, and Whitlock sang those "chick parts" with zeal. "As it turned out, it was a good thing that for me, because singing those second-part harmonies, that's what we did with the Dominos."

His background in gospel music made it easy for him to assimilate into the vocal harmony boot camps of Sam & Dave and Delaney & Bonnie, and what Delaney & Bonnie did at first, as an acoustic duo, influences what Whitlock and Carmel do today. Still, Whitlock feels the Delaney & Bonnie and Friends "couldn't be topped" as far as vocal harmonies go.

And while the ever-evolving lineup caused consternation among those who stuck it out for a while, Whitlock is quick to say that "nobody ever got fired from Delaney & Bonnie. Everybody left. It was like a revolving door, just coming in and going out." Eventually, Whitlock went out that door as well, going off to work on George Harrison's All Things Must Pass album and then forming Derek and the Dominos with Eric Clapton. His days with Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, however, were important to his development as an artist.

(We'll have more from Bobby Whitlock on his work on George Harrison's All Things Must Pass album and his days with Derek and the Dominos coming soon)

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