Bobby Whitlock and CoCo Camel - The Domino That Refused To Fall

By Justin Beckner

Photo by Todd V. Wolfson

Bobby Whitlock is perhaps best known for being the co-founder of Derek & The Dominos, as well as working with Delaney & Bonnie, George Harrison, and The Rolling Stones. What most people would recant as a formidable career in the music business, Bobby sees as the foundation for his current work. CRR caught up with Bobby and his musical collaborator/wife, CoCo Camel, after a highly successful East Coast Tour. Bobby and CoCo are in the midst of finalizing plans to release a new album and, with the 50th Anniversary of landmark albums Layla, All Things Must Pass, and Exile on Mainstreet looming in the not-to-distant future, we can expect to hear a lot more from Bobby and CoCo in the next few years. Its been a wild ride for Bobby over his career, he is one Domino that just refuses to fall.

You two just wrapped up an East Coast tour. I assume you’re back in Texas?

Coco: Yes we are – in Austin

Bobby: We’ve been home for a day now.

Coco: We had a great time and we’ve enjoyed everything we’ve done so far.

Bobby: Seems like everyone’s having just as good a time as we are and we’re having a great time.

You’ve got a guest guitarist in every city. That’s pretty cool. How did that come about?

Bobby: that goes back a few years. Right before our tour a year and a half ago, we were approached by this guy. We play a little club in Austin called The Saxon. We don’t play anyplace else but we play there a couple times a month. So there was a guy who had been sending me videos of this guitar player friend of his – like a dozen videos – trying to get me to listen to him. There were too many – so I didn’t even listen to one. He kept on me about it but it was just too many damn videos to get through. So finally, CoCo and I were playing on a Saturday at the Saxon and this guy calls me up on a Friday and then sends me one video so I checked it out and sure enough, he was a good guitar player – his name is Tolo Marton. So CoCo had the idea to have him come to the Saxon the next day and bring a small amp. Turns out Tolo had learned to play by listening to the stuff that I was a part of. Like the Layla thing – that’s like the holy grail for guitar players. I never give it much thought. It’s just an album I did. I never thought about it in any way like that. So when Tolo showed up, it was just great.

Coco: it was a lightbulb moment for us. So when we did the Just Us Tour, we had the idea to have a different guitar player in every city. People volunteered – it was crazy. We had some great people volunteer to play. It was awesome

Bobby: There was a little bump or two in the road with a couple of the players who weren’t up to par but that’s how you learn – you learn along the way and that includes CoCo and me. So when it came time to do the Sparkly Shoes Tour, the same thing applied. But this time it was like Colin Linden – he’s the director and producer of the show Nashville. He played a couple dates. Ricky Byrd, [Joan Jett &] the Blackhearts guitar player – he went to great lengths to play with us. What a great player he is. We had a guy – Mark Newman who was just a phenomenal player. All the venues that we played were cool too. We played Daryl’s House – that one was cool because the audience is right there at your feet. The place was packed. Every show we’ve done, there have been people there with records, my records, CoCo’s solo record, and it’s amazing, everybody wanting an autograph. It was a great experience.

What happens now are there plans for another tour – is the new album done? What’s next for you guys?

Coco: we have a couple dates and were finishing up this new record and we’re giving it time to do its thing – so we’re taking a little bit of time off from the record.

Bobby: We’ll have some more dates popping up but right now were just having a great time doing this, going in to finish the record. We’re in a great place.

Where in the recording process are you?

CoCo: We’re not quite to the final mixing stages. We have some things that we need to fix a little bit because we have some parts that we didn’t get to do before the tour.

What are you most excited for fans to hear on this new album?

CoCo: for me, I think the new songs are just awesome – I love them. The great players that are on the record too. I think it’s going to blow people’s minds.

Bobby: I got to do the CoCo song I had been wanting to do forever called “Nobody Knows” and I had so much fun doing that song.

CoCo: We’ve got Darryl Jones, the bass player from the Rolling Stones. We’ve got Charlie Drayton, who is a great producer and also played with the Divinyls is on there. We have Colin Linden from the show Nashville. We’ve got Nick Tremulis and Stephen Barber on there. It’s a great record and it’s got some great new songs too.

Are the new songs collaborative with anyone else or are they written by you two only?

CoCo: I think there’s one collaborative song – “Leavin’ Mississippi” that Bobby wrote with Mark Selby.

Bobby: Yeah just the one collaboration. Coco co-wrote six of them with me and the other are mine. It’s very rare that I have co-written with anybody and I wouldn’t have co-wrote with Mark Selby except that I was in Nashville and people were saying that he and I should get together. When you’re in Nashville, - it’s a songwriting town and every time I’m around there, everybody is wanting to write a song with me. I don’t do it anymore. In fact he’s the last person other than CoCo that I have ever written a song with. I don’t do that, as a rule.

We’re coming up on the 50th anniversary of Layla – any plans for that?

Bobby: Yeah in 2020. I think it’s going to by the 50th anniversary of All Things Must Pass and Exile on Mainstreet too. Maybe not Exile – that might be the next year.

I think Exile was recorded in 1970 but released in 1972.

Bobby: Yeah I think it was something like that.

What’s the story with you not getting credit on Exile?

Bobby: Well they just didn’t give me credit. It’s as simple as that. They’ve been known for not giving credit to a few people. But Bobby Keys, he was their saxophone player and he was always calling me to come and hang with him and stuff. I was at my home in Ascot and he called me up and told me to come on down and hang out with him and the Stones – they were recording in the south of France. So I hopped on a plane and went down there where I met Jimmy Miller and hung out with those guys for a while. They were getting cranked up and getting going recording. Graham Parks was there as well so there was a lot of comradery. I met Jimmy Miller, who was the producer and he started talking to me about signing up with his production company and we didn’t really get to finish our discussion. I went on back home to ascot. It was a couple months later, and Bobby Keys calls me again at about 11 o’clock at night. He says he’s down at the studio at Olympic [Studio] with Jimmy Miller and the Stones and Jimmy wants to talk to me and finish a conversation we had started. So I took my Daytona down there – it didn’t take me more than 80 or 90 minutes to get there either. So I went into the control room. Mick [Jagger] was standing out in the studio with Charlie Watts hanging around waiting on Keith [Richards] to show up – he was out looking for something to party with, you know. They were all just waiting around – this was about twelve thirty or one o’clock or something like that. So I was talking with Jimmy and I decided that I would sign with his production company and I wound up having two records with Jimmy’s company. He produced the second one, called Rock Your Socks Off. Anyways after we finished our discussion, I was just gonna go home. I was walking through the main room and Mick Jagger says, “Hey Bobby, wasn’t your dad some kind of a preacher or a minister or something.” He was a Southern Baptists fire and brimstone kind of preacher. So Mick asked me to play some gospel on the piano. I said “Sure” – there was a Wurlitzer there in the middle of the floor of the studio at the Olympic so I turned up the volume up on it, turned the tremolo wide open and I started playing this gospel groove. Mick was going “That’s alright. That’s alright. Don’t wanna talk about Jesus. Just want to see his face” and he’s writing all these scat lines down in this little notepad he had. We just jammed – Mick Taylor picked up the bass and started playing and Charlie Watts started doing some toms. So we jammed for ten or fifteen minutes – something like that. Then in walked Keith and the jam was over. I just went home and didn’t give it a second thought. I just enjoyed playing with them. I didn’t know they had recorded it and when it came out they didn’t have my name on that thing and I told Jimmy, what’s going on here? I’m playing that. He said “Oh man, sorry, we forgot about that.” It took them two years to do the record and they didn’t keep records of anything. What I’m told is that nobody remembers who was doing what. They never gave me credit for it but if you listen to it and you know how I play, there aint nobody can play that but me.

I’m guessing there’s a lot about that recording session that they don’t remember for various reasons.

Bobby: Yeah there was a lot of blow and booze going down but it’s very convenient – if you can’t remember, then don’t give the guitar player or piano player credit. They know who it was. They knew who wrote it. I wrote both Mick and Keith a letter and I’m sure there’s been a lot of noise made about it. I’m sure they know about it. I aint dead yet and I’m not gonna give up on it. They can give me credit for it – that’s all I want. Money comes and goes. Eric [Clapton] gave me credit on “Bell Bottom Blues” finally after all these years. Plus he put something right in the money department. Money comes and goes but my name being on “Bell Bottom Blues” is a forever dispensation. My great-great-great grandchildren will be able to look at that and know that their grandfather wrote that incredible song.

Any concrete plans for the 50th anniversary of Layla?

Bobby: No. and you know if there were that I wouldn’t be able to tell you.

I had to try. I’ve heard rumors of all kinds of documentaries coming out – I’ve heard rumors of a second round of your autobiography.

Bobby: True about the documentaries. The autobiography, we talked about extending the first one. In the original version there are something like 37 stories – that came from 476 stories. But we have talked about putting some of the stories in there that weren’t in there before. The publisher told us the book would be too think so we had to cut some of it out. Marc Roberty said we should wait a while to add stuff and see what happens in my life and a lot has happened. Eric gave me credit on Bell Bottom Blues. CoCo and I have done some more recording. We’ve been on the road. And my life has grown and developed and changed since seven years ago.

CoCo: We just pretty much do what’s in front of us. Pre-planning stuff, for us, doesn’t usually work.

Bob: We just let it ride.

It certainly seems like this album is a labor of love for you two.

Bobby: We love to write songs together, we love to play and sing together, we love to be together. We’ve been hanging out with each other 24/7 for 17 years. We’re of like mind.

You got your original B3 Organ back a few years back – I love a good gear recovery story.

Bobby: Yeah it’s sitting seven or eight feet from me right now as we speak. There was a guy named Swain Schaefer who got ahold of it forty something years ago and he was with the Boxtops and the Pointer Sisters and a whole bunch of folks. So my organ, there’s a lot of history in it. It wound up being in Jim Stewart, who is the “ST” in STAX, it was in his studio for many years. I tried to buy it in 1983 – I had $10,000 cash in my pocket and I was in Memphis and I called up Swain and I told him I want to buy my organ back, it was either that or I had my eye on a new Mercedes. He told me to go get the car. He wouldn’t sell the organ back to me. I eventually just sort of wrote it off. Then a few years ago, about six or seven years ago, he got in touch with me and asked if I wanted it back and I had somebody on their way to get it before I hung up the phone. Then as soon as it got here, I had it out on the deck and I spray painted it black. It was still wobbly – the top and the back were gone. Pieces of wood have chunks taken out of it. I bought some new dollies and painted them black too.

How did you come to lose it in the first place?

Bobby: I was going to California to be with Delany & Bonnie and I couldn’t take it with me.

CoCo: It came back after all those years.

Bobby: That’s the way things are in my life. Everything comes full circle. Levon Helm told me, “just stay alive, Bobby, and your time will come” and he was right. My time is coming and my time is now. all of the things I’ve done before this – playing with Delany & Bonnie, Derek & The Dominos, All Things Must Pass, Exile, all of that was just foundation blocks to today.

I can respect that, someone who is more excited about the future than talking about the past. Too many people live in the past, especially when the past was good.

Bobby: Oh hell yeah. The past is history.

CoCo: It’s hard to move forward if you’re hanging on to the past

Bobby: The future is promising and the future is now. I’m proud of what I did but that’s not who I am. It’s just something I did. All the songs I played on Layla, they’ve never been presented to the public in one wad. So we do all the Dominos songs. Nobody has ever heard “I Looked Away” Eric has never done all the Dominos songs. He does one here and there, I did the same thing for a long time. But we do all of them and everybody’s loving it. People finally get to hear the songs as they were written. They didn’t come together in the studio, they were written with just me and Eric.

Tell me about the day the Dominos broke up – the day the Dominos fell.

Bobby: Well Jim and Eric were having kind of a war and we were all doing too much alcohol and drugs. Jim had got a new kit of drums – it had two kick drums, it had like twelve drums in this thing and cymbals all over. We’re in a big room at Olympic – the same room I was in when I did the piano part on Exile. Jim had put these drums together and was banging on them for four or five hours. We were all sitting around, waiting on him to get his brand new drums all tuned up right and everything like that. We’re waiting patiently and drinking and smoking and waiting and waiting and waiting. I can still see Eric sitting there on his amp with his leg crossed and his guitar on his lap. So finally Jim got his drums tuned up the way he wanted them – there were a dozen drums in this thing and each drum he would have tuned to a piano key so I was sitting there playing one note on the piano. Jim is a really musical drummer. But it was getting so monotonous. Finally he got it exactly right and Eric went to tune up his guitar – we didn’t have guitar tuners in those days like we have now. He got like two strings tuned up and Jim says, “Hey man, you want me to tune that thing for you?” I went “Oh shit”.  Me and Carl looked at each other and knew that was the wrong thing to say. Eric got up and slammed his guitar up against the wall and went out the door he said, “I’ll never play with you ever again.” That was it. And he never did play with him again except on my solo record but Eric had his back to him and Jim was in the drum booth and never came out. Eric had his back to the drum room the entire time. That was the end of it.

Do you think you’ll ever play with Eric again?

Bobby: Oh I don’t know we’ll have to see. Probably not. But it’s up to Eric. I don’t go around thinking about it or wishing we could write a song together or anything like that. I do know that he and I were natural songwriters together. Every song we wrote together was a great song. It happened so easy. We didn’t have to go looking for the music.