Bobby Whitlock

Where There's a Will There's a Way: The ABC-Dunhill Recordings

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For fans of classic rock, Bobby Whitlock's name, keyboards, and songs appear on some legendary records. Among them are four albums by Delaney & Bonnie Bramlett, including On Tour with Eric Clapton; George Harrison's All Things Must Pass; Derek & the Dominos' Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs; and Clapton's first self-titled solo album. The recordings compiled here, Bobby Whitlock and Raw Velvet, were both issued in 1972. The musicians assisting him are a who's who from those years: Harrison, Clapton, Delaney & Bonnie, Bobby Keys, Jim Gordon, Carl Radle, Klaus Voormann, Jim Keltner, and the Edwin Hawkins Singers. Handsomely assembled, the collection was produced for reissue by drummer and author Pat Thomas. Musically, both of these records date beautifully. Their flaws are those of youth, and they lie mainly in Whitlock's singing. Though he obviously had something -- he was the first white artist signed to Stax -- he hadn't quite developed it. While the depth of his emotion is clear (if anyone had a right to sing the blues it's him; just check the liner essay), he's also completely caught up in the rock tropes of the moment; he cops to it in his track annotations here. But the hell with it. On the Bobby Whitlock album the guitar interplay between Harrison and Clapton in "Where There's a Will There's a Way" would send any 24-year-old into a fit of exuberance. Clapton also helps out on that album's dynamic "The Scenery Has Slowly Changed." The Bramletts lend their iconic voices to the Southern-fried gospel of "A Day Without Jesus" and the country & Memphis "I'd Rather Live the Straight Life." On the latter album, Clapton, Delaney & Bonnie, and Gordon all reunite for "Hello, L.A., Bye Bye Birmingham." On "Bustin' My Ass" and "Ease Your Pain," the Edwin Hawkins Singers offer two distinct sides of their group persona: alternately gritty and soulful. Hoyt Axton penned the latter tune for him; it's the only song here not written by Whitlock. Also on Raw Velvet is Whitlock's own rugged version of "Tell the Truth." Apart from the all-star guest spots, Whitlock's bandmates on these records are gritty and relaxed, yet precise, flawless. The liner essay by Marc Roberty (co-author of Whitlock's autobiography) is authoritative and offers real perspective, but the songwriter's own comments in the photograph-filled booklet are priceless. For whatever shortcomings there are here, these records not only deserved to be remastered and reissued, but also to be heard by anyone--and everyone--interested in the music of that era. After all, there is a reason they call it "classic" rock.

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