Eric Clapton’s Layla might be on our playlist but ever bothered to check its credits? Not many might know that songwriter Bobby Whitlock put the pieces together for the bestseller and other songs that appear on Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.
Part of Derek and the Dominos, Whitlock and Clapton co-wrote many songs together on their guitars. After the outfit disbanded, he collaborated with the likes of Ray Charles, Buddy Guy and George Jones.
Teaming with wife Coco Carmel, the blues musician will be engaging Bangaloreans this summer at the Indigo n Blues Festival scheduled for 18 and 19 May. On his first ever India tour, the musician shares stories with Anita Iyer about working with music geniuses and the journey so far.
Indians relate to you as Clapton’s songwriter, what are you looking forward from this trip to India?
Inspiration! Eric and I were natural songwriting partners. Every song that we wrote came from that place where creativity abounds. You can’t see it or touch it but you can feel it in your soul and it becomes a picture in your minds’ eye. That’s when it comes into expression. That only happens when you are surrounded by wonder and beauty – inner and outer. And that is what I am really looking forward to our first trip to India.
Working with Eric Clapton and Buddy Guy, did you have to adapt your sound? And particularly Ray Charles, who was known to be meticulous about his music?
When I was with Clapton what we did was ‘our’ sound – it was mine and his combined. That’s why it worked so well. I have never sounded any other way than the way I do today. I still sing and play the way I did when I first started singing and playing. It’s just that I have now what I never had before and that is experience. It’s true that you have got to live the blues to sing and play them. I had to live my life to write and sing about it.
As for Ray Charles, he sang me, singing him in my mind as I was writing my song. When I was writing the song Slip Away for him and he recorded, there was a melody in the second verse that came to me as clear as a bell while this song was pouring forth. And that it was doing too! Flowing forth… it just poured out through me as I was singing and playing it on the piano. When it got to that certain part, I could see and hear Ray Charles in my mind singing, “And now that it’s over and there’s nothing more I can say, except that I’m sorry for saying too little too late…” When he recorded my song, he sang it note for note and word by word the same way that the piano/vocal was, when I had presented it to his record company.
You lay low for most of 80s and 90s only to be back with Its about time. How did this sabbatical help you grow as a musician?
I had the opportunity to grow from within. There was a lot of soul searching during that period of my old life. I had a void that I had been trying to fill with everything but the one thing, God. When I had my awakening, my whole life suddenly made sense and fell into place, me being right there in the middle of it. The musical aspect of it was one of the added things. It naturally grew right along with me during the whole series of change.
Every song has a story. Could you relate making of any one track- probably Layla?
Eric wrote the song Layla all by himself and I had nothing to do with the writing of it. Jim Gordon didn’t have anything to do with it either. The piano coda was not originally a part of the recording. It was never a part of the song, just the recording. The original 45 Layla single didn’t have it on it. Eric wrote this without anyone knowing about it. One day he walked into the TV room and said listen to this and tell me what you think. It was awesome! That’s what I said too, ”Awesome!” It got to me a little that he had written it without me knowing about it as we were a songwriting team, but it was so good that nothing else mattered. He said that it was a compilation of several different movements from some other songs that he had put together. The story and melody were fresh picked though. It was a chapter in the life and times of Eric Clapton.