Whitlock’s story is a remarkable one. Born to a hardscrabble existence, raised in abject poverty, abused by his preacher father and was sent out to pick cotton in the fields. Moving from one railroad town to another, Whitlock was quite literally from the wrong side of the tracks.
Yet thanks to his singing and piano playing, music was Whitlock’s escape. Winding up in Memphis, Whitlock hooked up with Stax Records, who signed him as the first white artist to their new pop label HIP. But it was soul music, not pop, that was in Whitlock’s heart – and his break came when Delaney & Bonnie asked him to join their band, The Friends.
Following Delaney & Bonnie from Stax to Elektra Records, Whitlock found his life starting to intertwine with ‘60s rock royalty. Delaney & Bonnie took him on tour with Blind Faith, where Eric Clapton was impressed with Whitlock’s playing and the camaraderie he saw in The Friends. Soon, Whitlock joined Clapton, Jim Gordon and Carl Radle in Derek & The Dominos, the crack unit that backed George Harrison on much of the seminal All Things Must Pass and recorded the classic rock album Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs.
During the recording of those albums, Whitlock tentatively made his first steps as a solo artist. Though drugs were already beginning to tear Derek & The Dominoes apart, Whitlock was able to call on some high profile friends (and “Friends”) to play on his album, including Clapton, Harrison, session bassist Klaus Voorman (John Lennon, Carly Simon, et al), drummer Jim Gordon and others. “I really loved my first record and everything that was behind it,” says Whitlock now. “And for the love that was brought to the room by everyone each time we recorded. I know that you can hear it in Eric’s solo on ‘The Scenery Has Slowly Changed.’”
When Bobby presented his album to Atlantic Records they rejected it, citing a different vision for his debut record. So Bobby bought himself out of his contract. Soon after, The Dominos split up following troubled second album sessions. Bobby just kept moving: first back to his rural home in England, then to France, where the Rolling Stones were recording Exile On Main Street. He found a deal for his debut album (via producer Jimmy Miller) and a follow-up too. That second album, Raw Velvet, featured the Edwin Hawkins Singers, the L.A. Symphony, Eric Clapton, Jim Gordon and Bobby’s new band members: Rick Vito on guitar, Keith Ellis on bass and Don Poncher on drums. Andy Johns co-produced the self-titled debut (with Whitlock) and Jimmy Miller produced the Raw Velvet LP. Andy was the recording engineer of Exile on Main Street and later produced Television’s Marquee Moon. Miller, of course, produced Exile On Main Street!