“Bobby is probably in many ways better as a keyboard player than he was with the Dominos twenty years ago. Obviously he knows a lot more and has a lot more experience. …one of the things that really hit me on all of his work with Clapton, aside from his great keyboard playing, was his mastery of the Hammond rumble. For example, on “Anyday,” that rumble at the beginning doesn’t even sound like an instrument – it sounds like an earthquake. He’s great at that.”
-Jeff Healey, Guitar Player Magazine, 1990
Some on my favourite memories of Memphis are ones of me taking Jeff Healey around town for bar-b-que and record shopping. He was the opening act for B.B. King during one of their yearly outdoor concerts down on the river. It was the night of the grand opening of B.B. King’s on Beale Street. Jeff and I both played that evening. But back to the start of it all. I can’t really remember how it came to be that Jeff and I got together. I want to say it had to do with John Fry’s place there in Memphis, Ardent Studios. As a matter of fact that was where we met. (a short time later, Jeff would end up recording ‘Down In The Alley’ at Ardent with Bobby for the ‘Last Temptation of Elvis’ compilation… ~Rog) It was a chance meeting (in August of 1989) and I offered to pick Jeff up and take him around town for some bar-b-que and to some record shops. He was a collector of 78s and knew something that I didn’t for sure! I had called ahead to Superman Records and told them to get some old 78s down and that we would be there right after lunch.
We went to a bar-b-que place and chowed down. Jeff arranged his plate a certain way. Kind of clockwise. He gently touched it as he ate it and never spilled anything or missed anything at all. After lunch we went to the record store and they had pulled several boxes of some old 78s down for Jeff to go through. He picked one up and ran his thumb around the edge of it and told me that it had been played twice. Then he gently ran his fingers across the face of it and told me who and what it was. He told me the label and artist. He had very sensitive touch. He picked out several albums and checked his flip-top watch and said that we had better go because he had to play and then introduce B.B. when he came on stage. We got to the checkout counter and the cashier told him how much it was and he pulled out his cash and felt it very gently and handed the cashier the ninety something dollars. He said that he could tell by the way it felt, what it was that he was giving them.
When I first picked Jeff up at the hotel I went in and up to the floor where his room was thinking that I was going to help him around… I stepped off of the elevator and there he was walking like he could see, straight towards me. That was something else too. His eyes followed you as you moved. It was as if he could see. He said that he always found his way around with not much problem. I was amazed that there was nobody with him helping him out, but he said that he gets around just fine on his own.
We went on down to my car and he folded his cane, that he really didn’t use that much as he was walking holding on to my arm as if he knew where he was going. It was as if I was the blind man… A case of the blind leading the blind. He was pushing me instead of me leading him anywhere. When he got in he said to me, “This is an old Mercedes.” He was right again! It was a 1973 420 SEL. I described everything that we went past like Sun Studios and the whole of Memphis. Wherever we were I described it to him.
We went to the venue down on the Mississippi River and got back stage. Jeff was to present B.B. when he came on. Turned out that I was to lead Jeff on stage and then he was to introduce B.B. King. Just before we walked out in front of everybody he asked me, “What does it look like out there?” I told him that his back was to the Mississippi River and in front of him was a sea of thirty thousand afros. Then downtown Memphis.
I enjoyed the time that I spent with Jeff and always considered him a good friend. I was later honoured when he asked me to play on his “Hell to Pay” album…
What I remember about the session that stood out most was the studio (Le Studio in Morin Heights Quebec). It was all glass and sitting at the foot of a beautiful mountain all covered with snow. There were long velvet drapes that were closed when we recorded. But that was one beautiful place to record, or just to be, period!
The session was no different from any other that I have ever done. I’m good at getting the job done. It doesn’t take me very long to play my organ part, so there was a lot of time for camaraderie. Back at the house where we were staying, we all settled down in front of the television to watch Jeff’s favourite program. I don’t remember the name of it because I was more enthralled with him sitting right next to the set and playing a Gameboy and saying that it was coming right about now! And it would start ringing and making all sorts of noise because Jeff had just beat it again! And too, he was keeping up with the program.
I had a great time every time that I was around Jeff Healey which wasn’t near enough. I think of him often and fondly. I considered him a good friend and he will always be remembered for his unorthodox way of playing. At the session I asked him about playing his guitar the way that he did when he had it across his lap. He said that it made sense to him mathematically. I just get this picture of him sitting in a chair with his head back and he is about to pull the strings right off of the neck of the guitar.
I think that I’ll stop here so as to keep that picture fresh in my memory.
-Legendary musician Bobby Whitlock, has had a long and storied career. Signed to Stax at the tender age of 16, one of the “And Friends” of Delaney & Bonnie, founding member of Derek and the Dominos… Bobby Whitlock has recorded and performed with a who’s who of popular music royalty; Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Joe Cocker, Steve Cropper, Buddy Guy, Stephen Stills, the list goes on and on.
Whitlock’s performances and writing credits on Derek and the Dominos’, ‘Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs’ alone, have enshrined his place in the history of rock, let alone his many other contributions.
Jeff had the privilege of having Bobby play on the 1990 recording of ‘Down In The Alley’ for the charity album, ‘The Last Temptation of Elvis’ and on four cuts on the ‘Hell To Pay’ album; ‘Full Circle’, ‘I Think I Love You Too Much’, ‘How Long Can A Man Be Strong’ and ‘Let It All Go’.
Please be sure to show Bobby some love and check out his latest projects at http://www.bobbywhitlockandcococarmel.com/