As I await the new Showtime Documentary "A Life in Twelve Bars" devoted to Eric Clapton, word has come that Delaney and Bonnie AND Derek and the Dominos are again given short shrift. Can that be? True, the Dominos left little filmed material that I know of, and for personal reasons Clapton might not care to relive the two years. It was two years he spent with some of the most talented musicians he ever worked with.
From Delaney and Bonnie came Derek and the Dominos. After failing out with the bloated "supergroup" Blind Faith, Eric took to hanging with the under-rated opening act. It says much about his taste. Why tour with the precocious and questionable talent of Stevie Winwood when you can connect with more authentic inheritors of the rock and roll sound from the American South? Mind you, this was literally only ten years after Elvis and Little Richard hit.
Clapton has balanced a role in popular culture while pursuing his artistic devotion with style and great taste. Style as a gentleman, style in the threads he wears and even style as a drug addicted soul hiding in a mansion. Style helping Curtis Mayfield after a near fatal stage accident while performing in Brooklyn. Style organizing a tribute to a fallen Beatle. Style in a suit at Lincoln Center with Wynton Marsalis. Style sharing his grief with the MTV generation.
I wasn't one of those "dig the Yardbirds" kids. I knew of Clapton, of course, from Cream, who played in the background as I went through various teen pleasures. I didn't know then why they named a song "Toad" or "Badge" or that their best song came from a black man named Skippy James who recorded it in 1931. I did know what set them apart from every other group I knew; all three members played lead. ALL THE TIME! To say Ginger Baker "kept the beat" is hardly adequate, and whenever Eric started to shine, Jack Bruce just had to cut him with a bass run from nowhere in history. It was chaos blues. Ginger and Jack knew Clapton was the best and they could hardly stand it. That jealousy and intensity drove all three, but it was Clapton's playing which was from another place. He was able to stack and bend notes which left the neck frets superfluous. Most early Cream footage is all gummed up with "psychedelic" staging. I'd rather watch Delaney and Bonnie.
Look to the right to see Eric. Look even closer and you will see George Harrison. No longer a Beatle, George recognized the band as transcendent. What did it take to get the best guitar player in the world and an ex-Beatle to perform on together onstage in 1969? Delaney and Bonnie.
Clapton enjoyed hanging with Delaney and Bonnie so much, he swiped their entire band. The rhythm section anyway. Not long after the Delaney and Bonnie tour Clapton began pining for George Harrison's wife (the "cute bird" from A Hard's Day Night) and started snorting junk. While dealing with love and passion the wrong way, he formed Derek and the Dominos with Carl Radle, Bobby Whitlock and Jim Gordon. All shown here driving one hell of a band.
The secret weapon for Delaney and Bonnie was Bobby Whitlock. A loved man, a talented man and a righteous singer. He also played on the Hammond B3. It was an organ, not a synth. He played it rather than program it. It swirls around the stage in the background, but when Bobby sang, he had a voice that would stop a lover's fight. If you can tear yourself from Clapton's solos with Delaney and Bonnie or Derek and the Dominos, you'll not be able to avoid Bobby's powerful voice. He hasn't received the credit he deserves either, but his life is mighty interesting. Bobby was also seeped in all things dirt poor southern and he sang to save himself from a horrid poor white background. He is an encyclopedia of real roots and funny as hell. Whitlock went to live with Clapton in the mansion to take drugs and wreck expensive cars while the notion of Derek was conjured up.
Who else is on board in this film? Carl Radle, bass player divine and Jim Gordon, drummer extreme. Gordon and Radle also played their instruments like a lead guitars, but several years later Gorden murdered his own mother. Aieee! To this day, he is still regularly turned down for parole. Radle lived only until 1980. Booze and drugs. On trumpet is Jim Price. His creds are solid as well. He followed up his participation with George Harrison with Barbra Streisand. Fortunately he is still with us.
The Delaney and Bonnie sax man is roustabout rock and roll progenitor Bobby Keys. He is here as a young man with superb Beatle-bangs. Mr. Keys was talented yet incapable of reading music. Later on, he created those amazing sax breaks for the Rolling Stones. Mick thought him a bad influence on Keith, and he probably was. There was a time Keith wouldn't tour unless Bobby played with them. Bobby Keys was a genius in the rough, and that he has never entered the "Rock and Roll Hall of Fame" is a big fat crock of Wenner stew. He played with Buddy Holly and Bobby Vee at the age of 15. If you hear a good sax break on your retro-rock station, chances are real good you are hearing those honks from Mr. Keys.
Both Delaney and his wife Bonnie sang like juke joint saturday night, and it is because they had all the rock, roll, soul and gospel influences which come from down home. They ate grits which weren't available in "swinging England" at the time. The act was a poor white man roadhouse rumble as real as any Delta fish fry.
Delaney didn't have to "ape" his sound or his songs, though in the footage he stands in the middle like a big gorilla directing his brood. He was known to step on other performers who got too good. A drinker, I guess, and a drug user with a big ego. He went from Mississippi to the house band for the Shindig television show. The Shindogs along with no less than James Burton. He also had the good taste to recognize Bonnie Bramlett and made her his gospel and blues screaming wife. It is said Bonnie performed as one of The Ikettes with Ike and Tina Turner. A white sister who could deliver that unearthly sound Mary Clayton does on Gimme Shelter.
Delaney and Bonnie put the British blues skills of Eric Clapton in touch with the soul, rhythm and blues of America. It is said Delaney taught Eric to sing, and he readily agrees. Delaney schooled him, nurtured him and essentially created the Eric Clapton we know today. Witness his solo performance here on "I don't know Why" and you will see Clapton begin to him emerge as a complete entertainer. At one point, he looks over to Delaney for reassurance and receives it. "I don't know Why" is a weeper. A musing on love and imperfection. It comes from the place Mr. Clapton wanted to go, and he has stayed there decades. While forgotten today, it is the first sincere song in his considerable repertoire.
George Harrison figures prominently in the Delaney and Bonnie / Derek and the Dominos story. His triple LP All Things Must Pass (in retrospect, the best "solo" Lp by ex-Beatle) used the band as back-up. Delaney and Bonnie also picked up, toured and recorded with Duane Allman, Leon Russell, Dave Mason, Rita Coolidge and King Curtis. Knowing of them should send you to the used CD store. Go pronto. I hope their time is finally coming due. This hour-long, professionally-captured show is the apex of the second generation of Rock and Roll. Original article by Jim Linderman
The Showtime Documentery A LIFE IN TWELVE BARS
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