• Future Days-Light in the Attic
  • Bobby at Ringo Starr's house
Bobby Whitlock
Where There's a Will, There's a Way: The ABC-Dunhill Years
(Future Days-Light in the Attic)

Unless you're a Southern rock expert or a liner-note obsessive, you probably haven't heard of Memphis singer, guitarist, and keyboard player Bobby Whitlock.

On the basis of this 21-track Light in the Attic collection, which appears on their new Future Days subsidiary, he was the quintessential 1970s artist: ramblin' man, jack of all trades, classic-rock Zelig. Where There's a Will, There's a Way: The ABC-Dunhill Years combines the two solo albums he released in 1972, Bobby Whitlock and Raw Velvet.

Whitlock got his start by playing with Delaney & Bonnie, Derek & the Dominoes (Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs), and George Harrison (All Things Must Pass), and they would return the favor by contributing to these records, along with bassist Klaus Voorman, sax player Bobby Keys, the Edwin Hawkins Singers, and producers Andy Johns and Jimmy Miller (Exile on Main Street).

Written by Bobby; with Eric Clapton and George Harrison on guitar and Klaus Voorman on bass.

As a singer, Whitlock has a soulful style, a little like Joe Cocker, but with less grit and more gospel. For "A Day Without Jesus," Delaney and Bonnie put on their best "church" voices, though I couldn't say whether he's pondering or promoting Christianity (in the liner notes, he describes his preacher father as an abusive man). I'm not sure it matters, though it's better than most of its Christ-oriented competition, like the Doobie Brothers' Up with People-like "Jesus Is Just Alright."

And it could just be my imagination, because I was hoping to find a link, but I swear I can hear subtle echoes of Memphis's Big Star, who would also establish an association with Stax Records, in swinging tracks like "If You Ever." Fun fact: in getting to know the Stax stable of artists, Bobby provided the hand claps on Sam & Dave's "Thank You." (Also, SIFF just announced that they'll be screening the new Big Star documentary, Nothing Can Hurt Me, at this year's festival.)

Whitlock isn't a bad vocalist, but he has less of a signature style than peers like Cocker or Rod Stewart, which may be partly why his solo recordings didn't reach a wider audience, though he seems just as comfortable with the gentle numbers as the aggressive ones. From the first track to the last, he isn't doing anything that's never been done before, but he did it with an ease, a grace, and a lack of bombast that some of his more famous colleagues had a harder time pulling off.

Written by Delaney Bramlett and Mac Davis; with Eric Clapton on bass and slide guitar.

Light in the Attic releases Where There's a Will, There's a Way this June. For more information about Bobby Whitlock, check out this short LitA documentary. As for today: Bobby is still singing and playing, but has since traded Memphis for Austin.