Before 'Layla' came Delaney & Bonnie & Friends
"One of Derek's Dominos moved to town?" I repeated in disbelief to Saxon Pub booker David Cotton. "Which one?" Duane Allman, 24, death by motorcycle in Macon, Ga., 1971; bassist Carl Radle, 37, death by overindulgence, 1980; drummer Jim Gordon, still incarcerated for stabbing his mother to death in 1983. Leaving only the nucleus of 1970's Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, Eric Clapton and Bobby Whitlock, who co-wrote the bleeding heart of their masterpiece then sang it together with savage grace. Every Sunday at the Saxon, 6pm, Whitlock and his wife, CoCo Carmel, perform howling versions of "Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad?" and "Anyday" among others (see "Keep on Growing," Dec. 1, 2006). Last Labor Day weekend at the Pedernales Recording Studio, Whitlock overdubbed finishing touches to "Got To Get Better in a Little While," from Derek & the Dominos' aborted second LP and now residing on March's deluxe Layla reissue. In his new memoir, A Rock 'n' Roll Autobiography (see review), the local legend remembers the Dominos' precursors, Delaney & Bonnie, whose frontman was later married to CoCo Carmel. By the end of this episode, George Harrison readies a tape of the band for his best friend Eric Clapton. – Raoul Hernandez
Delaney and Bonnie were sort of a revolving door to a lot of players back then, and Jimmy Karstein was the first to voluntarily leave. He showed up at the gig one night with a high-hat, a snare and a bass drum. That was it! Delaney was pissed, but it was show time. After the gig he said something to Jimmy about it and Karstein said, "Hell man, this is all I need! If I can't cut it with this, I can't cut it at all." He stayed a while but left to go play with Ricky Nelson. And later he joined JJ Cale, who had also left us to pursue a successful solo career. Gram Parsons, who had been a member of the International Submarine Band, the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers, had spotted the band at Snoopy's. He liked what he heard and became an early champion of Delaney and Bonnie. He introduced Delaney to Alan Pariser, one of the architects of the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. He was also the heir to the Dixie Lily Sweetheart Paper Cup Company fortune and was loaded. Alan had the best pot and cocaine in Los Angeles. He knew everybody in the business and was really hooked up. He's the one who gave Jimi Hendrix the LSD and the lighter fluid to set his guitar on fire during the Monterey Pop Festival. Alan really loved Delaney and Bonnie and became their manager. He took responsibility for all of the money and all of the connections and what limited success Delaney & Bonnie & Friends ever had. He financed everything for them, including their house and daily living expenses. He paid for the band, the road crew, the equipment, rehearsal place, photo shoots, studio time and just about everything else concerning them. That was supposed to make them free to create. They were free to create, all right. Over the years, they created more heartbreak for Alan than he could ultimately bear. He finally quit the music business and started building race boats. I spoke with him a few years ago, shortly before he passed, and he wouldn't even mention their names.
As soon as Alan became Delaney & Bonnie's manager they started to work out a whole new deal with another label. That new deal was with Jac Holzman, owner of Elektra Records. Although previously known for their small folk label image, they had found recent success on the West Coast with the Doors and Love. They had demonstrated that they were now a label that could handle rock acts and were known as one of the hippest around. Although Jack had misgivings, especially about Delaney, he overlooked them because he loved their southern soul music. Their contract gave them full artistic control of their records, along with the artwork, which was quite unusual at the time. Once the ink had dried, Delaney & Bonnie would cut their second record using their own musicians, namely all of us so-called "Friends," and it was going to be called The Original Delaney & Bonnie & Friends Accept No Substitute.
Ahead of that, Delaney & Bonnie and I went on a radio promotional tour in February 1969. We had gone on the road with Alan Pariser, to the top radio stations all across the United States. Just the three of us. We'd stop in and say that we wanted to play on the air. We didn't have a record out yet but it was soon to come. We were laying the foundation for our new album and letting them know that we would be back with a band. On this promotional tour, I remember that Delaney had talked somebody into getting him a prescription of Seconal reds, a barbiturate derivative drug. He sent Bonnie and me to find our way through downtown Atlanta, with me driving a rented car, to find this obscure pharmacy in a seedy part of town to pick up the dope. Legal, but still dope. He was always hogging the drugs, and this time we thought that we'd beat him to the draw. She opened the bottle and took out one for each of us. We took them right there and then and started driving back to the hotel, then all of a sudden everything started looking pretty grim. Those were more powerful than we were ready for. It buckled me at the knees and I was sitting down! We barely made it back to the hotel alive because I was going all over the road. This was all going on in the middle of the day as well. When we finally arrived back at the hotel, out comes Delaney looking more excited than I'd seen him for some time. We pulled up knowing there was going to be trouble. He said, "Where have you two been and why did it take you so long?" We weren't even out of the car yet and he was going off at Bonnie. He could see that we were pretty loopy. What we didn't know is that while we'd been getting his drugs, Alan had run into Ann-Margret and her husband, Roger Smith, in the hotel bar and we were due to go to their room to play and sing for them – ten minutes ago. We all went straight up to Ann and Roger's room, and they were still waiting for us. We went in and I'm sure that they could tell how wasted we were. Delaney was extremely pissed off but he had to keep it to himself in front of the movie stars. Bonnie sang like I had never heard before or since. I guess that she was doing an especially good job to keep from getting punched yet one more time. We finished and Delaney went straight to Leon Russell's room – he happened to be in the same hotel. Delaney locked the door on us. Closed it right in our faces.
Bonnie and I went to Alan's room, and he rolled us a couple of fat joints. We always had the Ozium out, with towels under the door and everything! You could easily tell who was smoking pot, because you just had to follow your nose to the Ozium spray. After a while, we went down the hall and listened through the door while Delaney and Leon were working on a new number, and then banged on the door for them to let us in, but they wouldn't. So we went back and smoked the other joint. You could hear them singing all the way down the hall. We heard that song come together, echoing down the hall. So did everyone else. We were all so very fortunate and didn't even know it. We were all listening to musical history in the making and were completely unaware of it. We sang all of the time, any and everywhere and nobody ever complained. It would have done them no good anyhow: Delaney would have just played louder and sung louder. When they were finished we all got to go in and Delaney said, "Y'all sit down and listen to this." We said, "We have been." It was incredible listening for the first time to that beautiful piece of music. It was called "Superstar (Groupie)." It was a top 10 hit for the Carpenters and was also covered by many other people including Rita Coolidge.
The Friends had changed some again, and were now Carl Radle playing bass, Jim Keltner on drums, Jerry McGee on guitar, Bobby Keys and Jim Price on horns, with Bonnie and me singing background to Delaney. I also had my saving grace, my Hammond B3 organ. Leon Russell, another former Shindog, whom I already knew from the Asylum Choir session, also joined along with Rita Coolidge. We would later have drummer Jim Gordon join Jim Keltner, both playing at the same time. You couldn't have asked for nicer people. The only person that ever caused any discord was Delaney. His ego was massive, and it ruled every decision that he made. I never had any trouble with him though, because I never took what he said too personally. We recorded the Accept No Substitute album at Elektra Studios in Los Angeles. It was the first for our new label, and it also signaled the beginning of the end for Delaney & Bonnie & Friends.
From Bobby Whitlock: A Rock 'n' Roll Autobiography © 2011 Bobby Whitlock with Marc Roberty by permission of McFarland & Company, Inc., Box 611, Jefferson NC 28640. www.mcfarlandpub.com.