Steve Cropper’s contributions to Booker T. and the MGs, Otis Redding and the Blues Brothers Band have become legendary over the years. But Derek and the Dominoes? Turns out, Cropper played a foundational role there, too.
Seems Bobby Whitlock, a keyboardist also based in Memphis, had just completed a series of dates with Delaney and Bonnie at the turn of the 1970s — only to find himself at loose ends. “When that thing was over, I didn’t know what to do,” Whitlock says, as part of his WBKM radio program. “I called Steve, and he said: ‘Call Eric, and say you would like to visit for a couple of days. Tell him what’s going on.’”
That would be Eric Clapton.
Talk about a fortuitous moment: Whitlock, of course, went on to spark the legendary sessions for Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, writing or co-writing six of its songs, adding a series of scalding organ asides, and sharing vocals with Clapton throughout.
Had Cropper “not had that insight, that I needed to be somewhere that I wasn’t,” the Dominoes would never have happened, Whitlock adds. “Things wouldn’t be the same in this world.” But nobody knew that at the time, of course. “I said: ‘What if he does say come over?,’” Whitlock remembers. To which Cropper simply reiterated: “Just call him, and then you call me back and tell me what he says.”
As for what moved Cropper to put these two together? “I wouldn’t know how to pinpoint it,” Cropper says. “I knew the talent that Bobby had, and the way he sang and played. I had met Eric, and he was the first guy who came to mind. I didn’t know what he was looking for, but I knew Bobby would be right up his alley.”
Whitlock called, of course, and Clapton welcomed the collaboration. “I hung up, and I called Crop back right away, and he said: ‘I’ll have your ticket there tomorrow,’” Whitlock says. “I had a one way ticket to England the next day — and the rest, as they say, is rock ‘n’ roll history.”
By the way, Whitlock says he still hasn’t repaid that airfare, which came to $380.
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