If you are a fan of rock & roll, you have heard Bobby Whitlock play music. Beyond his long-standing solo career alongside wife CoCo Carmel — who herself has performed with Jon Bon Jovi, Dr. John and Phoebe Snow — Bobby also played and wrote on three of rock’s most iconic albums: George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, Derek & The Dominos’ Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs and The Rolling Stones’ Exile On Main Street. He is also notably a co-founder of Derek & The Dominos, and was the first “friend” in Delaney and Bonnie. While Bobby has a new album in the works, he and CoCo have opted to travel the road for The Sparkly Shoes Tour, which hits B.B. King’s on Jun. 13.
One thing that makes the Sparkly Shoes Tour even more interesting is that each date of the tour features a special guest guitarist. The Jun. 13 show includes Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Ricky Byrd, who played in Joan Jett & The Blackhearts for many years; he has also performed alongside Southside Johnny, The Who’s Roger Daltrey, and Mott The Hoople’s Ian Hunter, among others.
Downtown had the pleasure of speaking with both Bobby and Ricky via e-mail. Interestingly, the two have never met in-person, so day of the B.B. King’s show will likely be their first meeting. Bobby and Coco can be visited online at www.bobbywhitlockandcococarmel.com, while Ricky keeps an online home at www.cleangetaway.nyc.
How did you two first meet?
Bobby Whitlock: We have yet to meet face to face, but have talked over the telephone…
Ricky Byrd: I haven’t actually met Bobby or Coco yet. My wife Carol Kaye is their publicist, so that’s my connection. I had seen a post on Facebook from Bobby that they were playing BB’s in June and I remember my pal Godfrey Townsend — who played with them last year — said he wasn’t available this year, so I asked Carol to reach out to them and offer my services. No doubt I’m honored to play with them. I have also agreed to do a short opening acoustic set of songs from my solo CD Lifer and some tunes I wish I had written. (laughs)
Ricky, you’re considered a sideman yet have also put out solo albums. Do you like being thought of as a sideman, though?
RB: Honestly, I have more of a frontman personality. I have been up front singing lead and driving the bus for so long, it’s a natural place for me to be. With that said, the fact that I’m a professional, I understand the concept of playing a supporting role and I have been that guy many, many times as well. At this point I have quite a list of people I have played alongside…everyone from Roger Daltrey to Smokey Robinson, and now Bobby Whitlock and CoCo Carmel
Sometimes I’m lead dog …sometimes you are there to help pull the sled. I just bring my tools and do whatever job is at hand!
What should be expected from your gig at B.B. King’s? Will you be playing any covers?
BW: We will be playing the Dominos songs that I wrote on the Layla record and some new originals that CoCo and I have written, along with a couple from my upcoming solo record.
On each date of the tour you’re playing with a guest guitarist. Did you have the cities picked out first? Or the guitarist?
BW: We have the dates and cities picked out before we get the guitarist.
How have you and CoCo been able to keep long-standing relationships as both collaborators and a married couple? I mean, few other musical couples have lasted decades…
Whitlock: CoCo and I are friends, lovers, husband and wife, and also musical partners…And we are together 24/7. We are equals in everything that we do. There is no “mine and yours.” It’s all ours. I never tell her what to play or sing. She knows what to do. We have great respect for each other and each other’s abilities. We are both free to be.
Ricky, where was the first gig you ever played in New York City?
RB: Hmm, probably a church dance in Queens. We were too young to play clubs. Eventually I made my way playing upstairs at Max’s Kansas City and other 70’s rock joints in New York City.
Do you still get out to Long Beach often?
RB: Back in the early 80s, I was out there often because Jett lived there. Over the past few years, I’ve played a few gigs in Long Beach, and you could find me at a restaurant or two there occasionally.
Gig at B.B. King’s aside, what’s coming up for you?
BW: Aside from the B.B. King date. which is in the middle of our Sparkly Shoes Tour, I am working on finishing my first solo recording in years. It has some new songs, some of which we are performing on this tour, and the band is great! Darryl Jones on bass, Colin Linden and Nick Tremulis on guitars, Charley Drayton on drums, with Stephen Barber on keyboards along with myself and of course my darling CoCo Carmel singing and playing sax. She also has about six songs that were co-written with me, and her song “Nobody Knows” is on my new solo record. I could not resist doing her song.
RB: I’m currently working on a CD filled with original songs I play at treatment facilities around the U.S. I have been in recovery since 1987 and a huge part of my world is trying to help those fighting addiction just as I was helped. The songs are about addiction, recovery, hope and inspiration. There will be some very special guests, including Bobby, but in the end the message of recovery is the special guest! I’ll be handing the CD out to patients at my groups. Knowing music is a healer, hopefully it will help save a life.
When not busy with music, how do you like to spend your free time?
BW: When I am not singing and playing or writing a new song or working on my poetry book, I enjoy whatever comes my way by the way of the creative process. I love walking in our woods with our dogs, and simply strolling down the street in our neighborhood with CoCo. I have a passion for working with wood, namely tree stumps. I call it root art. As a matter of fact, some people came from Japan to our home several years ago and they all were captivated with my artwork. I told them that I call it “root art” and they said that it is a very spiritual art in Japan, as it gives eternal life to the root of the tree.
RB: Watching baseball. Trying to navigate around a 15-year-old daughter. And napping. (laughs)
Do you have a favorite restaurant in New York?
BW: I don’t really have a favorite restaurant anywhere, as I prefer CoCo’s cooking at home.
RB: Wo Hop on Mott Street. I’ve been going there since 1974.
Finally, any last words for the kids?
BW: Final word for the children…Listen…Just be still and listen for that still small voice.
RB: If you want to be a music lifer, go out and play the joints to zero people on a Tuesday night. Learn the craft, play every day, make your bones the old-fashioned way, and let rejection roll off your back or you’ll go nuts.