When you search for the names of famous bass players, Carl Radle’s will not show, although he helped many musicians back then to have a unique bass sound in their songs. Someone like Eric Clapton especially appreciates that were it not for Radle, he probably would have long been forgotten after taking a break from the industry. So, we give credit where it’s due and here is an appreciation of the amazing talent of Radle, beginning with how he got started in music.
Learning to Play Bass by Ear
Radle started his musical journey in school when he learned how to play the clarinet. He then moved on to piano and became quite good at it, so much so that he wished he had become a pianist. Unfortunately, his parents felt he was not making good use of their money by failing to practice enough. However, that did not hold back the young boy’s dream, so he tried his hand in guitar. Radle soon realized that everyone else was interested in learning how to play the guitar. Since he wanted to set himself apart from the crowd, he went ahead to buy an electric bass because not many people were interested in playing bass.
Determined to be a good bassist, when Radle bought his Danelectro electric bass, he spent the rest of the day teaching himself to play bass. He had already familiarized himself with reading piano music, but bass music was quite new. Not much was known about bass guitars because they were still new in the market. Radle, therefore, listened to Little Richards and began playing along to the tunes by listening keenly. Once he was confident of his skills, he went to show them off in a school band. According to a 1976 interview published by Carl Radle Bass Lines, the late bassist said that by then, even the high school bands did not have bassists. They only had two guitarists, a drummer and the lucky ones would have a piano player.
Since there was no one to teach him, Radle listened to those he considered the best players at the time: Paul McCartney, Ricky Nelson, and Joe Osborne. He exercised by playing bass lines, focusing on the hardest positions and kept working on them till he got them right. He used to play with a pick before becoming experienced enough to use his first two fingers and thumb. The bassist added he had very small hands that would have been great at playing the violin, but he stuck to playing bass and started his own collection of different bass guitars. He sold his Danelectro electric bass guitar and replaced it with Fender. However, by 1976, among his collection was an Ampeg bass he only played while at home because he was yet to gather enough courage to take it to the stage.
Becoming a Renowned Bassist
According to Ultimate Classic Rock, Radle’s career would not have been possible had it not been for Leon Russell and JJ Cale. The upcoming bass player had forged friendships with the two Tulsa musicians; therefore, when Russell moved to California, Radle followed. There, the bassist explored his bass-playing skills in different gigs in clubs. However, Radle went back to Tulsa to join the Air National Guard but was discharged in 1965, upon which he returned to California. Russell had invited him to join him there, and this time, the bassist had the chance of backing up more popular musicians such as the Playboys and Gary Lewis.
Lewis was drafted in 1967, leaving Radle to go back to being a session musician. In 1969, Russell came to Radle’s rescue by introducing him to Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett. During the summer of 1969, Blind Faith was touring, and Delaney & Bonnie & Friends had been invited to do an opening act for the band. According to The Main Edge, Eric Clapton saw Delaney & Bonnie & Friends perform and wished he could experience the fun and camaraderie that the band had. Consequently, Clapton joined Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, and Radle soon showed more than his bass-playing talents by co-writing ” Never Ending Sing of Love” and” Get Ourselves Together.”
Unfortunately, the band broke up when most of the members, including Radle, left to join Russell and Joe Cocker in Mad Dogs & Englishmen, an English band In Bobby Whitlock, Clapton could see a musical brother. As Whitlock revealed, Clapton was determined to form his own band and wanted Whitlock, Jim Gordon and Radle to join. Since Clapton wanted a different experience from the ones he had with Blind Faith and Cream, he insisted on all the members being equals. He did not even want his name to be on the band; hence Derek and The Dominos was formed.
Saving Clapton but Losing Himself
Derek and The Dominos lacked the creativity that Clapton desired. The band members became so absorbed in their luxurious use of drugs that they were no longer producing music. It got so bad that Ahmet Ertegun, their record label manager, had to intervene, asking Clapton not to go down the path that Ray Charles had taken. It all fell on deaf ears until Clapton saw Duane Allman play and asked him to join the band. Duane is credited for bringing out the best in all the band members, and soon they recorded “Layla.”
It was a dedication to Pattie Boyd, George Harrison’s wife. However, Boyd was not ready to leave her husband for Clapton. Therefore Clapton chose to drown his frustration with drugs. The song did not do as well as he had hoped, so he sank much deeper into depression using hard drugs as his therapy. The band dissolved, and Radle continued with session work playing with Whitlock, Russell, and Hooker, among other musicians. He had not forgotten about Clapton, so the bassist sent him a demo which brought Clapton back to his senses and reignited his passion for music.
In 1974, the demo turned into a reality when Clapton returned to the band and recorded “461 Ocean Boulevard.” Clapton dissolved the band because he was looking for a new sound. Radle returned to Tulsa and garnered lots of credits as his career was on an upward trajectory. Despite his amazing gifts, he could not stay sober, and his body finally gave in through kidney failure caused by lots of alcohol and drug use. At only 37, the bassist’s bright future came to an abrupt halt, but his contribution to music through his self-taught talent will remain unforgotten.