One of the albums I grew up to was Eric Clapton Unplugged. Being that Unplugged was my first entrée into Clapton's music, my perception of him was badly skewed. I was still young, but knew little beyond Tears in Heaven, Alberta and the acoustic version of Layla. It wasn't until much later in life that I discovered Hello Old Friend, Lay Down Sally, Motherless Children and the versions of Layla and Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out he recorded with Duane Allman during the Derek and the Dominoes (D&tD) sessions.
Before D&tD came to be in 1970, Clapton had already done work with numerous supergroups, including the Yardbirds, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith and Delaney, Bonnie & Friends (who my esteemed former college golf teammate Kyle brought up in the comments section of the Duane Allman post). It was the internal turmoil swirling around Delaney & Bonnie that allowed for the formation of D&tD.
Clapton, keyboardist Bobby Whitlock, drummer Jim Gordon and bassist Carl Radle had all played with D&B, but Delaney's ego and his fighting with Bonnie made them unbearable to record with. Whitlock later said:
"Delaney was a little James Brownish, real hard to work with, him and Bonnie fighting all the time and carrying on. Everyone got disenchanted with the situation"It was Whitlock and Clapton who first connected after the four future Dominoes had left D&B. Whitlock was out of work at the time with $120 to his name when Clapton flew him out for a visit to London. Once Whitlock settled in, they began discussing the formation of a band and decided on a few parameters, "Our band was open - we didn't want no chicks, and no horn players, we wanted a four-piece rock 'n roll band, and we did it."
It was during this summit that the two would write the bulk of D&tD's catalog. Before Clapton, Whitlock, Radle and Gordon formed the band, they acted as studio musicians on George Harrison's first solo album, All Things Must Pass.
There are conflicting reports as to how the band actually came to be know as "Derek and the Dominoes". They all start with Derek as some sort of bastardization of Eric but differ on whether Dominoes was intentional or originally supposed to be Dynamos or Dynamics.
Their public debut came on June 14th, 1970 at the Lyceum Theatre in London, which was guitarist Dave Mason's first and only show with the band. During their first tour across small clubs in England, Clapton opted to play anonymously, having been burnt by the chaos surrounding Cream and Blind Faith. This, and the fact that it was a double LP, were reasons that Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs incredibly never charted in the UK.
As "Derek" was a cover for Eric, so too was "Layla" for Pattie Boyd, George Harrison's wife at the time. The relationship between her and Clapton was originally initiated by Boyd to get Harrison's attention, but to Eric, it far exceeded that. Nearly every song on the album was at least an oblique reference to Boyd.
Clapton drew Layla from "The Story of Layla & Majnoun" by the 12th century poet Nizami, considered the Romeo and Juliet of Persian culture. Layla and Majnoun were never actually together in the book, they were childhood friends who fall in love, but are kept apart. Layla is forced into a loveless marriage while Majnoun takes the route of solitude and reflection. By this introspection, Majnoun is said to come away with divine knowledge.
Presence of the Lord is not a song you would initially assume to be about a woman, but in light of that poem, look at the lyrics:
I have finally found a way to live,Everybody indeed knew the secret, eventually. Clapton arranged a clandestine meeting between he and Boyd at a flat in South Kensington to play a song he wanted her to hear. Boyd later recalled:
Just like I never could before.
And I know I don't have much to give,
but I can open any door.
Everybody knows the secret,
I said everybody knows the score.
I have finally found a way to live,
In the presence of the lord.
He switched on the tape machine, turned up the volume and played me the most powerful, moving song I had ever heard. It was Layla, about a man who falls hopelessly in love with a woman who loves him but is unavailable.According to Bohe same night that Clapton first played Layla for Patty, the following took place in the garden of Harrison's manager Robert Stingwood's house:
He played it to me two or three times, all the while watching my face intently for my reaction . My first thought was: 'Oh God, every one's going to know this is about me'.
"George kept asking, 'Where's Pattie?' But no one seemed to know. He was about to leave when he spotted me in the garden with Eric," Boyd said. "George came over and demanded, 'What’s going on?’ To my horror, Eric said, ‘I have to tell you, man, that I’m in love with your wife.’ I wanted to die. George was furious. He turned to me and said: ‘Well, are you going with him or coming with me?’ I went home with George".This sounds like ex post facto exaggeration, but if that actually happened, it might be one of the greatest events in the history of humankind:
Clapton once showed up drunk at Harrison’s home and engaged the Beatles’ guitarist in a rock duel. “George handed him a guitar and an amp — as an 18th-century gentleman might have handed his rival a sword — and for two hours, without a word, they dueled,” Boyd said. “At the end, nothing was said but the general feeling was that Eric had won. He hadn’t allowed himself to get riled or go in for instrumental gymnastics as George had. Even when he was drunk, his guitar-playing was unbeatable.Instead of fighting, two of the most prominent musical icons at the time decided to go riff for riff on the guitar over a love triangle? Every rapper worth his weight in 40oz's has battle-rapped against another MC, but I've never once heard of it between guitarists, especially in that stratosphere.
In the late summer of 1970, when D&tD were compiling Layla at Criteria Studios in Miami, they were working with a producer from Atlantic Records named Tom Dowd. Due to the fact that the Dominoes had very little experience playing the material as a four person band, the first few days of recording were tedious and uninspired. It was not what Dowd expected:
I had alerted the staff at Criteria that this was going to be brutal. Bring earmuffs, because these guys would be showing up with double stacks of Marshalls and God knows what. And when they showed up, all they had was a tweed champ and a Princeton, and Radle has a piggyback Ampeg B15... As I think back on it, I made the comment that if anybody walked into that studio with squeaky shoes, we'd blow a take. That's how quiet they were.At the time, Dowd had just finished recording Idlewild South with the Allman Brothers in the same studios. Eric and Duane already had mutual respect for each other. Dowd later recanted:
Well, Duane came into the control room and I said,"Duane, I'm sorry, but that was Eric Clapton's manager and I had to take the call." Duane says, "You mean the guy in Cream?" He starts playing me Cream licks. "Man, are you going to record him? Oh, man, yeah, man. I gotta meet him."After the first few lackluster sessions for Layla, Down received a call from Duane, saying they were playing a show at the Miami Beach Convention Center that night. Clapton recognized Duane's work on Wilson Pickett's Hey Jude and immediately wanted to go see the concert. As the legend goes, Duane didn't know he was going to be there and literally stopped playing during a solo. Still Dowd:
So I took the band down to this outdoor concert, and the crew for the Allman Brothers snuck us in on our hands and knees to the front of the stage right in front of the barricade, and we're sitting on the ground watching Duane playing a solo. All of a sudden he looks down and sees Clapton and his eyes bug out and he just stops playing. Dickie looks, and he figures Duane has broken a string or his amp's blown up, so he starts playing a solo, and all hell breaks loose. I'm really giggling, and they finally regained their composure and finished the show.After the show, Clapton and Allman went back to the studio and jammed until two o'clock the next afternoon. The two bands swapped keyboardists and drummers, and the results can be found on the 20th Anniversary Edition of Layla on the second and third discs. The second one is especially awesome, containing only Jams I, II, III, IV & V with none of those clocking in at under 12 minutes.
An interesting fact: Duane's famous solo on the song Layla wasn't even recorded at the same time as the piano track (composed by Rita Coolidge and Jim Horn), it was applied two weeks after they finished recording.
It took them only ten days to record the whole album, but while they were in-studio Jimi Hendrix died in London from choking on his own vomit after he took nine of his girlfriend's Vesperax. Clapton had become friends with Jimi after first catching him on the London club circuit before he was a superstar. Clapton was initally quite jealous of Hendrix and the emotional, even sexual, stage presence he projected, but the two eventually forged a solid bond. Shortly before Hendrix died, Clapton had bought a white, left-handed Fender Stratocaster at guitar shop in the West End of London, but never got the chance to give it to him. The cover of Hendrix's Little Wing on Layla serves as Clapton's tribute to him.
Dowd's had his doubts about the album's commercial success at first, but still knew it was somethign special.
It literally died for a year after it was released. I thought it was the best work I had done in ten years-since Ray Charles - and I thought how embarrassing it would have been to have failed with such artistry and musicianship on that record. Thank God for Atlantic's marketing people, because they never gave up on it and eventually it became the national anthem of rock records.Before the album was released in December of 1970 to little fanfare, Derek and the Dominoes embarked on their American tour. The two most widely distributed recordings are of the concerts the the Filmore East on October 23rd and 24th. Polydor Records first released a In Concert in 1973, but it wasn't until 1994 that they released the more complete version Live at the Filmore. (If you have the means to download them, the first one is much better.
You can watch it here. It's 14:50 long, but the pictures help pass the time. In addition, it is one of the most emotional renditions of a song I've ever heard, right up there with the version of Soul Serenade Duane Allman played in honor of King Curtis at the same venue.
The verse for WDLGTBSS is in A-minor and the chorus is in D. Consequently, there is a key change everytime he switches back and forth, and there are solos in both keys. Without any musical knowledge, you will immediately notice that it flips from being angry during the verse (A-minor) to sweet and mournful in the chorus (D). Here is one of the verses:
Like a moth to a flame,D&tD wouldn't have been a 70's band if there weren't some drugs to go along with all that sex and rock and roll. Bobby Whitlock later described their usage habits when the band was together by saying:
Like a song without a name,
I've never been the same since I met you.
Like a bird on the wing,
I've got a brand new song to sing,
I can't keep from singing about you.
We were a make-believe band. We were all hiding inside it. Derek and the Dominos — the whole thing ... assumed. So it couldn't last. I had to come out and admit that I was being me. I mean, being Derek was a cover for the fact that I was trying to steal someone else's wife. That was one of the reasons for doing it, so that I could write the song, and even use another name for Pattie. So Derek and Layla — it wasn't real at all.Some of the greatest things this world has to offer just aren't meant to last. The level of drug use and emotional fluctuation that made the album and the performances as great as they were, was not sustainable. If Clapton was just smoking pot and signing about his girlfriend, we wouldn't still be talking about it.