About the Album:
“Backed by a tight (but not showy) backing band” IGN Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs gave Clapton “his greatest album” AMG and made for “one of the all-time classic dual-guitar albums.” VH1 Working with Delaney & Bonnie helped Clapton “reconcile his spiritual connection with the American South that had given birth to Clapton’s beloved blues.” VH1 The Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs album was their only studio recording, but it proved to be “one of the few blues-based classic rock albums which avoids dull predictability or Led Zep-ish testosterone riffs.” PK Clapton reportedly told bandmate Bobby Whitlock at the time that this album would be the epitome of his career. JR-124
In 1969, Clapton had tired of the superstar status he’d achieved, thanks to “some of the most stunning, groundbreaking blues-based guitar work of the rock era” PK in stints with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, The Yardbirds, Cream, and Blind Faith.“Clapton’s deification had become such a burden to him…that he felt forced to seek anonymity.” PR One of those avenues was to throw his hat in the ring essentially as a session player, working with John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band, the Crickets, King Curtis, Howlin’ Wolf, Billy Preston, Ringo Starr, Stephen Stills, and others.
Delaney & Bonnie
The seeds were sown for Derek and the Dominos while Clapton was on tour with Blind Faith. Delaney & Bonnie, “a roughshod hippie honky-tonk band,” VH1 opened for them and Clapton befriended Delaney Bramlett. Clapton toured with Delaney & Bonnie and they released the live album, On Tour with Eric Clapton. The live album was “the first of six records, made over a 3-year period, that convey the sound of Derek and the Dominos, and ironically, in some ways it was a better and more accurate preview of Layla than Clapton’s solo debut, which immediately followed.” JR-75
“Considering its intensity, his friendship with Delaney Bramlett rather quickly cooled…The lasting creative and persona bonds he made were with the Bramletts’ sidemen.” JR-78 On Tour and Eric Clapton both featured keyboardist Bobby Whitlock, drummer Jim Gordon, and bassist Carl Radle. Along with a slew of others, they also served as session players on George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, released about the same time as the Derek and the Dominos album. “In a 30th anniversary rerelease of his record, Harrison credited…[those four] as the indispensable core band.” JR-93
Dowd was “emerging as the top engineer and producer in the business.” JR-xv He’d been with the Memphis-based, rhythm-and-blues-oriented label Atlantic Records since 1954. His “studio resume ranged from John Coltrane to Ray Charles, from Bobby Darin’s ‘Mack the Knife’ to Aretha Franklin’s ‘Respect.’” JR-17 He’d also engineered Otis Redding’s classic Otis Blue album. He worked with Clapton as an engineer on Cream’s Disraeli Gears and Wheels of Fire. He also mixed the version of Eric Clapton’s debut solo album which was initially released in 1970.
In 1969, he moved to the new Miami-based operation. In August 1970, he was working with the Allman Brothers Band on their second album, Idlewild South. He’d worked with Duane on some of his session work for Atlantic in Muscle Shoals. When Dowd got a call that same month that Clapton was putting together a new band and wanted to work with Dowd, Dowd said sure. When Dowd told Duane, the response was, “You mean the guy from Cream? Man, are you going to record him? Oh, man, yeah, I gotta meet him. Do you think I could watch?” JR-115
When Dowd told Clapton that Duane ‘s band would be playing a benefit concert in Miami, Clapton said, “We have to go.” JR-120 They ended up back at the studio jamming that night. . JR-xvi The pair had “wondrous guitar interplay” IGN and Allman’s “spectacular slide guitar pushed Clapton to new heights.” AMG Originally Dave Mason, who’d also been on the Delaney & Bonnie and George Harrison albums, was going to be a second rhythm guitarist but his solo aspirations pulled him away. Now Duane assumed the role as a second guitarist.
Duane Allman and his brother Gregg were just 4 and 2 respectively when their father was shot and killed in a robbery. He’d been a military man who’d been party of the storming of the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. JR-52-3 Duane “emerged from the shadow of his dad’s murder and the harsh experience of military school with a James Dean haircut, a give-a-shit look in his eye, and a smart mouth.” JR-55 However, he also had “charisma…such that when he walked in a room, it was as if somebody flipped on the lights” JR-55
Duane dropped out of high school, but Gregg toughed it out. The pair were playing as the Allman Joys by 1965 and released two albums as the Hour Glass in 1967 and ‘68. Duane then got a call to do session work with Wilson Pickett and later Aretha Franklin in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. He also played with Delaney Bramlett and they even shared an apartment in New York. By 1969, Duane was back with his brother Gregg to form the Allman Brothers Band.
George Harrison and Pattie Boyd
The “long legged, blonde and blue-eyed” JR-vii model Pattie Boyd was 20 years old when she was cast as a school girl with one line (“Prisoners?”) for the Beatles’ movie A Hard Day’s Night. She hoped to hit it off with George Harrison. It worked. They married in 1966. Harrison wrote the classic Beatles’ song “Something” about her.
Eric Clapton started hanging out with the Beatles in 1967 and “came to think of Harrison as his best friend.” JR-vii He even worked in the studio with the Beatles, lending his guitar prowess to the Harrison-sung “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Harrison also lent a hand in helping Clapton write “Badge” for Cream.
Unfortunately, Clapton also fell in love with Harrison’s wife. Boyd, however, kept it platonic, which was torture for Clapton and it came out during the recording of Layla. He was angry that Harrison took her for granted, devoting his energy to multiple affairs and quest for religious enlightenment. JR-98 Clapton “fantasized that he might win her over with the sheer power of his new music.” JR-xv They did sleep together for the first time in 1970, but she stayed with Harrison until their divorce in 1977. She married Clapton in 1979.
The Album Cover
While staying at the house of his friend Emile de Schonberg, a painting caught Clapton’s eye. It was done by Emile’s father, Frandsen de Schonberg. “It was uncanny how much the artist’s image resembled Pattie. Clapton saw the painting and decided it had to be the cover art for the Derek and the Dominos’ album.” JR-108
As a result, “pain drips from the grooves of this seminal record that has something for everyone – hard-driving rockers, stormy blues, wailing solos.” ZS Of course, the standout is the title track with its “stunning opening riff.” ZS Interestingly, it “would be Clapton’s lifelong signature, but in the studio Allman was the one who conceived and played it.” JR-130 He had the idea of adapting a riff from the Albert King song “As the Years Go Passing By.” The original is a slow song, but Allman sped it up. JR-130
As for the piano coda, it was performed by Jim Gordon, who otherwise stayed behind the drum kit. Whitlock was disgusted by the idea, thinking the song was already great and this felt phony. Dowd edited versions by Gordon and Whitlock together to form the final version. JR-131
Lyrically, the song was inspired by a classic Romeo-and-Juliet-like Arabic and Persian love story which dates back a thousand years. JR-x The story was passed down in oral tradition until 1188 A.D. and a poet named Nizami Ganjavi was commissioned to write a poem based on the story. It took him nine years to finish his story of Majnun falling for Layla. JR-xi When Clapton read the poem, he projected “himself into Nizami’s narrative and verse” JR-100 about unrequited love.
“I Am Yours”
For this song, “Clapton turns to a quiet and tender voice that directly links…to the story of Layla” JR-127 by adapting lines from Nizami’s poem, which “removes any doubt that his album was inspired in part by his reading of the Persian epic.” JR-127 It features “some of the album’s best Whitlock and Clapton vocal tradeoffs in the Memphis style of Sam and Dave.” JR-127
This is “an address to George Harrison. In some of the strongest writing and singing on the album, with a metaphor of breaking glass and twisting knife – intimations of someone literally tearing at his guts – Clapton voices a brutal, mocking, yet respectful challenge to the other party in the love triangle.” JR-127
“Tell the Truth”
Released as a single to promote the upcoming album, “Tell the Truth” used “the call-and-response routine that Whitlock so admired in his Memphis rhythm and blues upbringing.” JR-104 Whitlock wrote the song and then sang it for Clapton. They finished it together. JR-104 Interestingly, the song’s B-side, “Roll It Over,” featured Dave Mason in the early days of the band before he left for a solo career. JR-105
“Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?”
On “Tell the Truth” and this song, the “interplay of Clapton and Allman almost gets away from them, but Radle and Gordon’s pacing calls them back.” JR-129
“Bell Bottom Blues”
The album also “yielded such memorable classics as” IGN “the erotic slow dance of Bell Bottom Blues.” JR-125 As preoccupied as Clapton was with Pattie, it didn’t keep him from meeting and falling in love with other women. While Derek and the Dominos were in France, Clapton met a woman who spoke no English, but was a member of some Middle Eastern royal family. Clapton fell for the “Persian princess” who wore bell bottoms. She inspired a new song which the band wrote and added to their repertoire while still in France. JR-109
“It’s a blues song…one that Robert Johnson would have been proud to sing.” JR-125 It features “Carl Radle ambling alongside in his calm, sure, good-humored stride” JR-125 and “Whitlock contributes harmony at times, but through most of the lines,he just jabs the keyboard and lets his partner sing with newfound confidence and power.” JR-125
“I Looked Away”
The album’s lead-off track “evokes some guy who might be in a bar, remembering how good his life was and wondering how it went so wrong. Clapton’s voice sounds as if he is trying not to break into tears. Whitlock’s baritone muscles in with the explanation and fatal complication, that messy, old-fashioned business of loving another man’s woman.” JR-125
“Keep on Growing”
Clapton and Allman initially composed this as an instrumental and then Whitlock added lyrics in less than 20 minutes when there was a risk the song was going to be cut from the album. JR-126 Whitlock actually sings the lead and Clapton provides harmony.
“Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out”
This “down-and-dirty rhythm and blues song” JR-126 was credited to Tin Pan Alley writer Jimmie Cox in 1922. Multiple artists have covered it, including Sam Cooke, Janis Joplin, John Lennon, and Bessie Smith. However, “Allman’s sorrowful bottleneck and the bitterness and self-pity in Clapton’s voice and guitar work make it their own.” JR-127
“Have You Ever Loved a Woman?”
The song was originally by Billy Myles, a singer and songwriter who had some success during the doo-wop era. He wrote “Have You Ever Loved a Woman?,” which was later covered by Clapton’s idol, Freddie King. John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers did the song when Clapton was with them, but Clapton only played guitar on it. For Derek and the Dominos, however, he sang and arranged the song, claiming “it as his personal blues, making it into a cry of love and pain for a best friend’s wife.” JR-99
“Key to the Highway”
This “made it onto the record as a fluke.” JR-128 Domingo Samudio, who had the hit “Wooly Bully” with Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs, was also in the studio for a session. The Dominos heard him singing “Key to the Highway,” a song Clapton had loved since he first discovered Big Bill Broonzy as a teenager. Duane had also done the song when with his band the Hour Glass. They started playing it while Dowd was in the bathroom and the tape wasn’t rolling. Dowd ran into the room and yelled, “Hit the god-damn tape machine!” JR-128
Clapton covered Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing” as a tribute to his peer. Hendrix said he wrote the song “about a girl walking through the clouds. The girl in question is, in fact, an apparition.” JR-129 He was out “to convey the ethereal atmosphere of the pop festival in Monterey, California, in 1967. But Clapton’s singing and his guitar play with Allman give the woman a face and heart and beauty, in addition to all the pain she and a man are putting each other through.” JR-129
Clapton had plans to meet up with Hendrix at a Sly & the Family Stone show on August 18, 1970. Sadly, Hendrix died that morning, choking on an overdose of the powerful downer Vesperax. He never got to heard Clapton’s version of “Little Wing.” JR-136
“It’s Too Late”
The fifth cover of the album was Carl Radle’s idea. The song was first recorded by the black R&B artist Chuck Willis in 1956. Radle heard “the sway of country music in the song, and Derek and Dominos play it that way.” JR-129
“Thorn Tree in the Garden”
At the end of the sessions, Dowd told the band they might be able to squeeze in one more song. Clapton said, “Hey, Bobby. Why don’t you sing that song of yours, the one about the thorn tree?” JR-132 While seemingly “about a boy pining over a lost love,” JR-50 it was actually about a dog. While staying at Leon Russell’s Plantation, Whitlock adopted a dog and a cat to keep him company. Jimmy Karstein, a friend of Radle’s, insisted the pets had to go. When he announced he’d taken care of the dog, Whitlock wrote the song and performed it for Karstein. He was moved, to which Whitlock said, “Someday I’m going to record it, and every time you hear it you’re going to feel really bad, because you’ll remember what you did to my dog.” JR-50
Clapton managed to “make standards…into his own while his collaborations with Bobby Whitlock…teem with passion.” AMG“A big part of what makes this “such a powerful record is that Clapton, ignoring the traditions that occasionally painted him into a corner, simply tears through these songs with burning, intense emotion.” AMG
Notes: A 1990 20th anniversary reissue saw a box set comprised of a remastering of the original album along with a disc of alternate masters and a third disc of studio jams.
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