Derek And The Dominos – Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs

IN MARCH 1970, after sessions for the guitarist’s self-titled debut solo album were completed, Eric Clapton returned home to plan the album that is now widely regarded as the nest work of his career.

He had greatly enjoyed working on record and on tour with the American musicians surrounding Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett, and was keen to form a band and hit the road. Luckily for him, he was able to secure the services of keyboard player Bobby Whitlock, bassist Carl Radle and drummer Jim Gordon, all of whom had now left Delaney & Bonnie And Friends and were seeking berths elsewhere.

Rehearsals began at Clapton’s home near Ewhurst in the Surrey Hills; almost simultaneously the team also cut their teeth at the sessions for George Harrison’s stunning All Things Must Pass album. This was an ironic twist of fate, as Clapton’s muse for his next album was actually Harrison’s wife, Pattie Boyd, with whom he had fallen hopelessly in love. This as-yet unrequited affair would inspire the music he was soon to record but there was a downside, too: it hurled him headfirst into an addiction to heroin and alcohol that would take years to finally conquer.

The songs Clapton wrote and the cover versions he chose to record on Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs were all subliminal messages to Pattie, perhaps none more so than ‘Have You Ever Loved A Woman?’, with its stark references to adultery with the “woman who bears another man’s name”. Hindsight simplifies this analysis, but there can be little doubt that Layla is perhaps the greatest and most emotional love letter ever recorded by a rock musician.

The sessions took place at Miami’s Criteria Studios under the production talents of Tom Dowd. Shortly after the start of recording, Duane Allman, at that time the nest slide player in America, was asked to join and, on top of everything else, the double album remains a new testament to two guitarists at their peak, having a ball playing together.

Masterful, emotive, gargantuan, epic, heartfelt… all these epithets apply to this album. If Clapton had never played another note, Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs would have assured him an honorable mention in any rock history.

I Looked Away

(Clapton, Whitlock)

Wearing his heart on his sleeve, Clapton opens with a beautiful love ballad, as sad as it is innocent. With vocals shared between Clapton and keyboard player Bobby Whitlock, and a deceptively simple solo, ‘I Looked Away’ sets the romantic tone for all that will follow. It is backed with a solid rhythm section, the crucial factor that prevents the album’s message from dragging or becoming self-absorbed.

Bell Bottom Blues

(Clapton)

Another hauntingly romantic song, rarely played live, and now a cult favourite among Clapton fanatics. Clapton throws in some delicate, chime-like harmonics before settling into a solo racked with pathos. His singing admirably complements his playing.

Keep On Growing

(Clapton, Whitlock)

Clapton chops his way into a song highlighted by lush, textured layers of intertwined guitars reminiscent of the Delaney & Bonnie sound.

Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out

(Jimmie Cox)

Back to Clapton’s main love — the blues. Duane Allman plays delicate slide fills beside Clapton’s plaintive vocals. Whitlock provides some suitably bluesy Hammond sounds before Clapton offers up a throaty solo on his trusty Strat.

I Am Yours

(Clapton, Nizami)

A beautiful, Eastern-flavored tabla drum-driven song with lyrics taken directly from Ganjavi Nizami’s love poem The Story Of Layla And Majnun. Eric related heavily to the book, which inspired the album’s title track.

Anyday

(Clapton, Whitlock)

A strong, self-assured number that again features rich, textured layers of guitars over which Clapton and Whitlock sing in unison about lost love.

Key To The Highway

(Charles Segar, Willie Broonzy)

Live and without overdubs, ‘Key To The Highway’ is a new example of Clapton and Allman having fun with a blues jam. Their interplay is dynamic and unselfish, each giving the other plenty of space in which to stretch out. Clapton’s vocals are authentic in feel, but take second place to his fluid and intense solos. A fair amount of the album came out of jams such as this, with Tom Dowd rolling the tapes pretty much constantly, which explains why the song fades in.

Tell The Truth

(Clapton, Whitlock)

‘Tell The Truth’ was originally recorded with Phil Spector during the sessions for George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass but discarded by Clapton, who was dissatisfied with Spector’s production. Re-recorded in Miami with Tom Dowd at the controls, this version was played at a much slower pace than the frantic original, with Clapton and Allman both playing slide guitar to great effect and the rhythm section of Carl Radle and Jim Gordon keeping the backing solid, as they did throughout the album.

Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad?

(Clapton, Whitlock)

A fast, guitar-led number with a title succinctly summing up Clapton’s feelings. His playing is incendiary — as though he were exorcising some demon from his soul.

Have You Ever Loved A Woman?

(Billy Myles)

The autobiographical quotient on this emotional blues song seemed almost too apt for a man who’d fallen for the wife of his best friend. Perhaps the ultimate Clapton vehicle for sheer intensity, the emotion he displays in his playing is even rawer here than in ‘Layla’ itself. Putting every bit of himself into the song, he almost throttles the neck of his Strat, squeezing everything possible from wood and steel. Stunning, and the true highlight of the album.

Little Wing

(Jimi Hendrix)

Eric had been in awe of Jimi Hendrix’s playing ever since they met shortly after the latter arrived in London in 1966. Hendrix jammed with Cream the following year and both players enjoyed mutual respect. ‘Little Wing’ first appeared on Hendrix’s second 1967 album, Axis: Bold As Love, and is one of his most lyrical ballads.

Clapton actually recorded the song in Miami just two weeks before Jimi died in London and, heartbroken when he heard the news, decided to retain his own haunting version on the album as a tribute to his friend.

It’s Too Late

(Chuck Willis)

Back to the blues with a typical theme of lost love. Allman slides and Clapton sings.

Layla

(Eric Clapton, Jim Gordon)

Although not the foundation on which the Clapton legend was built, ‘Layla’ is certainly the pillar that has kept it strong for two decades. It is unquestionably his best-known song, a tearful plea to a girl, Layla — or Pattie as the case might have been — to take heed of his unrequited love. Certainly, it burns with fierce intensity, helped by Allman’s screeching slide work, before mellowing out into Whitlock’s piano lament, which is interwoven with Clapton and Allman’s weeping guitars. Although it’s a truly beautiful piece, it has become an albatross around Clapton’s neck, as he is now expected to play it at every concert, and it suffers through over-familiarity as a result.

‘Layla’ became a hit single in the summer of 1972, almost two years after the album was released, and again in 1982.

Eric Clapton: “I had no idea what ‘Layla’ was going to be. It was just a ditty. When you get near to the end of it, that’s when your enthusiasm starts building, and you know you’ve got something really powerful. You can be so-so as you’re making the track, singing the vocals, but if, as you start to add stuff and mix it, it becomes gross, then you really are in charge of something powerful. What I’m saying is, when I started to do that, it didn’t feel like anything special to me. If you try to write something that’s already got all of that, it’s impossible. You just try to write something that’s pleasing, and then try to get it to that.

“I’m incredibly proud of ‘Layla’. To have ownership of something that powerful is something I’ll never be able to get used to. It still knocks me out when I play it. You know what? That ri is a direct lift from an Albert King song. It’s a song o the Born Under A Bad Sign album (’As The Years Go Passing By’). It goes, ‘There is nothing I can do/If you leave me here to cry’. It’s a slow blues. We took that line and speeded it up.

“But the funny thing was that once I’d got ‘Layla’ out of my system, I didn’t want to do any more with the Dominos. I didn’t want to play another note. I went back home and stayed there and locked all the doors.”

Thorn Tree In The Garden

(Whitlock)

After the storm, the album signs o with a gentle acoustic love song from Bobby Whitlock.

LAYLA – 20TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

December 1990

A beautifully remastered version of Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs was released in a special three-CD box set to celebrate its 20th anniversary. The double album now tted nicely onto a single disc, with two further discs of unreleased out-takes and jams from the original sessions. The package also included copies of the original studio session sheets.

DISC 1 – Layla

Track listing as above.

DISC 2 – The Jams Jams 1 ‒ 5

Of interest to die-hards only. These jams demonstrate clearly how well Derek & the Dominos gelled together and, of course, feature extended solos by Clapton and Allman that are particularly enlightening since they reveal how the sessions developed. Sadly, most buyers will probably content themselves with Disc One.

DISC 3

Alternate masters, jams and out-takes.

Have You Ever Loved A Woman?

(Alternate Master 1)

A good alternative version with a great guitar solo, but overall this lacks the intensity of the previously released version.

Have You Ever Loved A Woman?

(Alternate Master 2)

Yet another version, featuring some inspired playing during Clapton’s solo but, again, failing to surpass the original.

Tell The Truth

(Jam 1)

Previously available only on the double album History Of Eric Clapton. An interesting jam without Allman but plenty of licks from Clapton.

Tell The Truth

(Jam 2)

This second jam is looser and lengthier than the rst but still lacks inspiration, although there is enough interesting playing from Clapton to make it worthwhile listening. Just as you think the jam ends, Jim Gordon suddenly picks up the tempo and increases the pace, followed by the others, with Clapton playing dierent styles and throwing in the odd Chuck Berry lick here and there. If nothing else, the jam demonstrates how tight the band were at this stage.

Mean Old World

(Rehearsal)

Great blues number in its rehearsal stage that never made it onto the nal album. Loose, but interesting.

Mean Old World

(Band Version – Master Take)

The finished version featuring Clapton and Allman on guitars and Jim Gordon on the bass drum.

Mean Old World

(Duet Version – Master Take)

Previously available on a Duane Allman compilation, this version diers greatly from the band version. It’s clear that Allman and Clapton had much in common musically, and it must have been a tough decision for Allman to return to his own band after these sessions.

It Hurts Me Too

(Jam)

Unspectacular version of the Elmore James song.

Tender Love

(Incomplete master)

Average rehearsal for a never-completed number. Mildly interesting at best.

It’s Too Late

(Alternate Master) Good alternate version.

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