“See if you can spot this one…”
Layla – Derek and the Dominos
Atco 6809 (USA) / Polydor 2058 130 (UK) / RSO 87 (UK 1982)
Recorded at Criteria Studios, Miami
Released March 1971
Writers Eric Clapton & Jim Gordon (Or Rita Coolidge? See below)
Producers Derek and the Dominoes Executive Producer Tom Dowd
USA #10 7/72 UK #7 9/72
Written for George Harrison’s wife Patti Boyd who Clapton had “fallen madly in love with”, Ms Boyd is one of the most famously serenaded ladies in rock history with Harrison’s ‘Something’ and Clapton’s later ‘Wonderful Tonight’ also to her credit – by that time Clapton had successfully won her heart and married her himself. It is also of interest to note that Patty Boyd’s younger sister Jenny, whose birth name was in fact Helen Mary, and who later married Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac, also has a pop hit to her credit in the form of Donovan’s 1968 hit ‘Jennifer Juniper’.
Following The Yardbirds, Cream and Blind Faith, by 1970 Eric was anxious to escape his ‘God’ guitar-hero image and disappear into the background. He toured America with Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, before pinching the backbone of Delaney’s band and retiring to Criteria Studios in Miami to record his next project, Derek and the Dominos. In fact the band (as yet un-named) had earlier recorded some to date unreleased material with Phil Spector in London while their first engagement was playing on sessions for George Harrison’s Spector produced All Things Must Pass album. As Clapton tells it, the band only got its’ name a few minutes before they stepped on stage at their first gig. This was deliberately intended to be a low profile affair, Clapton fronting the band as ‘Derek’ and refusing to have his name on the album. Veteran Atlantic Records’ engineer/producer Tom Dowd was hired to co-produce the sessions, and it just so happened that Dowd was currently engaged in producing an Allman Brothers album.
Guitarist Duane Allman and Clapton swiftly became friends and Allman joined the on-going Dominos sessions to play slide guitar. Featuring one of the all-time great power-guitar riffs, the full version of ‘Layla’ was recorded in two distinctively separate sessions. The main body of the song which tells the tale of a man driven to distraction by a woman he cannot have (and inspired by the ancient poem Layla and Majnun by Persian poet Nezami Ganjavi) was written by Eric and recorded in September, while the instrumental second part was written by drummer Jim Gordon* and was recorded in October, the two tracks being spliced together at the mixing stage. Guitar-wise, there has always been speculation as to who played what on the Dominos sessions, though Allman who died a year later in a motorbike accident would only ever slyly comment, “I play the Gibson and Eric plays the Fender.” –however, it was Allman who came up with the powerful opening guitar riff, apparently adapted from a 1967 recording of ‘As The Years Go Passing By’ by Albert King. ‘Layla’ enjoyed a new round of popularity when Clapton recorded it in a new stripped down version for his multi-platinum live Unplugged album in 1992, introducing the song with the words, “See if you can spot this one…”
Many great records have been recorded at Miami’s Criteria Studios (which was bought by the New York based Hit Factory Studios in 2000) among them several Bee Gees hits including ‘Jive Talkin’, ‘You Should Be Dancing’ and ‘Tragedy’, most of The Eagles’ Hotel California album, Clapton’s 461 Ocean Boulevard including his hit ‘I Shot The Sheriff’ (the address was the house where Clapton stayed while making the album), Abba’s 1979 hit ‘Voulez-Vous’, some of Fleetwood Mac’s blockbusting Rumours album, Bob Dylan’s 1997 return to form Time Out Of Mind, and several soul gems including Beginning Of The End’s ‘Funky Nassau’, Brook Benton’s ‘Rainy Night In Georgia’, numerous late 1960s Aretha Franklin Atlantic sides and James Brown’s all-time classic, ‘I Feel Good’.
Remarkably, in retrospect, both the Derek and the Dominos album (released in late 1970) and the ‘Layla’ single (originally only released in the US) were a commercial and artistic failure (often blamed on a lack of promotion by Polydor/Atco), and ‘Layla’ didn’t become a transatlantic Top Ten hit until almost 2 years later after it had appeared on a Clapton compilation album – by which time the band had long since dissolved following the unsuccessful incompletion of a second album in London in 1971. Of what is perhaps his most famous song Eric has said, “I’m very proud of it – I love to hear it. It’s almost like it’s not me. It’s like I’m listening to someone that I really like.”
Mr Clapton is the only person to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on 3 separate occasions, once as a solo artist and also as a member of both The Yardbirds and Cream. Eric remains extremely active in 2016 at the age of 70 having celebrated his 70th birthday (30th March 2015) with 7 concerts at London’s Royal Albert Hall. He has a long history of gigs at the venue (205 to date!) having first performed there in 1964 with The Yardbirds, later with Cream whose ‘farewell’ concerts were recorded there, and with a series of 32 solo concerts in the spring of 1990 and 1991. A further 4 concerts with a reunited Cream took place at the Royal Albert in 2005 and a DVD of Clapton’s 2015 appearance, Slowhand at 70 – Live at the Royal Albert Hall, was released in November 2015.
With regard to his relationship with the Royal Albert, Eric told the BBC in a 1990 interview, “It’s a very comfortable homey place for me. I tend to think of it as mine. It’s got a very genteel, sophisticated and yet comfortable atmosphere.” When Eric appears there, the venue has the honorary title of The Royal Eric Hall! (I personally attended many concerts at the Royal Albert Hall in the 1970s including The Byrds, Cat Stevens, Neil Diamond, Mott The Hoople – who were banned after their appearance! – The Moody Blues, Judy Collins, Abba, Paul Simon and many more) In 2009 Eric Clapton’s wealth was estimated at around £120 million, and since 1999 he has regularly arranged the star-studded charity gig, The Crossroads Guitar Festival in the USA. In Rolling Stone’s 2011 updated list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time (selected by their peers) Clapton came in at Number 2 – a certain Mr Hendrix took first place.
*In an interesting development, in his 2013 autobiography Wild Tales, Graham Nash claims that Rita Coolidge actually composed the second part of ‘Layla’ on piano (apparently for her sister) and played it while the two were living together in 1970, though fails to explain how the music made its way to Jim Gordon, or why he got the credit for it. However, it seems that Coolidge dated Gordon before Nash – both Coolidge & Gordon worked on the early 1970 Joe Cocker ‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen’ tour – so presumably he stole it from her though why she didn’t make a legal claim for her composition remains a mystery. Clapton appears to be unaware of this subterfuge since he makes no mention of it in his recent autobiography. (Cocker’s hit ‘Delta Lady’, written by Leon Russell, is apparently about Ms Coolidge who after her affair with Graham Nash met and married Kris Kristofferson. Just thought you’d like to know!)
Copyright © 2016 SongStories/Tony Burton
Originally published by Tony Burton, Stavanger bibliotek og kulturhus.