From The Roosters to the Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith and Delaney and Bonnie; Eric Clapton had certainly been around over the previous 8 years, prior to forming his new band in early summer 1970. When this new band played their first gig at London’s Lyceum in the Strand on Sunday 14 June they hadn’t quite got around to giving themselves a name, that is until just before being introduced on stage – Derek and The Dominos… it has a certain ring to it.
The other three members of the band, Bobby Whitlock on keyboards, guitar and vocals, bass player, Carl Radle and drummer and occasional pianist, Jim Gordon had all played together in Delaney and Bonnie’s band and all are on the album, Delaney and Bonnie On Tour With Eric Clapton that was recorded in South London in December 1969 and released in March 1970.
All four musicians also worked with George Harrison on his All Things Must Pass album and earlier in the day of their debut concert they were at Abbey Road for a Harrison session when they cut ‘Tell The Truth’ that became Derek and The Dominos first single release in September 1970. The b-side of this single was ‘Roll It Over’, another recorded at an ATMP session and this included the former Beatle and Dave Mason of Traffic on guitar and vocals.
Following their London debut the band spent time rehearsing before embarking on a U.K. tour that opened at The Village Blues club in Dagenham Essex, not one of Britain’s most prestigious venues. For the next 22 days they criss-crossed the country playing 18 gigs, ranging from London’s Speakeasy Club to The Black Prince Pub in Bexley Kent and The Penthouse in Scarborough in Yorkshire; there was even a side trip to Biot in France for a lone cross-channel gig.
During July and while the band was touring, Robert Stigwood, the band’s manager, was busy arranging the band’s recording for their debut album. He called Tom Dowd who was working on The Allman Brothers sessions for Idlewild South and told him that the band wanted to come to Florida to record at Criteria Studios in Miami.
Less than a week after their last gig in Plymouth’s Van Dike Club, Clapton, Radle, Whitlock and Gordon were in studio A at Criteria ready to get down to business. On the evening of 26 August Clapton and the others had been invited to an Allman Brothers concert at Miami Beach Convention Center; as Clapton watched Duane play for the first time was hooked. After the gig the two bands headed back to Criteria and jammed for hours.
On Friday 28 August the sessions for Layla and Other Assorted Love songs began in earnest, joining the other four musicians for the next week or so of recording was Duane Allman who was thrilled to be playing with Clapton. The first song they recorded was Clapton and Whitlock’s, ‘Tell The Truth’ – a far more assured version than their earlier effort; it became the opening track of the first side of the second record on the double album that came out in November 1970.
There was no recording on Saturday, but on Sunday and for the next five nights there was some intense activity, intense because on 4 September Duane had a gig in Milwaukee with the Allmans. On Sunday night the session was under way, and despite Tom Dowd’s orders to keep the tapes running at all times, someone had screwed up and it was only Dowd rushing back into the control booth from the men’s room shouting, “Turn the faders up” that preserved the brilliance of the cover on Big Bill Broonzy’s, ‘Key to The Highway’. If anyone asks you if white men can play the blues, point them in the direction of this track.
Monday produced ‘Nobody Knows When You’re Down and Out’ and ‘Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad’. On Tuesday Clapton and Whitlock’s, ‘Keep On Growing’ was laid down. Wednesday, I’ Looked Away’, ‘Bell Bottom Blues’ and a cover of a Billy Myles song, made famous by Freddie King, ‘Have You Ever Loved A Woman’; King was one of Clapton’s favourite blues guitarists.
Thursday was the last day of Duane Allman being available and the band nailed, ‘I Am Yours’, ‘Anyday’ and another by the man they called, ‘The King of the Stroll’, Chuck Wills’s, ‘It’s Too Late’. On Friday and Saturday, with Duane away, the rest of the guys concentrated on overdubs for everything they had so far recorded, barring ‘Key to The Highway’ and ‘Nobody Knows When You’re Down and Out’.
After the Allman Brothers Milwaukee gig they played another at Jolly’s Place in Des Moines on 6 September after which Duane flew back to Miami so that the last few songs could be completed. On Wednesday 9 September there was also overdubs to be done and the five musicians, who by this time were all in the proverbial zone, together tackled ‘Little Wing’ and ‘Layla’.
‘Little Wing’ is the band’s tribute to Jimi Hendrix who recorded it on his Axis: Bold Is Love album in 1967. It is a monumental; record, the playing so tight, which belies the fact that Whitlock later recalled he had never heard the song before they cut it and had the words laid out on top of his organ so he could sing them. Nine days later Hendrix died at the Samarkand Hotel, in London’s Notting Hill.
And then there’s ‘Layla’. Clapton was inspired to write the first part of the song having been given a copy of the Persian classical poet, Nizami Ganjavi's book, The Story of Layla and Majnun. As we now know it is Clapton’s love song to Pattie Boyd, who at that time was married to George Harrison; she later married Clapton in 1979. It is also a song of two halves.
The first half recorded by the band on sixteen tracks including multi layered guitars by Clapton and a single track of Allman’s solos. After laying down his song Clapton returned to the studio to hear Jim Gordon playing a piano piece that he immediately loved and decided he wanted to add it to ‘Layla’ to complete the track; it proved to be an inspired decision of a happy coincidence. The composing credits on the song are Eric Clapton and Jim Gordon, but Gordon had in fact borrowed the melody from his former girlfriend.
According to Bobby Whitlock, "Jim took that piano melody from his ex-girlfriend Rita Coolidge. I know because in the D&B days I lived in John Garfield's old house in the Hollywood Hills and there was a guesthouse with an upright piano in it. Rita and Jim were up there in the guesthouse and invited me to join in on writing this song with them called 'Time.' Her sister Priscilla wound up recording it with Booker T. Jones; Jim took the melody from Rita's song and didn't give her credit for writing it. Her boyfriend ripped her off."
For the last session for the album it seems somehow appropriate that it should be the delicate, ‘Thorn Tree In The Garden’ a Bobby Whitlock song, which he also sings, that is poignant and such a fitting closer. It’s like the morning after the party when there is peace and quiet imbued with a reflective air that is perfection.
After wrapping up the sessions Clapton, Whitlock, Radle and Gordon headed back to the UK to begin an extensive bout of touring beginning at Croydon’s Fairfield Halls, in South London on 20 September. Between then and 28 September they played eight UK dates and another in Paris. However, according to the tape boxes for the Layla sessions there were sessions in Miami at Criteria on 1 October where they overdubbed ‘Layla’ and ‘It’s Too Late’ and on the following day Clapton, Allman and Gordon cut a version of little Walter Jacob’s ‘Mean Old World’.
October 1st was a Thursday and on that day Derek and The Dominos, were 4,400 odd miles away from Florida in the south of England playing a gig at Swindon Town Hall. So what is the story here? Could it be that they flew to Miami during their two days off on 29 and 30 September and the boxes were labelled a day or so later?
We are continuing our investigations with the help of Bill Levenson who produced the 40th anniversary reissue of Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs…