Derek and the Dominos: Layla – [Record 167]
Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs is the only studio album by blues rock band Derek and the Dominos, released in November 1970, best known for its title track, “Layla”. The album is often regarded as Eric Clapton’s greatest musical achievement. The other band members were Bobby Whitlock on keyboards and vocals, Jim Gordon on drums, Carl Radle on bass, and special guest performer Duane Allman on lead and slide guitar on 11 of the 14 songs.
Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs peaked at #16 on Billboard’s Pop Albums chart and was certified gold by the RIAA. The album again made the Billboard 200 in 1972, 1974 and in 1977. In 2011, it charted in Britain, peaking at number 68.
In 2000, the album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. In 2003, television network VH1 named Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs the 89th-greatest album of all time, and Rolling Stone ranked it number 117 on its list of “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time”. Critic Robert Christgau ranked Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs the 3rd-greatest album of the 1970s. In 2012, the Super Deluxe Edition of the record won a Grammy Award for Best Surround Sound Album.
Record One. Side One.
1. I Looked Away.
2. Bell Bottom Blues.
3. Keep On Growing.
4. Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out.
Record One. Side Two.
5. I Am Yours.
7. Key to the Highway.
Record Two. Side Three.
8. Tell the Truth.
9. Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?.
10. Have You Ever Loved a Woman.
Record Two. Side Four.
11. Little Wing.
12. It’s Too Late.
14. Thorn Tree in the Garden.
Background: The collaboration that created Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, Derek and the Dominos, grew out of Eric Clapton’s frustration with the hype associated with the supergroups Cream and the short-lived Blind Faith. Following the latter’s dissolution, he joined Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, whom he had come to know while they were the opening act on Blind Faith’s US tour in the summer of 1969.
After that band also split up, a Friends alumnus, Bobby Whitlock, joined up with Clapton in Surrey, England. From April 1970, the two spent weeks writing a number of songs “just to have something to play”, as Whitlock put it. These songs would later make up the bulk of the material on Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.
Having toured with Joe Cocker straight after leaving Delaney & Bonnie, Carl Radle and Jim Gordon reunited with Clapton and Whitlock in England. Clapton attempted to avoid the limelight under cover of the anonymous “Derek and the Dominos”, with whom he played a tour of small clubs in Britain during the first three weeks of August. The group’s name had reportedly resulted from a gaffe made by the announcer at their first concert, who mispronounced the band’s provisional name, “Eric & The Dynamos”. In fact, Clapton chose “Derek and the Dominos” because he did not want his name and celebrity to get in the way of maintaining a “band” image. When the tour was over, they headed for Criteria Studios in Miami to record an album.
The source of the album’s eventual centrepiece, “Layla”, was rooted in Clapton’s personal life; he had become infatuated with Pattie Boyd, the wife of his friend George Harrison. Not even heroin, which Clapton had then begun to use, could dull the pain. Dave Marsh, in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll, wrote that “there are few moments in the repertoire of recorded rock where a singer or writer has reached so deeply into himself that the effect of hearing them is akin to witnessing a murder, or a suicide … to me, ‘Layla’ is the greatest of them.”
Duane Allman’s arrival: A serendipitous event brought Clapton and guitarist Duane Allman together shortly after the Dominos had begun recording at Criteria Studios in August 1970. Veteran producer Tom Dowd was working on the Allman Brothers second album, Idlewild South, when the studio received a phone call that Clapton was bringing the Dominos to Miami to record. Upon hearing this, Allman indicated that he would love to drop by and watch, if Clapton approved.
Allman later called Dowd to let him know that his band was in town to perform a benefit concert on 26 August. When Clapton learned of this from Dowd he insisted on going to see their show, saying, “You mean that guy who plays on the back of (Wilson Pickett’s) ‘Hey Jude’? … I want to see him play … let’s go.” Clapton and company managed to sit in front of the barricade separating the audience from the stage. When they sat down, Allman was playing a solo. As he turned around and opened his eyes and saw Clapton, he froze. Dickey Betts, the Allmans’ other lead guitarist, took up where Duane left off, but when he followed Allman’s eyes to Clapton, he had to turn his back to keep from freezing, himself.
After the show, Allman asked if he could come by the studio to watch some recording sessions, but Clapton invited him there directly, saying: “Bring your guitar; you got to play!” Overnight, the two bonded; Dowd reported that they “were trading licks, they were swapping guitars, they were talking shop and information and having a ball – no holds barred, just admiration for each other’s technique and facility.” Clapton wrote later in his autobiography that he and Allman were inseparable during the sessions in Florida; he talked about Allman as the “musical brother I’d never had but wished I did”.
Recording: The majority of the songs on Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs were products of Clapton and Whitlock’s writing co-operation. In addition to nine originals, five covers were included. The guitar amplifier Clapton used is a matter of legend; allegedly, he used a diminutive 5-watt tweed Fender Champ.
Original songs: Clapton and Whitlock co-wrote five songs that appear on the album: “I Looked Away”, “Keep on Growing”, “Anyday”, “Tell the Truth” and “Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?” Whitlock also contributed “Thorn Tree in the Garden”. Clapton brought “I Am Yours” (from a poem by Nizami), “Bell Bottom Blues” (to which Whitlock claims to have contributed as well), and “Layla” (with a coda credited to Jim Gordon).
“Tell the Truth” had been initially recorded in June 1970 as an upbeat song, with Harrison’s producer, Phil Spector. It was issued as a single, with “Roll It Over” on the B-side. However, as Whitlock recalls, Spector’s Wall of Sound production did not fit the band’s style, and they had the single withdrawn. On 28 August, the band, together with Allman, recorded “Tell the Truth” as a long and slow instrumental jam. The version released on Layla combines the original lyrics with the jam’s slower pace. Both vocal versions were later included on the 1972 compilation The History of Eric Clapton.
The last track on the album, “Thorn Tree in the Garden”, was “the perfect stereo recording”, according to Dowd. Whitlock, Clapton, Allman, Radle and Gordon sat in a circle in the studio, with the microphone placed in the centre as they played live.
Covers: The covered songs consisted of the blues standards “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” (Jimmy Cox), “Key to the Highway” (Charles Segar, Willie Broonzy), “Have You Ever Loved a Woman” (Billy Myles), Jimi Hendrix’s ethereal “Little Wing”, and an up-tempo version of Chuck Willis’s doo-wop ballad “It’s Too Late”.
According to Dowd, the recording of “Key to the Highway” was a pure accident. The band heard Sam the Sham in another room at the studio doing the song for his album Hard and Heavy. They liked it and spontaneously started playing it. Dowd told the engineers to start running the tape, which is why the Dominos’ version begins with a fade-in.
Album artwork: The album’s front cover is a reproduction of a painting by Emile Théodore Frandsen de Schomberg, titled “La Fille au Bouquet”. Clapton first saw the painting at the house of Giorgio Gomelsky in the South of France, when the Dominos stayed there briefly in August 1970, and he immediately spotted a likeness between the blonde-haired woman it depicted and Boyd. Clapton insisted that Frandsen de Schomberg’s image be unadorned on the Layla sleeve, with no text added to give either the band’s name or the title of the album.
Release and reception: Atco Records issued Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs in November 1970 in the United States, with a UK release following in December, on Polydor. The album failed to chart in the United Kingdom, while in the US, it peaked at number 16 on the Billboard Top LPs chart. On 26 August 1971, the album was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America, for shipments of 500,000 copies in the US. Despite this achievement, Layla was viewed as a commercial failure, according to authors Harry Shapiro and Jan Reid.
Dowd later rued the difficulty of getting airplay for the songs on US radio, while Shapiro attributes its lack of success in Britain to minimal promotion by Polydor and what he terms “the unrelenting and monotonous Press litany of a post-Cream withdrawal syndrome”. Concerned that the press and the public were unaware of Clapton’s involvement, Atco and Polydor distributed badges reading “Derek is Eric”.
Shapiro writes that Layla was also a “flop” critically, adding: “As with Eric’s first solo album, the reviewers liked the guitars-on-fire-stuff … but regarded the [love songs] as little more than fluff.” Writing in Melody Maker, Roy Hollingworth opined that the songs ranged “from the magnificent to a few lengths of complete boredom”, and specified: “We have Hendrix’s ‘Little Wing’ played with such spreading beauty that Jimi would surely have clapped till his hands bled, and then we have ‘I Am Yours’ … a bossa that novas in pitiful directions.” While he identified portions of “pretty atrocious vocal work”, Hollingworth considered Layla to be “far more musical” than Eric Clapton, and praised Clapton and Allman for “giving about every superb essay possible on the playing of the electric guitar”. In a more favourable review for Rolling Stone, Ed Leimbacher noted the album’s “filler” material but added that “what remains is what you hoped for from the conjunction of Eric’s developing style, the Delaney and Bonnie styled rhythm section, and the strengths of ‘Skydog’ Allman’s session abilities.” Leimbacher found Clapton’s singing “always at least adequate, and sometimes quite good” and concluded, “forget any indulgences and filler – it’s still one hell of an album.”
In his consumer guide for The Village Voice, critic Robert Christgau gave the album an A rating (in later years upgraded to A+). He complimented the contrast of “the high-keyed precision of [Clapton’s] guitar” with “the relaxed rocking of Allman/Whitlock/Radle/Gordon” and added, “even though this one has the look of a greedy, lazy, slapdash studio session, I think it may be Eric Clapton’s most consistent recording […] one of those rare instances when musicians join together for profit and a lark and come up with a mature and original sound.”
In a review upon the album’s 1972 reissue, Ed Naha of Circus called the album an “amazing collection of Clapton tumblers” and stated, “Clapton shines once again as the high priest of rock guitar.”
Legacy: Since its initial reception, Layla has been acclaimed by critics and regarded as Clapton’s greatest overall work. In a 1981 review, Christgau dubbed it “Clapton’s most carefully conceived recording”, while admiring the album’s “relaxed shuffle and simple rock and roll” and Clapton’s “generally warm” singing. Christgau wrote in conclusion: “his meaning is realized at those searing peaks when a pained sense of limits – why does love have to be so sad, I got the bell-bottom blues, Lay-la – is posed against the good times in an explosive compression of form.” Anthony DeCurtis of Rolling Stone called the album “a masterpiece” and praised its raw nature, writing that “the playing on the album, too, teeters on the edge of chaos but never tips.”
AllMusic editor Stephen Thomas Erlewine praised Allman’s slide guitar work for “push[ing] Clapton to new heights” and stated, “what really makes Layla 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.” Andy Gill of The Independent complimented the album’s “blues standards and sensitive originals” and noted Clapton’s fiery affinity with Allman, whom Gill writes “would ensure the epochal status” of the album. Yahoo! Music’s Dave DiMartino also noted Allman’s “stinging guitarwork” and described Layla as “Clapton’s masterwork, and one of the finest rock ‘n’ roll albums of the ’70s”, commenting that “this best-selling double LP established Clapton’s post-Cream superstardom.” Jim DeRogatis of the Chicago Sun-Times called it “the strongest recording of Eric Clapton’s career, and arguably the greatest blues-rock album ever made”, while Chicago Tribune critic Greg Kot hailed it as Clapton’s “blues-rock guitar masterpiece”.
Live performances: Derek and the Dominos went on tour to support Layla and performances from the November–December 1970 US tour were released in January 1973 on In Concert. Allman never toured with Derek and the Dominos, but he did make three appearances with them on 1 December 1970 at the Curtis Hixon Hall in Tampa (Soulmates LP) and the following day at Onondaga County War Memorial, and one appearance (or possibly just Delaney Bramlett or both Duane and Delaney) 20 November 1970 at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, Calif.
Clapton continued to play the song “Layla” live, such as in 1985, at Live Aid (in Philadelphia). In 2006, Clapton and J.J. Cale recorded The Road to Escondido, on which Allman Brothers guitarist Derek Trucks played guitar; following that album, Clapton went on tour with Trucks as part of his band. Clapton explained later that the presence of Trucks made him feel like he was playing as Derek and the Dominos again, and as the tour progressed, the set changed to where the first half of the show consisted entirely of songs from Layla, the show ending up with the song “Layla” itself.
Compact disc releases: There are at least six distinct releases of Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs on compact disc
- The 1983 two-CD set (one per LP) on RSO Records, 16-bit remastering;
- The Layla Sessions, the 18 September 1990, remixed on one CD, with two additional “sessions discs”;
- The 15 September 1993, Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab 24-kt limited edition gold CD release, 20-bit remastering.
- The 20 August 1996, Polydor 20-bit remaster, part of the Eric Clapton Remasters series;
- The 9 November 2004, Polydor hybrid SACD/CD remaster.
- The 21 March 2011, UMC, 40th Anniversary Remaster
The first CD release (manufactured in 1983 in Japan) is a two-CD version. Because this album is more than 77 minutes it did not fit onto early CDs, which had a maximum play time of approximately 74 and a half minutes. The first CD was full of tape hiss, since it was made from a tape copy many generations removed from the original 1970 stereo master. This mastering’s negative reception motivated at least one attempt to remaster the CD during the 1980s. Improvements, however, were not very significant because the original 1970 stereo master tapes could not be found at the time.
To mark the album’s twentieth anniversary in 1990, an extended version of the album was released as a deluxe three-CD set, with extensive liner notes titled The Layla Sessions: 20th Anniversary Edition. The first disc has the same tracks as the original LP, remixed in stereo from the 16-track analog source tapes and digitally remastered. This 1990 remix, issued by Polydor, has also been released as a single CD apart from the box set. The remix has some significant changes including center placement of the bass, which in the original mix was often mixed into either the left or right channel. The other two discs of The Layla Sessions include a number of jam sessions, including the historic jam from the night that Clapton and Allman met. Also included were out-takes of some of the songs, and the previously unreleased tracks “Mean Old World,” “It Hurts Me Too,” and “Tender Love.”
In 1993, Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab gave the original 1970 stereo master tapes meticulous treatment for the first time and pressed the album on an expensive, limited edition 24kt gold CD. This MFSL 20-bit remastering of Layla preserved more of the fidelity of the original recordings than had previously been heard on CD. The MFSL version was significantly cleaner than the first CD releases, but also removed some of “Wall of Sound”-like technique that was added during mastering for vinyl. Polydor’s 1996 remaster as part of the Eric Clapton Remasters series was done in much the same manner as the MFSL version, but on a standard aluminum CD at a normal price. The Polydor 2004 SACD/CD dual layer hybrid release remixed the album in 5.1 surround sound on the SACD layer and remastered the 1970 stereo version yet again on the CD layer.
The 2011 40th Anniversary Edition comes in two versions. The two-CD “Deluxe” edition features five previously unreleased tracks, “It’s Too Late”, “Got To Better In A Little While”, “Matchbox” (with Carl Perkins) and “Blues Power” (from the The Johnny Cash Show) and a jam version of “Got To Better In A Little While”. The “Super Deluxe” version comprises the two-CD “Deluxe” album, a 5.1 Surround Sound DVD of the album, a newly remastered In Concert two-CD set, a double LP version of the album, a hardcover book, and a number of other extras.