I suppose I should list my favorite albums and one day I suppose I will. But for now, I’ll just mention one here that is always in my Top Five. That album would be Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs by Derek and the Dominos. (That band being Eric Clapton, Bobby Whitlock, Carl Radle, and Jim Gordon. And though never officially a band member, Duane Allman was a guest).
Released in November 1970, the album pretty much landed with a thud. Clapton, for some reason, did not want to push this as a “Clapton album.” He was retreating, I think, from the “Clapton is God,” hero-worship thing, and just wanted to be part of a band.
And so with little fanfare and even less publicity, it just sat there. No cover pictures of Eric, no nothing. And at that point in time, outside of studio work, Duane was not a well-known player, hence not a draw.
My first exposure to this album was shortly after it was released. My memory is not exact on this so don’t quote me. But there was a radio station in New York where I then lived. I think they might have been trying to raise money or something. But for whatever reason, they played the song “Layla” quite a bit over the weekend. And I loved it from the get-go.
What I later found out is that the song had been originally done in a different way, perhaps slower. What happened is that Duane – always a catalyst – came in and had a lick he borrowed from an Albert King vocal line in a song called “As The Years Go Passing By.” So that lick, in guitar form – sped up – is what you hear at the very beginning of the song.
Then, of course, the lyrics involve Eric’s then-unrequited love for George Harrison’s wife, Pattie Boyd. The song continues with a bridge over which is played Duane’s ethereal, manic slide solo.
The piano solo at the end is actually played by drummer Jim Gordon. It was a tune he came up with along with singer Rita Coolidge. Clapton and Co. heard him playing it one day and figured it would make a nice coda to the song. And even though it was played at a different speed, Tom Dowd – legendary producer – found a way to splice both parts together. And the end result was a legendary, majestic song that is unmistakable in its passion.
The rest of the album is also superb. Duane had not yet arrived and so does not play on the first three songs. But he does play (with incredible speed and precision) on “Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad,” “Key to the Highway,” and everything else. A tremendous outpouring of guitar wizardry from Eric and Duane and to this day, a very listenable album that does not seem at all dated.
Rolling Stone listed it #117 on the greatest albums of all time. (A travesty). Several music writers have hailed it as a masterpiece. If you’re a lover of blues or even just raw emotive singing and playing, check this album out.