Featured Album – Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs – Derek and the Dominos

This is a reblog/revisit of one of the very first posts I ever did back in 2015. I’m reposting it for two reasons. One, because I had like, six readers back then and two, because of the recent death of drummer Jim Gordon. If you missed that event, here’s Wikipedia:

James Beck Gordon (July 14, 1945 – March 13, 2023) was an American musician, songwriter, and convicted murderer. Gordon was a session drummer in the late 1960s and 1970s and was the drummer in the blues rock supergroup Derek and the Dominos. Gordon was the drummer on the Incredible Bongo Band’s album Bongo Rock, released in 1972, and his drum break on the LP version of “Apache” has been frequently sampled by rap music artists.

In 1983, in a psychotic episode associated with undiagnosed schizophrenia, Gordon murdered his mother and was sentenced to 16 years to life in prison, remaining incarcerated until his death in 2023.

A short while back I listed what were my thoughts on the greatest debut albums of all time. Even though Clapton and Allman both already had albums, I snuck it in as a Derek and the Dominoes debut. (For completeness’ sake, let us here note that there was an officially released live album which I found good but not as satisfying and a variety of tunes for the aborted second studio album which wound up on Crossroads box set and Layla 40th Anniversary.)

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. The rest of the band in addition to Gordon was bassist Carl Radle and keyboardist/singer Bobby Whitlock. All had been with George Harrison and Whitlock had played with both Clapton and Allman as part of Delaney and Bonnie’s troupe.

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. In a well-known story, Eric had gone to see the Allmans play in Florida and Eric invited the whole band back to jam. Duane stuck around, was asked to join, toured a little bit but passed on staying with the Dominos to do his own thing. Good choice in retrospect.

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 college 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. Eric played it for Pattie who did not leave George for him, continuing his descent into heroin addiction.

The piano solo at the end is actually played by 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, contrary to popular belief, 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.

In one of the greatest fuckups of all time. Rolling Stone listed it #117 on the first 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list down to 226 on the latest. But RS also dropped Sgt. Pepper to something like 22nd so, go figure. Who’s running the show over there?

Several music writers have hailed the album as a masterpiece and it’s certainly Eric’s crowning achievement. If you’re a lover of blues or even just raw emotive singing and playing, check this album out. (Eric and Bobby modeled their singing after soul singers Sam and Dave.)

If you know this album and haven’t listened to it for a long time, what are you waiting for? It is the antidote to all the autotuned shit you hear on the radio every fucking day.

*If you’ve never seen it, be sure to check out the documentary Tom Dowd & The Language of Music.

7 thoughts on “Featured Album – Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs – Derek and the Dominos

  1. Wasn’t my intro to Clapton but was an album of great music. Somehow I ended up with two copies. Yeah it’s up there as a favorite. Not dated at all for CB. Just solid, solid music. Good choice.

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  2. It’s an incredible album, Jim, and certainly worthwhile revisiting. I haven’t listened to it myself in quite a while, so will certainly plan on doing that.

    When you mentioned Tom Dowd splicing together the two parts of “Layla”, I immediately thought of this amazing documentary, “Tom Dowd & The Language of Music,” which you actually pointed out to me in February 2018.

    The reason why I remember it so well is because I watched it at the time and subsequently wrote a post about it – hands-down one of the most fascinating documentaries I’ve seen to date!

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    1. Yeah, I actually have a footnote on that. Apart from wanting to revisit this excellent album, I wanted to make sure people knew Gordon was gone. A great career but a tragic life.

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  3. Gordon’s on a lot of amazing stuff – one of my favourite drummers too.

    I actually have this album on CD somewhere. I think it’s good, but I struggle to sit through it sometimes – it’s much more like straight blues and a double album’s a bit much for me at once. Cool band though.

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    1. Yeah, I can understand that if someone is not into blues or for a lot of people who couldn’t care less about guitar, this album may have no impact. This was, of course, the heyday of guitar-driven rock. I suppose that if released today it would land with the same thud and stay that way. A pity.

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  4. I think the grain of salt by which these lists should be taken is established… I believe it’s a case that the ‘pool’ of selectors both varies in each instance of the list (writers move on, new opinions are sought) and those writers’ favourite albums also change so that the compiled list varies in parts quite distinctly.
    Years ago I put together a list of what I then considered 100 Essential Albums. Having dug out the sheets of paper I put it all together on I know that some wouldn’t remain, some would be moved higher and a few since would slip in their place…. there’s an exercise for the next rainy day. When RS inevitably rerun their list (though with less fanfare than mine of course) it’ll be different again

    Getting back to Layla…. It’s one of the very few Clapton projects I really enjoy. Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out, Why Does Love.. and Layla (it has to be the full version) are about as good as it gets – even if the latter will forever be accompanied with images of dead wiseguys for me.

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    1. Yeah, I don’t even know why I bother quoting RS anymore. Maybe I’m just nostalgic for the mag it used to be. But yeah, as people and generations come and go and tastes change, this is gonna happen. It pains me greatly to know that Taylor Swift and Drake albums are ranked much higher. Well, I suppose their fans will feel the same way when, 30 years from now, they too are dethroned.

      Yeah, it’s too bad Scorsese fucked THAT up. But it’s an album I can enjoy all the way through minus a few dead spots (It’s Too Late, Tell the Truth). And the fact that these two Hall of Fame guitarists magically were in the right place at the right time is memorable in and of itself.

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