Derek and the Dominos
|Derek and the Dominos|
|Labels||Polydor, Atco, RSO|
|Associated acts||Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, the Allman Brothers Band, Ginger Baker's Air Force, Cream, Blind Faith|
|Past members||Eric Clapton
Derek and the Dominos were a blues rock band formed in the spring of 1970 by guitarist and singer Eric Clapton, keyboardist and singer Bobby Whitlock, bassist Carl Radle and drummer Jim Gordon. They had previously played together in Delaney & Bonnie and Friends. Dave Mason supplied additional lead guitar on early studio sessions and played at their first live gig.
The band released only one studio album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. The album went on to receive critical acclaim, but initially faltered in sales and in radio airplay. Although released in 1970 it was not until March 1972 that the album's single "Layla" (a tale of unrequited love inspired by Clapton's relationship with his friend George Harrison's wife, Pattie Boyd) made the top ten in both the United States and the United Kingdom. The album, which has received praise from critics and fans alike, is often considered to be the defining achievement of Clapton's career. Layla featured slide guitar from guest guitarist Duane Allman, who contributed lead, rhythm or slide guitar on most of the cuts on the album. His most memorable contribution was to the album's title track.
The seeds of Derek and the Dominos can be found in the band members' involvement with Delaney & Bonnie and Friends of which they were all members, including Duane Allman who had played with the act before Clapton. The members' departures from the group were caused by the constant infighting between Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett, Whitlock explained, "Delaney was a little James Brownish, real hard to work with, him and Bonnie fighting all the time and carrying on. Everyone got disenchanted with the situation." Gordon and Radle left Delaney & Bonnie to play on Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour with Leon Russell, but Whitlock remained on with the Bramletts for a short time.
Whitlock was looking for a gig and Steve Cropper suggested he visit Clapton in England; Whitlock would subsequently live in Clapton's house and during that period the two would jam, hang out and write the bulk of the Dominos' catalogue.
Soon after, they called the rest of their former Delaney and Bonnie musicians, Dave Mason, Carl Radle and Jim Gordon and together the quintet became the backing band for George Harrison's album All Things Must Pass. Gordon was not the first choice as drummer; rather, it was Jim Keltner who, like Radle, was from Tulsa and had also been involved with Russell and Cocker.
The origin of the name "Derek and the Dominos" has had attached to it a variety of stories over the years. According to Jeff Dexter (compere on the Delaney & Bonnie and Friends Tour and a close friend of Clapton's), a name had yet to be chosen by the night of the group's 14 June 1970 official debut at London's Lyceum Theatre, where they had been billed simply as "Eric Clapton and Friends" (for what would prove Mason's lone appearance). According to Dexter, he'd asked Eric whether they couldn't give the band a proper name "instead of his (Dexter's) going out front and introducing yet another round of And Friends?" To this Clapton and George Harrison quickly agreed, resulting in a mad rush by everyone to remember and name past favourites. In the course of this process were included Two-Tone Special, and Fats Domino, and the whole thing was brought to a conclusion with Dexter's cry of "that's it: Derek and the Dominoes it's classic!" (Clapton having been previously nicknamed at the start of the "Delaney & Bonnie and Friends" tour Derek by Tony Ashton). While the rest of the band—all of them Americans—felt convinced they would be mistaken for a doo-wop act, the two Brits were instantly for it, and were introduced to the packed Lyceum audience to polite, if respectful applause accorded unknowns. After a few moments, however, the audience caught wise to the diversion and the hall erupted in pandemonium. In Dexter's telling he'd introduced Ashton to Clapton just before boarding the tour bus heading for Bristol, and a nervous Ashton, instead of saying "pleased to meet you, Eric." called him Derek instead, causing everyone to fall about laughing and resulting in Clapton's being called "Derek" for the remainder of the tour.
According to Bobby Whitlock, however, upon leaving the stage at the close of his set, Tony Ashton of Ashton, Gardner and Dyke had simply mispronounced their provisional name of "Eric and the Dynamos", calling them instead Derek and the Dominos. Yet another version emerges from Clapton's biography in which the guitarist maintains that it was Ashton that suggested to Clapton the name "Del and the Dominos" ("Del" being his nickname for Clapton). Del and Eric were combined and the final name became "Derek and the Dominos". Either way, the band took up the new name and embarked on a summer tour of small clubs in England where Clapton chose to play anonymously, still weary from the fame and high-profile chaos that he had felt plagued Cream and Blind Faith. An article about the band in Hit Parader magazine suggested the band's contracts with halls that booked their live performances included clauses stating Clapton's name was not to be used as a crowd-puller. Dexter’s account of the facts appears somewhat more plausible at least than Whitlock's, as Ashton, Gardener and Dyke were never on the "Eric Clapton and Friends" tour.
From late August to early October 1970, working at Criteria Studios in Miami under the guidance of Atlantic Records producer Tom Dowd, the band recorded Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, a double album now regarded by many critics as Clapton's masterpiece. Most of the material, including Layla (which later became an FM radio staple) was inspired by Clapton's unrequited love for Pattie Boyd, who was married to his best friend George Harrison. It was not until several years later that Pattie would consent to an affair and later move in with Clapton in 1974, and marry him in 1979. Whitlock reminiscing would later say, "The basic concept of Derek and the Dominos was that we didn't want any horns, we didn't want no chicks, we wanted a rock 'n' roll band. But my vocal concept was that we approach singing like Sam and Dave did: he sings a line, I sing a line, we sing together."
Duane Allman's inclusion
A few uninspired days into the Layla sessions, Dowd, who was also producing for the Allmans for their album Idlewild South, invited Clapton to an Allman Brothers outdoor concert in Miami, where Clapton first heard Duane Allman play. The Dominos were sneaked into the show with the help of Dowd and sat between the riser and fans below. At the concert, Dowd distinctly remembered, "Duane was in the middle of a solo; he opens his eyes and looks down, does a dead stare, and stops playing. Dickey Betts is chugging along, see Duane's stopped playing, and figures he'd better cover, that Duane must've broken a string or something. Then Dickey looks down, sees Eric, and turns his back. That was how they first saw each other."
Formal introductions were made after the show. Eric invited the entire band to "Criteria Studios" for a jam. After the concert was over, they all came back to the studio and jammed until approximately 6:00 the next night, Dowd remembered. "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. There was no control. We turned the tapes on and they went on for 15 to 18 hours like that. You just kept the machines rolling. I went through two or three sets of engineers. It was a wonderful experience."
Those jams can be found on the second CD of The Layla Sessions: 20th Anniversary Edition. After the all night jam Duane had hoped he would be able to sit in the studio as an observer while the Dominos recorded, but Eric would have none of that. According to Dowd, Clapton told him, "Get your guitar. We got to play." When Duane arrived at Criteria Studios on 28 August to play on "Tell the Truth", the sessions were lifted to a higher level.
After the jam sessions Clapton invited Allman to become the fifth and final member of the Dominos, but Allman demurred, remaining loyal to his own band.
On that first day together Allman also added his slide guitar to "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out". In a window of only four days, the five-piece Dominos recorded "Key to the Highway", "Have You Ever Loved a Woman" and "Why Does Love Got to be So Sad". When September came around, Duane briefly left the sessions for gigs with the Allman Brothers. In the two days he was absent, the four-piece Dominos recorded "I Looked Away", "Bell Bottom Blues" and "Keep on Growing". Duane returned on the 3rd to record "I am Yours", "Anyday" and "It's Too Late". On the 9th, they recorded Hendrix's "Little Wing" and the title track. The following day, the final track, "Thorn Tree in the Garden" was recorded. Many critics would later notice that Clapton played best when in a band composed of dual guitars; working with another guitarist kept him from getting "sloppy and lazy and this was undeniably the case with Duane Allman".
The Layla album
Although most commonly attributed to Clapton, the album was truly a group effort. Only two of the fourteen songs on the album were written by Clapton alone and Whitlock wrote one of the tracks alone "Thorn Tree in the Garden". Rather, most of the songs were the product of Clapton and Whitlock's writing co-operation, but a number of blues standards were included as well, including "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out" (Jimmy Cox), "Have You Ever Loved a Woman" (a Billy Myles song originally recorded by Freddie King) and "Key to the Highway" (William "Big Bill" Broonzy).
The last of these was a pure accident—the band heard singer Sam Samudio ("Sam the Sham") in another room at the studio doing the song, liked it, and spontaneously started playing it. The startled Dowd heard what was happening, and quickly told the engineers to "hit the goddamn machine!" and start the tape recorder running—which explains why the track starts with a fade-in to playing clearly already underway.
"Tell the Truth" was initially recorded in June 1970 at Trident Studios during the All Things Must Pass sessions under the direction of Phil Spector as a fast upbeat song, and released soon after as a single. But during the Layla sessions, "Tell the Truth" was recorded again, this time as a long and slow instrumental jam. The final version of the song that appears on the album is a combination of these two takes: the frantic pace of the single is slowed down to the laid-back speed of the instrumental. The two previous versions of "Tell the Truth" were later released on "The History of Eric Clapton" (1972).
27 second sample of the song Layla as performed by Derek and the Dominos
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The most critically acclaimed and popular song on the album, "Layla", was recorded in separate sessions; the opening guitar section was recorded first, with the second section several weeks later. Duane Allman contributed the opening notes for the song. Clapton thought "Layla" was missing an acceptable ending; an abrupt conclusion would diminish the intensity of the music and a fadeout would detract from the urgency of the lyrics. The answer was an elegiac piano piece composed and played by drummer Jim Gordon. Gordon had been separately writing and playing songs during the Layla sessions for a solo album when Clapton accidentally heard the piano piece, Clapton asked Gordon to use the piano piece as the ending for "Layla", Gordon agreed and the song was complete.
When the album was released in December 1970, it was a critical and commercial flop. The album failed to make the top 10 in the United States and did not even chart in the United Kingdom until a reissue on CD resulted in a one-week chart stay at No. 68 in 2011. It garnered little attention which some blamed on Polydor for a lack of promoting the record and general unawareness of Clapton's presence in the band.
But the song "Layla" was also included in History of Eric Clapton in 1972, and Atlantic issued the song as a single. It was a smash hit, charting in both the US (#10) and the UK (#7) and again charting in 1982. Clapton reworked the song as an acoustic ballad in 1992 for his MTV: Unplugged album. The song charted at #12 in the US and also won a Grammy Award.
After the recording of Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, the group undertook a drug-riddled and vice-prone US tour that didn't include Allman, who had returned to The Allman Brothers Band after the recording process. However, Allman did perform two shows with the group at Curtis Hixon Hall, in Tampa, Florida, on 1 December 1970, and at the Onondaga County War Memorial in Syracuse, New York, the following night. Whitlock recalled their drug situation: "We didn't have little bits of anything. There were no grams around, let's just put it like that. Tom couldn't believe it, the way we had these big bags laying out everywhere. I'm almost ashamed to tell it, but it's the truth. It was scary, what we were doing, but we were just young and dumb and didn't know. Cocaine and heroin, that's all and Johnny Walker." Despite the drugs, the tour resulted in a well received live double album, In Concert, which was recorded from a pair of shows at the Fillmore East in New York, New York. Six of the recordings from that album were digitally remastered and expanded with additional material from the same shows to become Live at the Fillmore, released in 1994.
Tragedy and dissolution
Tragedy dogged the group throughout its brief career. During the sessions, Clapton was devastated by the death of his friend and professional rival, Jimi Hendrix; eight days previously the band had cut a version of "Little Wing", which was added to the album as a tribute. One year later Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident. 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". Adding to Clapton's woes, the Layla album received only lukewarm reviews and weak album sales upon release; Clapton took this personally, accelerating his spiral into drug addiction and depression. In 1985 when talking about the band Clapton remarked, "We were a make-believe band. We were all hiding inside it. Derek and the Dominos—the whole thing ... assumed. So it couldn't last. I had to come out and admit that I was being me. I mean, being Derek was a cover for the fact that I was trying to steal someone else's wife. That was one of the reasons for doing it, so that I could write the song, and even use another name for Pattie. So Derek and Layla—it wasn't real at all."
The band disintegrated messily in London just before they could complete their second LP. Much later in an interview with music critic Robert Palmer, Clapton said the second album "broke down halfway through because of the paranoia and tension. And the band just ... dissolved." Although Radle worked with Clapton for several more years, Whitlock did not work with Clapton again until they performed together on the Jools Holland BBC show in 2000. Radle was inexplicably not retained in Clapton's band and died in 1980 of complications from a kidney infection associated with alcohol and drug use. Another tragic footnote to this was the fate of drummer Jim Gordon, who was an undiagnosed schizophrenic and years later, killed his mother with a hammer during a psychotic episode. He was confined to a mental institution in 1984, where he remains today.
After the dissolution, Clapton turned away from touring and recording to nurse an intense heroin addiction resulting in a career hiatus interrupted only by George Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh in 1971 and the Rainbow Concert in 1973 (see 1973 in music), the latter organised by The Who's Pete Townshend to help Clapton kick the drug and build momentum for his return.
Song material from the group has been present on many of Clapton's compilation albums (e.g., The History of Eric Clapton), and music from the abortive second album sessions was later released in a 4CD/cassette box set Crossroads.
The group's sole studio album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, although initially a critical and commercial flop in 1971, has since charted in 1972 and 1982 and now is not only considered one of Clapton's most outstanding achievements, but also consistently appears in listings of the best rock albums ever recorded. It may have been the pinnacle of both Clapton and Whitlock's careers. The band's producer, Tom Dowd, said of it that he "felt it was the best ... album I'd been involved with since The Genius of Ray Charles" and was disappointed at the lack of acclaim it garnered on its release.
- Eric Clapton - vocals, lead guitar
- Bobby Whitlock - piano, keyboards, rhythm guitar, vocals
- Jim Gordon - drums, percussion, piano
- Carl Radle - bass guitar, percussion
- 1990 - The Layla Sessions: 20th Anniversary Edition
- 2011 - Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs - Deluxe Edition
- 2011 - Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs - Super Deluxe Edition
- "Tell the Truth" / "Roll It Over" (Atco Records, 1970)
- "Layla" / "Bell Bottom Blues" (Polydor Records, 1970)
- "Layla" / "I Am Yours" (Atco Records, 1971)
- "Bell Bottom Blues" / "Keep On Growing" (Polydor Records, 1971)
- "Bell Bottom Blues" / "Little Wing" (RSO Records, 1973)
- "Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad" [live] / "Presence of the Lord" [live] (RSO Records, 1973)
- "Got to Get Better in a Little While" / "Layla" (Polydor Records, 2011)
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