Derek and the Dominos
|Derek and the Dominos|
L-R: Jim Gordon, Carl Radle, Bobby Whitlock, Eric Clapton
|Genres||Blues rock, hard rock|
|Labels||Polydor, Atco, RSO|
|Associated acts||Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, Blind Faith, George Harrison, the Allman Brothers Band|
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. All four members had previously played together in Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, during and after Clapton's brief tenure with Blind Faith. Dave Mason supplied additional lead guitar on early studio sessions and played at their first live gig. Another participant at their first session as a band was George Harrison, the recording for whose album All Things Must Pass marked the formation of Derek and the Dominos.
The band released only one studio album, the Tom Dowd-produced Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, which also featured notable contributions on slide guitar from Duane Allman. A double album, Layla 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 Harrison's wife, Pattie Boyd) made the top ten in both the United States and the United Kingdom. The album is often considered to be the defining achievement of Clapton's career.
Background and formation
Derek and the Dominos came about through its four members' involvement in the American soul revue Delaney & Bonnie and Friends. The latter supported Eric Clapton's short-lived supergroup with Stevie Winwood, Blind Faith, on a US tour in the summer of 1969, during which Clapton became increasingly drawn towards Delaney & Bonnie's relative anonymity next to the fan worship afforded his own band. Together with his fellow future Dominos – Bobby Whitlock (vocals, keyboards), Carl Radle (bass) and Jim Gordon (drums) – Clapton toured Europe and the United States again between November 1969 and March 1970, this time as a member of Delaney & Bonnie and Friends. In addition, the entire band backed him on his debut solo album, Eric Clapton, recorded over the same period. Many of the members began to leave Delaney and Bonnie and Friends, as a result of disagreements over money. Whitlock later recalled other difficulties with Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett, citing the couple's frequent fights and describing Delaney as a demanding band leader in the manner of James Brown. While Gordon, Radle and the other Friends personnel, including drummer Jim Keltner, immediately joined Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour with Leon Russell, Whitlock remained with the Bramletts for a short time.
In April 1970, at the suggestion of his friend and mentor Steve Cropper, Whitlock travelled to England to visit Clapton. Whitlock subsequently lived in Hurtwood Edge, Clapton's house in Surrey, where the two musicians would jam and, on acoustic guitars, began writing the bulk of the Dominos' catalogue. Many of these songs reflected Clapton's growing infatuation with Pattie Boyd, the wife of his best friend, George Harrison, who had joined Clapton as a guitarist on Delaney & Bonnie's European tour in December 1969.
Soon after Whitlock's arrival, with him and Clapton eager to form a new band, they contacted Radle and Gordon in the United States. Although their first choice for a drummer was Keltner – like Radle and Russell, a native of Tulsa – he was busy recording with jazz guitarist Gábor Szabó. Gordon, however, had been invited to London to work on Harrison's post-Beatles solo album All Things Must Pass. In May that year, Clapton, Whitlock, Radle and Gordon reunited in London at a session for P.P. Arnold, before going on to serve as the backing band on much of Harrison's album. In a 1990 interview, Clapton said, "We made our bones, really, on that album with George", since the four musicians had "no game plan" other than living at Hurtwood Edge, "getting stoned, and playing and semi-writing songs".
Clapton biographer Harry Shapiro comments on the unprecedented aspect of Clapton's bond with his new bandmates, in that from the Blind Faith tour onwards, the guitarist "had been able to build a working relationship in a slow and natural fashion" for the first time. Among the friendships formed before the group officially came into existence, Shapiro continues, "the empathy … outcropped most noticeably in Bobby Whitlock, in whom Eric found an accomplished and sympathetic songwriting partner and back-up vocalist." Although Clapton and Whitlock had originally considered adding the Delaney & Bonnie horn section to their new band, this plan was abandoned. Whitlock would later explain the ethos of Derek and the Dominos: "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: [Clapton] sings a line, I sing a line, we sing together."
Towards the end of the sessions for the basic tracks on All Things Must Pass, Dave Mason – another former guitarist with Delaney & Bonnie – joined the Dominos at Clapton's home. With the line-up expanded to a five-piece, Derek and the Dominos gave their debut live performance on 14 June 1970. The event was a charity concert in aid of the Dr Spock Civil Liberties Legal Defence Fund, held at London's Lyceum Theatre.
The group had been billed as "Eric Clapton and Friends", but a discussion ensued backstage just before their appearance, with Harrison and pianist Tony Ashton among those involved, in an effort to find a proper band name. Clapton recalls that Ashton suggested "Del and the Dominos", having taken to calling the guitarist "Derek" or "Del" since the Delaney & Bonnie tour the previous year. Whitlock maintains that "the Dynamics" was the name chosen and that Ashton mispronounced it when introducing the band, following his opening set with Ashton, Gardner and Dyke. Writing in 2013, Clapton and Whitlock biographer Marc Roberty quotes Jeff Dexter, the compere at the Lyceum show, who recalled that "Derek and the Dominos" had already been decided on before they went on stage. According to Dexter, Clapton was immediately taken with the name, but Whitlock, Radle and Gordon – all Americans – were concerned that they might be mistaken for a doo-wop act.
The reception afforded the band from critics and fans was mixed. Together with the unfavourable reviews for Clapton's eponymous solo album, particularly in Britain, this reaction was reflective of a widespread reluctance to view Clapton as a singer and frontman, rather than as the virtuoso guitarist synonymous with his role in bands such as Cream and the Yardbirds. In his 2007 autobiography, Clapton writes that his main recollection of the Lyceum show was consulting New Orleans-born musician Dr John, a self-styled practitioner of voodoo, and receiving a package made of straw that would serve as a means of winning Boyd's affection.
Recording with Phil Spector
In return for the Dominos' assistance on All Things Must Pass, Clapton and Harrison had agreed that the latter's co-producer, Phil Spector, would produce a single for the new group. On 18 June, the five band members, together with Harrison on guitar, took part in a session at the Beatles' Apple Studio in central London. With Spector producing, two Clapton–Whitlock compositions were recorded that day – "Tell the Truth" and "Roll It Over" – along with two instrumental jams that would be included on the Apple Jam disc of Harrison's triple album.
After this London session, Mason departed from the line-up; he later told Melody Maker that he was impatient to see the band start working full-time whereas Clapton was committed to helping Harrison complete All Things Must Pass. Clapton and Whitlock then contributed to the overdubbing phase of Harrison's album, including adding backing vocals with Harrison (as "the George O'Hara-Smith Singers") to tracks such as "All Things Must Pass" and "Awaiting on You All". In addition, while continuing to rehearse at Hurtwood Edge, all four band members participated in London sessions for Dr John's album The Sun, Moon & Herbs (1971).
UK summer tour
Early in the summer of 1970, Clapton asked former Apple Records employee Chris O'Dell to find accommodation for Whitlock, Gordon and Radle in central London, telling O'Dell that they were "going bonkers" out in the Surrey countryside. The band then moved into a two-storey flat at 33 Thurloe Place, close to South Kensington tube station. The flat also served as a meeting place for Clapton and Boyd, who found herself flattered by Clapton's attention in light of her husband's infidelities and his preoccupation with Eastern spirituality. In his autobiography, Clapton writes that he was both inspired and "tormented" by his feelings for Boyd, which he channelled into his music, beginning with a UK tour by Derek and the Dominos.
For three weeks from 1 August, the group performed in clubs and other small venues in Britain, where Clapton chose to play anonymously, still weary from the fame that he felt had plagued Cream and Blind Faith. Admission for the shows was set at £1, and clauses in the contract with each venue stipulated that Clapton's name was not to be used as a crowd-puller. Shapiro writes that the band had "made great strides" since the Lyceum concert; their setlist included "Tell the Truth", covers of Billy Myles' "Have You Ever Loved a Woman" and Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing", together with songs such as "Bottle of Red Wine" and "Don't Know Why", both from the Eric Clapton album. Clapton has said of this UK tour: "no one knew who we were, and I loved it. I loved the fact that we were this little quartet, playing in obscure places, sometimes to audiences of no more than fifty or sixty people."
The band flew to Miami, Florida on 23 August 1970 to begin recording with Atlantic Records producer Tom Dowd. Until early September, sessions took place at Criteria Studios for what became Derek and the Dominos' double album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. Most of the material, particularly the track "Layla", was inspired by Clapton's unrequited love for Boyd. After Clapton and Whitlock's initial experimentation with heroin while recording All Things Must Pass, the band's time in Miami was marked by all four members' excessive use of hard drugs. According to Clapton: "We were staying in this hotel on the beach, and whatever drug you wanted, you could get it at the newsstand. The girl would just take your orders."
The first few days of the Layla sessions were unproductive. On 26 August, Dowd, who was also producing the Allman Brothers Band's album Idlewild South, took the Dominos to an Allman Brothers concert, where Clapton, already a fan of the Nashville-born guitarist, first heard Duane Allman play. After Clapton invited the whole band back to Criteria that night, he and Allman formed an instant bond that provided the catalyst for the Layla album. Over ten recording dates, Allman contributed to the majority of the album, in between his commitments to the Allman Brothers Band. Only three songs – "I Looked Away", "Bell Bottom Blues" and "Keep on Growing" – were recorded without his participation. The band remade "Tell the Truth" during the sessions and subsequently attempted to have the Spector-produced single cancelled. In the United States, Atco Records released the original version of "Tell the Truth" backed with "Roll It Over" in September, but soon withdrew the single.
Clapton has described Allman as "the musical brother that I never had, but wished I did". Allman's slide guitar playing elevated the album's blues covers, which included "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out" (by Jimmy Cox), "Have You Ever Loved a Woman" (the Billy Myles song, originally recorded by Freddie King) and "Key to the Highway" (Big Bill Broonzy). Clapton invited him to become a member of Derek and the Dominos, but Allman demurred, choosing to remain loyal to his own band. The jams from Allman's first night at Criteria with the Dominos were issued on the second CD of The Layla Sessions: 20th Anniversary Edition in 1990.
A 27-second sample of the song "Layla" by Derek and the Dominos
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The album's best-known track, "Layla" was compiled from recordings from two separate sessions. The main, guitar-oriented section was taped on 9 September, after the band had recorded their version of Hendrix's "Little Wing"; the closing section was added several weeks later, after Clapton had decided that the song lacked a suitable ending. The answer was an elegiac piano piece composed by Gordon (and an uncredited Rita Coolidge) and played by the drummer, with Whitlock providing a second piano part to cover Gordon's relative inexperience on the instrument. During the Layla sessions, Gordon had been writing and playing songs for an intended solo album when, by chance, Clapton first heard the piano piece. According to Clapton's recollection, in return for continuing to use the Dominos' studio time for his own project, Gordon agreed to have the segment used as the ending for "Layla".
October–December 1970 live shows
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 City, 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.
Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs was issued in November 1970. According to Shapiro, relative to the band and Dowd's high expectations, it was a "critical and commercial flop". Clapton similarly describes Layla as having "died a death" on release. Although it received favourable reviews in Rolling Stone and The Village Voice, the album missed the top ten in the United States and failed to chart at all in the United Kingdom, until a reissue on CD resulted in a one-week stay at number 68 in 2011. It garnered little attention, partly as a result of a lack of promotion by Polydor, and partly due to the public's ignorance of Clapton's presence in the band.
"Layla" was also included on The History of Eric Clapton in 1972, and Atlantic issued the song as a single in July that year. It became a hit, peaking at number 10 in America and number 7 in Britain, and charted again in 1982. Clapton reworked the song as an acoustic ballad in 1992 for his MTV: Unplugged album. This version charted at number 12 in the US and also won a Grammy Award.
The belated success of the title track in 1972 led to a reappraisal of Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. The album has since received widespread critical acclaim and has been ranked among the best albums of all time by VH1 (at number 89). and Rolling Stone (number 115).
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 not retained in Clapton's band in 1979 and died in June 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. Clapton's three-year career hiatus was interrupted only by his participation in Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh in August 1971, along with a large cast of musicians that included Leon Russell, Keltner and Radle; a guest appearance at Russell's December 1971 show at London's Rainbow Theatre; and his own Rainbow Concert, in January 1973, which Pete Townshend of the Who organised 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, guitars
- Bobby Whitlock – keyboards, vocals
- Carl Radle – bass
- Jim Gordon – drums
- Dave Mason – guitar (at the band's debut live show and on their first recording session)
- Duane Allman – guitar (contributed to the majority of tracks on Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs and performed twice with the band during their US tour)
- Studio album
- Live albums
- Other release
- "Tell the Truth" / "Roll It Over" (Atco, 1970)
- "Layla" / "Bell Bottom Blues" (Polydor, 1970)
- "Layla" / "I Am Yours" (Atco, 1971)
- "Bell Bottom Blues" / "Keep On Growing" (Polydor, 1971)
- "Bell Bottom Blues" / "Little Wing" (RSO, 1973)
- "Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?" [live] / "Presence of the Lord" [live] (RSO, 1973)
- "Got to Get Better in a Little While" / "Layla" (Polydor, 2011)
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- Sandford, p. 119.
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- Reid, Jan (2006). Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs by Derek and the Dominos. New York, NY: Rodale. ISBN 978-1-59486-369-1.
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- Eric Clapton "Slowhand" Tourography
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