One of the albums that gets touched up on my iPod several times a year, sits alone under its Artist heading in iTunes. But why was there only one Derek and the Dominos studio LP?
Released in November1970, “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs” caught my attention early on. I’m sure I heard it on Radio Free Madison late that year or early in ’71, but my strongest memories of the music came from it being played at an apartment where I hung out in the summer and fall of ’71. That a certain tall, strawberry blonde was nuts about the title song didn’t hurt …
The story behind the album is quite interesting, and reflective of what was going on in rock music at that time. Eric Clapton, perhaps the greatest guitarist of the genre, was of course the most famous member of the band. But the group came together because of some lesser-know, but nevertheless very influential, musicians.
Clapton had come out of the British blues-rock scene, a member of the seminal rock band the Yardbirds who went on to play for John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers. He then made it big with Cream, and when it broke up, was part of what is considered one of the first of the supergroups, Blind Faith. (Arguably, Cream itself was a supergroup, though.)
But Slowhand apparently wasn’t happy with the music, and despite the hype, the collaboration with Steve Winwood, Ric Grech and Cream drummer Ginger Baker lasted only one album. Clapton then hooked up with Delaney and Bonnie and Friends, another band that lasted only a few years but whose live music the guitar legend preferred to Blind Faith’s.
Clapton toured with Delaney and Bonnie, and other notable musicians — Rita Coolidge, ex-Beatle George Harrison and Winwood’s former Traffic bandmate Dave Mason among them — also performed with the Bramletts. Leon Russell, another legendary live performer who went on to become a successful solo act, recruited members of Delaney and Bonnie’s band to join him in backing vocalist Joe Cocker in the latter’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen phase.
(Clapton credits Delaney Bramlett with teaching him to sing — not a strong selling point for me, who has never been that big a fan of Slowhand’s vocal efforts.)
The Bramletts’ daughter, Bekka, had some success as the lead vocalist for Fleetwood Mac in the 1990s’, and as a backup singer with Faith Hill and Vince Gill. (When my family saw Gill perform in La Crosse, and he introduced his backing vocalist, I decided — based on the voice, and her appearance — that she had to be Delaney and Bonnie’s kid. My wife’s response was, “How do you remember these things?”)
(The Bramletts were influential, but also had some interesting influences. He, along with Russell, had been a member of the house band for the TV show Shindig; she was the first white member of the Ikettes, the backing vocalists for Ike and Tina Turner. Delaney and Bonnie and Friends were supposedly the first white act signed by Stax Records, the legendary rhythm and blues/soul label.)
But perhaps the biggest spinoff from Delaney and Bonnie and Friends was the intersection of Clapton’s and Bobbie Whitlock’s careers. The twosome got together in England after meeting on the D&B&F tour, and began writing the songs that would become the core of the Derek and the Dominos album.
Two of the other three members of Derek and the Dominos, Carl Radle and Jim Gordon, came from D&B&F by way of Cocker’s tour. They picked up the fifth — Duane Allman, whose guitar mastery complements Clapton’s so well on the album — when they went to Miami to record the “Layla …” album and saw the Allman Brothers perform live; Clapton and Allman struck up a friendship immediately, and the former invited the latter to join the recording sessions.
The rest, as they say, is history. The pieces came together well, and the recording has a raw, studio live, almost garage band feel to it at times. The eight original songs were complemented by six covers (of mostly blues standards), and there’s hardly a weak tune on the double album: their version of Hendrix’s “Little Wing” might be better than the original, “Thorn Tree in the Garden” is gorgeous and the big blonde loved the coda that extends the title tune.
Even the album cover art is more than just eye candy. Clapton chose a painting by a French artist because of the resemblance of the woman portrayed to Pattie Boyd, who was Harrison’s wife but Clapton’s obsession, and also the inspiration for the album’s title song. Also, perhaps, for the choice of “Have You Ever Loved a Woman” as one of the covers.
The album wasn’t well received critically at first, and didn’t sell well in the U.K., but was in the top 20 in the U.S. Its standing has improved over the years — VH1 ranked it the 89th-best LP of all time, Rolling Stone put it at 117th on its list of the 500 best albums of all time, and music critic Robert Christgau called it the third-best album of the 1970s.
Why was there only one Derek and the Dominos album? (Actually, there were two, but the other was a live LP recorded on the tour that supported “Layla …”) The group had planned on recording a second album, but the lukewarm reviews the first LP initially received started the Dominos falling. Intra-band conflicts resulted in Clapton walking out; he wouldn’t perform with Whitlock again for 30 years.
Within a year of the album’s release, Allman was dead, killed in a motorcycle accident. Clapton withdrew because of drug and alcohol problems — he wouldn’t record again for four years — and drummer Jim Gordon had mental health issues.
So one of the greatest works of the Album Rock era was a one-off. But it stands by itself pretty darn well, and will regularly get a hearing from this Baby Boomer’s ears.