November 9 – Layla’s Semicentennial

11/9/70: Derek & the Dominos – Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs

Music is an emotional experience, and that is what imprints itself on the soul. And I think for me, any great art is art which communicates human emotion. – Greg Lake

The circumstances surrounding the creation of Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, which turns 50 today, are well known. It’s part of rock ‘n’ roll lore. The songs on this double album were fueled by Eric Clapton’s unrequited love for Pattie Boyd, a.k.a. Layla, who happened to be married to his best friend George Harrison. A strong dose of disillusionment with his career at the turn of the decade only increased Clapton’s angst. Add to that a group of fellow musicians in the studio who tended to live on the edge – and substances, lots of substances – and the results could’ve gone either way. What it became, for many fans and critics, was Eric Clapton’s musical peak.

DEREK & THE DOMINOS, Eric Clapton, Duane Allman, Bobby Whitlock, Carl  Radle, Jim Gordon - Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs (180 Gram Vinyl) -  Amazon.com Music

Upon release, it didn’t go well. Many critics thought the heavier guitar songs lacked focus while the more mellow tracks were boring. Initially it was a commercial and critical disappointment, failing to chart in the U.K. and stalling at 16 on the Billboard album chart. A significant reason for its early commercial struggle was that Derek & the Dominos was an outgrowth of Eric Clapton’s desire to eschew the hype machine which propelled the two previous groups he’d been involved with, Cream and Blind Faith. His participation in the Delaney & Bonnie tour stoked his desire to just be one of the guys in a band. Even the album cover, a painting titled La Fille au Bouquet which reminded Eric of Pattie, excludes any mention of the band or title. This, too, hindered the public from catching on.

Former George Harrison, Eric Clapton Muse Pattie Boyd Spills the Beans -  Rolling Stone

Skip ahead a few years and it’s more widely praised as one of the greatest rock albums as it should be for its outpouring of emotion and sometimes raw but stellar musicianship, especially the slide guitar work of late addition to the group, Duane Allman. Of Layla’s 14 songs, nine were original. Of those, six were cowritten by Clapton and Bobby Whitlock, the latter with sole credit on the closing track. The only song that took time to grow on me was Clapton’s anthemic rendition of Little Wing, but it didn’t take many listens. I hear this album as one emotionally charged outburst. Perhaps it’s a cop out to say there are no weak links, but that’s how I hear it. Eric and Duane’s tandem guitars and Eric and Whitlock’s combined vocals reach fever pitch every time.

Their take on Bill Broonzy’s Key to the Highway, which started as a jam that producer Tom Dowd decided to record – hence the fade in – finds Eric fittingly slurring the lyrics as he and Allman trade guitar licks. Even the quieter I Am Yours, with Jim Gordon’s gentle tabla playing along with Allman’s slide guitar, stays on theme as the record rolls along to its crescendo, Layla, with its famous piano coda composed and played by Gordon. Following that is Whitlock’s album closer, Thorn Tree in the Garden. For a number of years I heard this track as a somber but gentle come down after Clapton and Allman’s orgy of guitars. Then I learned the story behind it. Whitlock had recently moved to California from Macon, GA, and was living in a house with a number of others. His cat and dog were familiar friends of the stranger in a strange land, but he was told he had to get rid of his pets. While Bobby was taking his cat to Delaney Bramlett’s to live, one of his housemates had his dog “done away with.” The garden represents Bobby’s pets, while the heartless housemate was the thorn. It’s gut wrenching, and that’s how Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs ends.

There weren’t many happy endings associated with this album. Jim Gordon would battle schizophrenia before murdering his mother. Carl Radle passed away in 1980 at 37 due to the effects of substance abuse. Duane Allman was lost in a motorcycle accident less than a year after Layla was released. His work with the Allman Brothers Band made him a legend, but his involvement on this album was by no means a frivolous side project. Layla wouldn’t have been what it is without him. Not even close. Bobby Whitlock recorded a couple of strong albums in the immediate aftermath, and he continues to record and perform. He lives in Austin, TX.

Remarkably, Clapton’s friendship with Harrison was not a casualty. Perhaps only on the mountaintop of 1970 rock star celebrity inhabited by free spirits and spiritual seekers could a friendship survive such drama. As George can be heard somewhat cavalierly saying during an interview clip on Scorcese’s Living in the Material World doc, “I’d rather she be with him than some dope.”

So, is Layla Eric Clapton’s peak? In my view, he went on to record a number of fantastic albums which would have more than cemented his place among the greats even if the 1960’s never happened. He would experience more personal anguish which he shared in his music. He is, after all, a blues man. But this 50 year old album is hard to beat for its raw emotion, incredible musicianship, and lack of slickness. Clapton, Whitlock, and Allman caught lightning in a bottle. It’s one of those things that couldn’t be repeated.

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. I Looked Away
  2. Bell Bottom Blues
  3. Keep on Growing
  4. Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out

Side Two:

  1. I Am Yours
  2. Anyday
  3. Key to the Highway

Side Three:

  1. Tell the Truth
  2. Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?
  3. Have You Ever Loved a Woman

Side Four:

  1. Little Wing
  2. It’s Too Late
  3. Layla
  4. Thorn Tree in the Garden

-Stephen

https://www.allmusic.com/album/layla-and-other-assorted-love-songs-mw0000650067

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Layla_and_Other_Assorted_Love_Songs

https://www.songfacts.com/facts/derek-the-dominos/thorn-tree-in-the-garden

August 16 – Clapton’s Solo Debut

8/16/70: Eric Clapton – Eric Clapton

The 1970 album party continues today with our ringleaders, Delaney & Bonnie Bramlett. Eric Clapton, fresh off the road with the American couple, released his self-titled solo debut on this date 50 years ago. His supporting cast of characters was largely made up of the usual suspects from D&B’s travelling band of American crazies, including Leon Russell, Rita Coolidge, Bobby Keys, Jim Price, Carl Radle, Jim Gordon, Bobby Whitlock, plus Stephen Stills. This album, recorded November 1969-March ’70 in London and L.A., seems to fall under the Clapton radar for many casual listeners, as does the rest of his 1970’s catalog not titled Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs or Slowhand. These albums are simultaneously praised and reviled. I’m in the former camp. I feel no need to compare Eric Clapton, 461 Ocean Blvd., Backless or any of his others from that decade with his work with the Yardbirds, John Mayall, or Cream. To me, Eric Clapton is enjoyable beyond its tracks that ended up on the Crossroads box set. Produced by Delaney Bramlett, its songs fuse rock, blues, R&B, gospel, country, and pop elements. Three singles from the album, After Midnight, Blues Power, and Let it Rain, became Clapton classics.

Eric Clapton's Solo Debut LP: A Long Way From Home | Best Classic Bands

If his time and music with Cream and Blind Faith were tension-filled, this album definitely has a looser feel with an emphasis on the songs over extended solos. This was undoubtedly made possible by his supporting cast despite the backdrop of ongoing personal turmoil in Clapton’s world. Additionally, he was under the spell of the perceived idyllic music and overall orbit of The Band who, from afar, could be included in this roving cast of musicians so widely heard 50 years ago across albums by D&B, Joe Cocker, Dave Mason, George Harrison, and Clapton. Rolling Stone’s contemporary review noted that it was Bramlett who encouraged Eric to develop confidence in his singing voice, which quickly becomes apparent after the opening instrumental when his voice bursts out on Bad Boy. It continues on the next track, After Midnight, one of the album’s “tambourine shakers” as RS’s Ed Ward referred to it in his write up. Eric recorded a couple versions of this song in his career. This early one is up-tempo and gospel-inflected, the later 80’s version sounding every bit the slick Michelob Beer commercial jingle it became. I prefer this earlier rendition, but neither tops J.J. Cale’s original in my book. The acoustic Easy Now is a nice interlude from the more raucous material, and I can’t help but wonder if Alex Chilton and Chris Bell derived any inspiration from it in the run up to the first Big Star album. Fan favorites and 1970’s concert staples Blues Power and Bottle of Red Wine have aged well.

13 ERIC CLAPTON The Early Years 1964 to 1970 by Trans Reality Air | Mixcloud

Lovin’ You Lovin’ Me and I’ve Told You for the Last Time are a bit pedestrian, but are saved by the backing vocals which became an integral element of his early solo albums. Don’t Know Why pulls everything together with nice Stratocaster licks, Bobby Keys and Jim Horn brass, and plenty of gospel backing vocals. My favorite song on the album, and indeed one of my favorite Clapton songs of all time, is Let it Rain. It’s a good one to close out the album as he lets loose with both his guitar and vocals on the album’s longest track. It’s one of those facial contortion-causing guitar solos for those of us who have been known to play along on our air axes. I can appreciate that he was trying to get away from the “Guitar God” label with these songs. He took his songwriting in a new direction while not depriving listeners of his guitar virtuosity. Contemporary critics, while generally positive in their reviews, weren’t ready to let go of the Clapton of Cream and wished for a bit more indulgent guitar work. Possibly the main criticism I would wield against the album is its jacket, which seems to betray the sounds emanating from its grooves. It just screams (mumbles?) “I’m really not into this at all.” But clearly, he was. The best of Eric’s solo years was yet to come, but this was an auspicious beginning.

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. Slunky
  2. Bad Boy
  3. Lonesome and a Long Way from Home
  4. After Midnight
  5. Easy Now
  6. Blues Power

Side Two:

  1. Bottle of Red Wine
  2. Lovin’ You Lovin’ Me
  3. Told You For the Last Time
  4. Don’t Know Why
  5. Let it Rain

-Stephen

Eric Clapton

https://www.allmusic.com/album/eric-clapton-mw0000624369

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Clapton_(album)