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

September 23 – Album #2 for The Allman Brothers Band

9/23/70: The Allman Brothers Band – Idlewild South

It hadn’t occurred to me until reading a bit of background on this album just how pivotal it was in the development of the Allman Brothers Band. The group was simultaneously and constantly touring while ducking into studios when time permitted and, in a way, that was just as important an element of the album as these studio tracks themselves. The album was recorded mostly live during sessions which took place intermittently¬† over a five month period in NYC, Miami, and Macon, GA. Idlewild South, the band’s second album, was released this day 50 years ago. Much of its contents would form part of the core of the band’s live repertoire for years to come.

The Allman Brothers Band: Idlewild South: Super Deluxe Edition | Sound &  Vision

Though I’ve always liked the album opener, Dickey Betts’ gospel-tinged Revival, lyrically speaking it’s kind of atypical of this band, who weren’t exactly a flower power group. Perhaps it’s no coincidence then that the song was originally an instrumental. But that groove is infectious, and along with In Memory of Elizabeth Reed¬†it brought Dickey Betts to the fore as a crucial songwriting contributor. The latter song was written for a woman of a different name who Betts was involved with (Boz Scaggs’ girlfriend). Elizabeth Reed was a name Betts spotted on a headstone in the cemetery where the band liked to hang out and write.

Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers wearing it high and proud! :  Highslingers

The Willie Dixon track Hoochie Coochie Man features Berry Oakley’s only vocal performance with the Allmans, sounding an awful lot like Johnny Winter. This one rocks harder than anything else on an album full of blazing guitar licks. Along with In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,¬†Gregg’s Midnight Rider is my favorite track on this record. Roadie Robert Kim Payne received a co-credit for a lyric assist. It was released as a single, but didn’t fare well until recorded by others including Gregg on his 1973 solo album, Laid Back. I like this version as much as Gregg’s solo take. Please Call Home features his typically soulful vocals, and should probably be a better known song.

Gregg Allman to Be Buried Next to Duane Allman at Funeral - Rolling Stone

Contemporary and retrospective reviews have always been quite positive, yet the album initially sold only slightly better than it’s debut predecessor. The band would really make their name through relentless touring which, after this release, would lead to arguably their greatest album the following year, At Fillmore East.

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. Revival
  2. Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’
  3. Midnight Rider
  4. In Memory of Elizabeth Reed

Side Two:

  1. Hoochie Coochie Man
  2. Please Call Home
  3. Leave My Blues at Home

-Stephen

Idlewild South

https://www.allmusic.com/album/idlewild-south-mw0000196446

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

https://ultimateclassicrock.com/allman-brothers-band-idlewild-south/