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Derek and the Dominos were a blues-rock band formed in the spring of 1970 by guitarist and singer Eric Clapton with keyboardist Bobby Whitlock, bassist Carl Radle and drummer Jim Gordon, who had all played with Clapton in Delaney, Bonnie & Friends.

The band released only one studio album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, which featured prominent contributions from guest guitarist Duane Allman from the Allman Brothers Band. 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 then wife, Pattie Boyd Harrison) would make the top ten in both the United States and the United Kingdom. The album, which has received praise from both critics and fans alike, is often considered to be the defining achievement of Clapton's career.

Beginnings

The seeds of Derek and the Dominos can be found in their involvement with Delaney, Bonnie & Friends of which they were all members, including Duane Allman who had played before Clapton. The members' departures from the group were caused by the constant infighting between Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett, Whitlock explains: Gordon and Radle left D&B 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. One is that, due to Eric Clapton's feelings for Patty Boyd Harrison, the group decided to call the band Derek and The Dominoes (a combination of Duane Allman's and Eric Clapton's names) featuring Eric Clapton so that Layla would not be associated to him and, therefore, his emotional inclinations would be kept a secret.

Another, 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 Theatremarker, 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 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. 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 Studiosmarker 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. They separated in 1985 when Clapton started a relationship with Lori Del Santo, and they divorced in 1988. Whitlock reminiscing would later say:

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 he first heard Duane Allman play. After several hours in the studio earlier that day the band was sneaked into the show with the help of Dowd and sat between the riser and fans below. At the concert, Dowd distinctly remembers:

The next day, August 27, 1970, Duane arrived at the Criteria studios about 3 o'clock and quickly befriended Clapton; Dowd says their easiness with one another was instantaneous, saying they were

Those jams can be found on the second CD of The Layla Sessions: 20th Anniversary Edition. After the jam sessions Clapton invited Allman to become the fifth and final member of the Dominos.

When Allman and Clapton met, The Dominos had barely started recording anything. Duane first added his slide guitar to "Tell the Truth" on 28 August as well as "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 his own band. 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 14 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" (Jimmie 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 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 "History of Eric Clapton" (1972).

An excellent video version of the "Layla" album's "It's Too Late" can be seen on the recently-issued 2-DVD set of "The Best of the Johnny Cash TV Show". Cash's program, which premiered on ABC in June 1969, ran for 58 episodes (with the final show broadcast in March 1971). The "It's Too Late" set is followed with Derek & the Dominos playing with Cash and Carl Perkins doing "Matchbox".

The most critically acclaimed and popular song off the album, "Layla", was recorded in separate sessions; the opening guitar section was recorded first, with the second section several months 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 didn't even chart in the United Kingdom. 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. However, the song "Layla" when released in 1972 as a single would be 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.

Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs has continued to be noticed by critics and has been named one of the best albums of all time by VH1 (#89). and Rolling Stone (#115)..

Live shows

Eric Clapton, Carl Radle, and Duane Allman live at the Curtis Hixon Hall, one of the two shows in which Allman appeared.
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 recalls their drug situation as: 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 Eastmarker in New York, New Yorkmarker. 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

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, on the eve of the group's first American tour, Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident. 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:

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, the split between Clapton and Whitlock was apparently a bitter one. Radle died in 1980 of complications from a kidney infection associated with alcohol and drug use. Jim Gordon, who was an undiagnosed schizophrenic, killed his mother with a hammer in 1983 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., 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 is now considered not only one of Clapton's most outstanding achievements, but also consistently appears in listings of the best rock albums ever recorded. 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.

Members



Discography

Albums



Singles



References

  1. Romanowski, , Patricia (2003). Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll Rolling Stone Press, ISBN 0-671-43457-8
  2. Schumacher, Michael (1992). Crossroads: The Life and Music of Eric Clapton. Citadel Press. ISBN 0-8065-2466-9.
  3. The Layla Sessions liner notes, page 4.
  4. The Layla Sessions liner notes, page 7.
  5. "The Layla Sessions" CD liner notes.
  6. Schumacher, Michael (1992). Crossroads: The Life and Music of Eric Clapton. Citadel Press. ISBN 0-8065-2466-9.
  7. Shapiro, Harry (1992). Eric Clapton:Lost in the Blues Da Capo Press Inc., ISBN 0-306-80480-8
  8. Sandford, Christopher (1999). Clapton: Edge of Darkness Da Capo Press Inc., ISBN 0-306-80897-8
  9. Carl Radle biography on Allmusic
  10. Romanowski, Patricia (2003). Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll Rolling Stone Press, ISBN 0-671-43457-8


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