Derek and the Dominos
Love is a Bitch and Patti Doesn't Look So Great Herself
The Lineup Card (1970)
Eric Clapton (vocals, guitar) also of Cream, Yardbirds, Blind Faith
Duane Allman (guitar) also of the Allman Brothers Band
Bobby Whitlock (keyboards, vocals) also of Delaney and Bonnie
Jim Gordon (drums) also of Delaney and Bonnie
Carl Radle (bass) also of Delaney and Bonnie
For a band with one studio album and a life span of less than a year, Derek and the Dominos sure packed more than their fair share of raw emotion, heartache, and juicy stories into their short career together. Eric Clapton and drummer Jim Gordon, bassist Carl Radle, and keyboardist Bobby Whitlock met while touring with Delaney and Bonnie in 1970, one of Clapton's lower-profile retrenchment efforts made after the ego-implosion of Blind Faith in 1969. Clap essentially snatched the rhythm section rug out from under Delaney and Bonnie and claimed it for his own, though I'd say it wasn't without good reason. The Dominos are far and away Eric Clapton's best backing band of all time - a funky, easy rolling group of country rock yahoos with a great singer and songwriter (Whitlock), an effortlessly imaginative Charlie Watts-style drummer, and an almost supernatural way with the backbeat. The Dominos were also flexible - they could play it Stax soulful, South Side bluesy, or as hard as any Rolling Stones of the day. It's clear to me now that most of the true brilliance of the Layla album lies in the way the band covers every and all bases, allowing Clapton to simply play his heart out over the top. I'll even say it this way, to give it a little more effect - this album would've been brilliant even if recorded as a guitarless trio, dig?
Luckily, though, we have a miniature Super Session of Eric Clapton and Duane Allman to cover the guitar parts. The story goes that Duane was an absolute Clapton worshipper (which is no surprise considering Clapton's stature at the time), and Clapton, in turn, was a big fan of Duane's work on the brilliant first few Allman Brothers records. One thing that Eric had never really had in any of his old bands was a serious jamming partner who could keep up with his spiral acrobatics and not attempt to 'beat' him by denigrating the music into some six-string pissing match. Duane was already used to sharing his time with Dickie Betts and jamming in a clear-headed, highly collaborative manner quite unlike what Eric had experienced with Cream (where he was seemingly always trying to outplay Jack Bruce's bass and keep Ginger Baker from launching into a 45-minute drum wank session) or Blind Faith (where Stevie Winwood was far from being an equal on guitar) so when he was invited by producer Tom Dowd to the Layla sessions it worked like Crisco on sensitive body parts. Clapton and Duane hit it off immediately, Allman was asked to play on the record, and thus we have the beginnings of one of the most memorable guitar duo collaborations in music history.
If it seems like the planets were aligned for the recording of Layla, it's even more Anne Heche-nutball when you consider the other factors involved at the time. Clapton was obsessed with best friend George Harrison's wife Patti 'Layla' Harrison, stone in love but unwilling and unable to cross his pal to let her know how he felt. Layla is subtitled 'and Other Assorted Love Songs', and that's just about perfectly fucking apt as a tile to the record. With the exception of one or two of the blues numbers, every one of these songs refers to pledging aching devotion, whimpering in paralyzing heartache, or confessing sober-headed self-loathing, sometimes so explicitly that it seems like you're listening in on something you really shouldn't be. Clapton was long gone far and away on this girl, and this album represents his trip to the Rock and Roll confessional to admit to the entire world what he didn't really have the guts to tell his friend. Believe me that knowing the subtext to this album only makes the effect stronger, as it sounds like every solo, every crying slide and every unrestrained howl from Whitlock is crying from the depths of Clapton's confusion.
I'd also like to say right here, in absolute honesty and with no actual offense intended, that Patti Harrison is an absolute fucking schnauzer of a woman. I mean, she's so ugly she makes a moose's anus look like Heidi Klum and could turn Pat O'Brien off. Now, I realize that Clapton's British, a country that idolized Ginger Spice as a sex object for three years, and therefore has a pretty skewed idea of what a beautiful woman looks like, but Jay-zuz Chee-rist...he could've fallen in love with a rusty toaster oven and it would've made more sense than Patii Harrison. Don't be fooled by the well-selected mid-60's photos you find on the web. Look for a picture from the 70's and you'll find Eric, smiling like Mr. Tongue's first trip to Pussyville, standing next to a rapidly aging chick with a grille that would make a '58 Chrysler jealous, with a space between the incisors that could hold a New York City white pages and still have room left over for a Gideon Bible. I mean, the entire female population of the Western world, and not only does Eric fall in love with his best friend's wife, he falls in love with someone who, had they not been in the right place at the right time, would've been Mrs. Patti Boyd Henson, wife of the sixth most successful plumber in Southampton. I mean, Clap was friends with Mick Jagger, too, and he never got the bell-a-ringin' for sweet, sweet Marianne Faithfull? The guy's nuttier than a Pay Day bar, I tell ya.
Anyhow, throughout this whole adventure, the band was hopelessly drug-addled and, in some cases, completely motherfucking bonkers. The Dominos (pre-Allman, mind you) undertook a grueling 50-cities-in50-days tour of tiny clubs to hone their skills in mid 1970, and by the time it was done were totally immersed in the finest semi-white powder exports of central Asia they took to keep balling the jack. After the failure of the edited version of the 'Layla' single to dent the charts and in complete and utter guilt over his emotional situation with the Harrisons, Clapton took his addiction and ran with it over the next two or three years. He became a deep-down body junkie, rarely venturing out of his house until Pete Townshend dragged him out for the Rainbow benefit concert in 1973. By that time, Clap had essentially denounced most of his guitar hero past and devoted himself to a decade of whisper-quiet, Bob Barker-neutered country rock before becoming a synth rock tool and a museum piece in the 80's and 90's. The rest of the band never recovered, either, with Whitlock fading into obscurity, Radle dying of an overdose in 1980, and drummer Gordon flipping off his rocker with more flourish than Mary Lou Retton on a half gram of meth. Gordon increasingly began hearing Threatening Voices that Weren't Really There before scrapping his session career and reclusing himself. He finally ended up murdering his mother with a claw hammer in 1983, and, as is the usual for such things, getting sentenced to a nice decades-long term in the Thorazine Hilton to coalesce. It's up to you to decide whether or not that is a more horrible fate than to record the August album with Phil Collins.
Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs - Polydor 1970
What can I say? That it's got too much guitar on it? Get a fucking Devo album, you tweeze. That it's too long? Goddamn...now we're gonna say we don't like the Louvre because you can't see it all before lunch time. I will say this - the covers, 'It's Too Late', 'Nobody Knows You', and especially 'Key to the Highway', are quite inferior to the Derek and the Dominos originals. Yup...the work by Clapton and Whitlock far outdoes the tunes by Count Basie and Big Bill Broonzy, and that isn't a joke. This album is simply an event - listening to what amounts to a soul being poured out on the floor for the entire world to stare at, comment on, and stamp all over like a kid in a rain puddle. Like Tonight's the Night with death or Blood on the Tracks with breakups, this is the definitive spurned love album, rooted in true life and as convincing as a slap across the face. Clapton spills his guts on this album, and his band is astute, talented, and juiced enough to not only sympathize, but to actually take part in the process of having their hearts removed from their bodies before their very eyes.
So many people talk primarily about the music on this album that I feel it's worthwhile to discuss a bit more of the gutty, deluded, and completely understandable emotional arc this album takes. First off, I'd like you to notice how Whitlock, in the role of background singer, acts brilliantly throughout as a sort of subconscious narrator to Clapton's oblique lyrics - it's him that delivers the 'in love with another man's woman' line in the opening 'I Looked Away', running quite contrary to the 'she's left me' business of the main lyrics. It's as if Clapton wants to suppress what's actually going on and record just another blues album of rambling men and treacherous bitches, but Whitlock seems to be dragging these confessions out of him. Whitlock's demanding that until the beans are spilled but good about what's really fucking him up, no one's going to buy the same old 'evil woman' bluesman shtick. Clapton might be singing about the fictional lover that left him, but Whitlock sure as hell ain't. The following 'Bellbottom Blues' shows Eric grappling with what he must do ('Do you wanna see me crawl across the floor to you?), concluding that the only way he can ever really have peace is to admit that 'once he was strong, but now he's lost the fight', and to keep himself from 'fading away', he has to tell Patti exactly how he feels, no matter how painful it is for everyone around him. The dam finally bursts open on the deceptively upbeat 'Keep On Growing' - he's opened himself to Harrison, 'looking into the face of one who loved me, feeling so ashamed'. His plea is rebuked ('She told me I was wrong...said everything's gonna be alright if I keep on growing'), but he can't admit that his love is doomed. He surmizes that someday she'll be with him as long as he keeps growing, getting better for her, more able to love and be loved. The delusion and desperation are creepily familiar to anyone's who'd had their love essentially returned to them in a doggie bag, where the denial and the fear of loneliness become so great that the rejectee feels like 'if I only do A and B and C, then she'll love me'.
Here the album takes a turn inward, towards quieter dreams of idealistic love ('I Am Yours'), nasty defensive swipes at the one who rejected him ('Anyday'), and boozy, desolate blues that reflect Clapton's own struggle to come to grips with his rejection and guilt. He's put everything into the pot and just as quickly found himself busted flat with nothing more than his guitar and enough conflicting emotions to fill three seasons of The O.C. scripts. About the time of 'Key to the Highway', he begins to let his guitar do more of the talking since it's hard for him to do anything but scream out in his heartache ('Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad', 'Have You Ever Loved a Woman'), until finally he's reduced to only being able to express his idealization of Layla as a sort of ethereal angel figure in the music of a dear, recently deceased associate (Jimi Hendrix's 'Little Wing'). The jig is up, however, and he realizes his chance has nearly passed for good, at least for the time being. ('It's Too Late'). 'Layla' is the final plea...he's on his knees, crawling across the floor, and he doesn't care. The tone is almost aggressive, as if he and she both know this is it - his last chance. Still, her rejection comes once again, this time in the form of a brave, piano-driven coda where Duane and Eric's high-pitched slide squeals come like tears streaming down Eric's face. That's it...seal it up. Layla's gone. Finally, quite possibly the best song on the album, comes Whitlock's nearly silent 'Thorn Tree In the Garden', sung by the wise narrator. He's experienced lost love and all the open-chest surgery that goes along with it, and has survived the 'last goodbye', but the final prayer is not for himself, it's for the memory of her. The book is closed, and all there is now is a three-year opium haze to block out the fallout from it all.
Musically, it's unbelievable. Eric Clapton is far and away at his best, and Duane Allman keeps up the whole time. The interplay between the two introverted twangers is worth all the hype and more, but the rhythm section keeps the hooks up and the backbone sliding. Simply put, it doesn't get much better for classic rock than this one. Believe me, this is not overstatement.
Hey! Did you know that Eric recorded Layla using a guitar amplifier about smaller than a toaster? Yup, once known for his walls of Marshall stacks, Clapton had fallen in love with the sound of the little $20 battery-powered Pignose amp as part of his 'downsizing' efforts and used it nearly exclusively on this record. Duane himself only used a little 10W Fender Champ, not the most imposing of dB-deliverers either. I hear Zappa also used a Pig on several of his mid-70's albums. So next time you think you want to learn how to play guitar like Clapton, remember that all you need is $50 for a Pignose. Oh, and an extra $450,000 to buy his sunburst Fender Strat 'Brownie' that he used on these sessions, but that's just incidental.
Capn's Final Word: Musically, monumental. Lyrically it's almost unmistakable. It knocked Eric Clapton to his knees for several years, and it could probably do the same to you.
Live at the Fillmore 1970 - Polydor 1994
The Derek and the Dominoes live experience, probably including some of Clapton's best work ever, were previously only available in the heavily vegetated double LP In Concert, which I haven't seen except on chewn up vinyl for a dog's ear. That and a couple of snatches on the Crossroads box, where it was forced to share time with No Reason to Cry outtakes and versions of 'After Midnight' stolen from beer commercials. Well, once of the more positive aspects of the 1990's, besides the increasing acceptability of deviant sex acts, was the push towards reissuing long out-of-print and never-printed material on CD, especially in the case of classic rockers who'd bit the can or dropped the ball fifteen or twenty years earlier and now had little to no control over their master tapes. Lovingly assembled double-CD live archive releases with Tolstoyan insert books became welcome replacements for the usual endlessly rehashed best-of sets (which, unfortunately, seem to have made an astounding comeback since.) Fillmore is one of the better examples of these big-buck vault issues in that it doesn't have any qualms about who its audience is - the wussball Michael Boltonized yuppies who got itchy during a three-minute performance of 'Milk Cow Blues' on Unplugged would never have had any idea that Eric Clapton actually used to be a guitar jam hero fronting a heavy soul outfit that bore more resemblance to Sly and the Family Stone than the Tonight Show band like it does nowadays.
No way, Beyonce. This album was intended for the hardcores, folks like you and me (for why are you reading a review of a concert album assembled from 35-year-old concert tapes if you arent a blues rock hardcore in the 16-year-old-Traci Lords-and-the-defensive-line-of-the-Miami-Dolphins sense?) for whom 16-minute guitar jams are as easily digested as a python eating an adolescent fieldmouse. After my years and years of Grateful Dead indoctrination training, I ain't afraid o' no jammin', certainly not of the reasonably safe kind that Clapton engages in here. Since the Dominos were at that time a four piece (Allman never toured with the band, preferring to waste his efforts on Gregg...just kidding!!) with only Whitlock's piano as the supporting melodic instrument, this is the Bare Lick Clap Town show in every last possible way. Granted, he's a brilliant fucking blues guitar player, and had improved immensely beyond the chaotic, angular, and not-altogether-pleasant Cream-style jamming as mummified on the Live Cream releases, but he also is not able to make his guitar into the supersonic pussy-fueled intergalactic space battleship that Hendrix had been able to do. Oftentimes Clapton simply comps through the chord changes for a couple-three verses at a time, as if he's making room for the Duane Who Isn't There to take a solo if he, you know, he happened to be in the room at the time. Certainly, when Clapton does solo, it's magic more often than it isn't, and guitar players so-inclined ought to memorize this thing as a matter of course. Still, I guess what I'm saying is that as well-storied and respected as Eric Clapton is, he's still got his limitations in terms of what his imagination will allow him to put out on the stage. He's, you know, a nice, sharp steak knife instead of a Swiss Army. A Jim Brown and not a Bo Jackson. An Otis Redding and not a Marvin Gaye.
So anyway, I really think you should have a pretty clear idea what you're getting yourself into before shelling out the $35 or whatever godweeping amount of money legitimate channels charge for this thing, and that's boogie, boogie, boogie. Blues rock. Bluesy rock. Hard rock, but it all boogies manically. Have no illusions about it, friends and Republicans - this album wanks about as much as a fourteen year old locked in the Vivid warehouse. But you know what? It's quality wanking, and if wanking's what you're wanting I'd sure as hell rather you use this as your personal hand cream than, say, something by that brainless creep Joe Satriani.
I believe these concerts date from before the recording of Layla, so song selection is a little light on the new original tunes, instead favoring old standbys ('Nobody Knows You', 'Presence of the Lord', 'Crossroads') and tunes off of Clapton's recent solo debut ('Blues Power', 'Let it Rain'). It all goes on for 13 songs worth, some lasting just south of 20 minutes, and everything all pretty much sounds alike regardless of their previous heritage. Much is quite similar to what was later presented on the Layla album, and some ('Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad' or 'Key to the Highway') is performed nearly identically. 'Crossroads', for one, isn't close whatsoever to the 1968 Cream version, presented as a loping strut showcasing the Dominos way with the fonky backbeat rather than the accelerator-is-stuck-wide-open Cream version. Sure, the vocals are ragged (especially Whitlock's), and Duane's absence leaves quite a hole in the mix, but I do feel like this is a pretty accurate portrayal of what this band sounded like on any particular night - there are no obvious overdubs (which may not have been the case on the 1973 In Concert, but I wouldn't know that for sure) and I'm sure a less accuracy-minded producer would've edited some of these tracks down to lengths more palatable to the Docker Nation. But sheeit, man...sometimes you gots to get the funk uncut, and this shit is as pure as a newborn baby's piss.
Capn's Final Word: I suppose this may fall under the category of 'too much of a god thing', but Clapton is still at his most fascinating.
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