When a Melody Maker advert announced that Eric Clapton was to play two shows at London’s Lyceum, just off the Strand, there was no band name attached. Just a few band members: Organist Bobby Whitlock, drummer Jim Keltner, and bassist Carl Radle. The two shows were scheduled for June 14th, 1970, and were to benefit Dr. Spock’s Civil Liberties Legal Defense Fund in the United States.
Showcasing just how much things were in flux at the time for the group, by the time the gig actually happened, Keltner, who was busy working with jazz guitarist Gabor Szabo on an album, had been replaced by Jim Gordon.
Whitlock, Gordon, and Radle had all toured Europe with Delaney and Bonnie & Friends between November 1969 and March 1970. When that band broke up, Gordon and Radle joined Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour. When the Cocker tour ended, Gordon and Radle returned to England and – together with Clapton and Whitlock – they worked with George Harrison on his All Things Must Pass album.
It was out of these sessions that the four musicians began to build up a rapport and an idea for a new group. According to Bobby Whitlock: “We didn’t want any horns, we didn’t want no chicks, we wanted a rock ‘n’ roll band. But my vocal concept was that we approach singing like Sam and Dave did: [Clapton] sings a line, I sing a line, we sing together.”
On the same day of their debut concert, the band that was – at this point – still calling itself “Eric Clapton and friends,” were at Abbey Road for a Harrison session. That day, they also recorded “Tell The Truth,” which became Derek and The Dominos first single when it was released in September 1970. (The B-side of the single was “Roll It Over,” another song recorded at an All Things Must Pass session, and included the former Beatle and Dave Mason of Traffic on guitar and vocals.)
Backstage at the Lyceum before the first show, the band was still trying to figure out a name for itself. A discussion took place involving the group, as well as George Harrison and Tony Ashton. As Clapton recalls, it was Ashton that suggested “Del and the Dominos,” having taken to calling the guitarist “Derek” or “Del” since the Delaney & Bonnie tour. However, according to Whitlock, “the Dynamics” was the name they chose and Ashton mispronounced it when introducing the band.
In 2013, writer Marc Roberty quoted London DJ Jeff Dexter – who MC’d the Lyceum show – as saying that “Derek and the Dominos” had already been decided on before they went on stage. Apparently, Clapton really liked it, while the other three (all Americans), thought they might be confused with a doo-wop group.
Either way, it was not the band’s greatest gig. Some of the UK’s music press were unable to come to terms with Eric as a singing frontman. They wanted non-stop guitar pyrotechnics. Clapton’s memories of the gig, according to his autobiography, centered on his desire to win the affections of Patti Boyd. At the time, Clapton was consulting New Orleans-born musician Dr. John, a practitioner of voodoo, who sent Clapton a box made of straw that would help in his quest.
Following their London debut, the band spent time rehearsing before embarking on a UK tour that opened at The Village Blues club in East London. For the next 22 days, they crisscrossed the country, playing 18 gigs that ranged from London’s Speakeasy Club to The Black Prince Pub in Bexley Kent and The Penthouse in Scarborough in Yorkshire; there was even a side trip to Biot in France for a lone cross-channel gig.
While the band was touring, Robert Stigwood, the band’s manager, was busy arranging the band’s recording for their debut album. He called Tom Dowd who was working on The Allman Brothers sessions for Idlewild South and told him that the band wanted to come to Florida to record at Criteria Studios in Miami. At the press launch of Derek and the Dominos’ first single for Polydor in London, Stigwood handed a “Derek is Eric” badge to every journalist that attended…just to be sure.
And the rest is history.