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Derek And The Dominos’ Historic First Gig In London

When Eric Clapton’s new band Derek and the Dominos played their first gig on June 14, 1970, they didn’t have a name until a few minutes before the gig.

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Derek And The Dominos Artist Page
Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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by the time the gig actually happened, Keltner, who was busy working with jazz guitarist Gabor Szabo on an album, had been replaced by Jim Gordon.

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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.

Listen to the best of Derek and the Dominos on Spotify.

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9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Bruce DeGrado

    June 14, 2015 at 4:48 pm

    One of my favorite’s of Clapton’s many bands

  2. tom

    June 14, 2015 at 7:28 pm

    That’s only part of the story because ‘Sky Dog’ (Duanne Allman) hadn’t join yet. (The best is yet to come.)

    • uDiscover

      June 14, 2015 at 7:31 pm

      Tom, every story has to start somewhere…

  3. Jim Bergeson

    June 14, 2015 at 10:04 pm

    Amazing talent produces amazing music. The legend that is Eric Clapton, continued to grow from this loosely structured band, which turned out Layla, an all time great classic, and several other wonderful songs that remain on my short list of favorites. Clapton wasn’t God, but he was truly a gifted magician, making the era’s greatest music come out of any group of friends and musicians he happened to be playing with! Truly a wizard with the electric guitar.

  4. George Covetskie

    June 15, 2015 at 4:36 am

    Derek and the Domino’s was the 1st time I stood up, defended and believed in Eric because it proved to me he was not just a guitar hero from the Cream days. That group of musicians were the actual cream of the crop. To come up with the sound, versatility and heart shredding music they made, put all of them above all the groups that were out at that time. And, some time after. I learned a lot from them recordings. One was Bell Bottom Blues. They way the bass drum and bass guitar play off each other during the verse and Change up together later. Simple things like that and much more. I Live the way Eric sang the first 4 notes on his lead. Eric, you Always had heart felt tasty leads. I can go and mention things about all the players. Being a bassist at that time, Carl was on my top 3 bassist. I miss musicians like them guys. So glad Eric is still around.

  5. Bob Waterhouse

    July 31, 2015 at 11:04 pm

    I was at the Black Prince Hotel gig in Bexley. Right at the front, about six feet from Eric. He was amazing. We were each given a ‘Derek is Eric’ badge and a poster…I still have them. It was a hall attached to a pub, a leading rock venue…John Mayall, Graham Bond, Arthur Brown, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, Long John Baldry, Julie Driscoll Brian Auger and the Trinity…we saw them all at the Bexley Jazz Club!

  6. Peter Bebeau

    September 11, 2015 at 9:40 pm

    I have a tee shirt with a picture of EC on it that I believe is from this era. Eric is playing “Blackie” and wearing a white tee shirt that says “Eric Clepton and ????. The letters at the bottom are obscured though. It has made me stark raving. I have asked many and we can’t figure it out. Perhaps Bob was at a show an can fill in the blank? I’d sure appreciate it!

  7. Gordon Campbell

    June 9, 2016 at 3:47 pm

    They just don’t make em like that anymore..top 5 album of all time for sure.

  8. Chucky

    June 9, 2016 at 5:50 pm

    I still have my Criteria Recording Studios T-shirt.
    I had a warehouse on the next block and WPBT Channel 2, a PBS station was also on the block, all being in N. Miami just off Biscayne Blvd.
    My band would write and practice in the warehouse, and when it was time to record we’d buy time @ Criteria.
    Walking through the front doors and into the lobby, one the first things we’d see was the gold record of the Layla LP framed on the wall.
    That big, gorgeous sounding grand-piano from the refrain on Layla was also in Studio A.
    Of course, we always had a play on it.
    Out of Criteria is also where Clapton gathered his 461 Ocean Blvd. band.
    I ended-up attending FIU, which was built back in the mangroves, across Biscayne Blvd.

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