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How Derek and The Dominos’ Historic Layla Sessions Birthed A Classic

The sessions at which Derek and The Dominos recorded their album have become known as the Layla Sessions, but they produced a masterpiece.

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Layla Sessions

From The Roosters to the Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith and Delaney and Bonnie; Eric Clapton had certainly been around over the previous 8 years, prior to forming his new band in early summer 1970. When this new band played their first gig at London’s Lyceum in the Strand on Sunday 14 June they hadn’t quite got around to giving themselves a name, that is until just before being introduced on stage – Derek and The Dominos… it has a certain ring to it.

The other three members of the band, Bobby Whitlock on keyboards, guitar and vocals, bass player, Carl Radle and drummer and occasional pianist, Jim Gordon had all played together in Delaney and Bonnie’s band and all are on the album, Delaney and Bonnie On Tour With Eric Clapton that was recorded in South London in December 1969 and released in March 1970.

All four musicians also worked with George Harrison on his All Things Must Pass album and earlier in the day of their debut concert they were at Abbey Road for a Harrison session when they cut ‘Tell The Truth’ that became Derek and The Dominos first single release in September 1970. The b-side of this single was ‘Roll It Over’, another recorded at an ATMP session and this included the former Beatle and Dave Mason of Traffic on guitar and vocals.

Following their London debut the band spent time rehearsing before embarking on a U.K. tour that opened at The Village Blues club in Dagenham Essex, not one of Britain’s most prestigious venues. For the next 22 days they criss-crossed the country playing 18 gigs, ranging 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.

During July and 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.

Derek And The Dominos First Gig Layla SessionsLess than a week after their last gig in Plymouth’s Van Dike Club, Clapton, Radle, Whitlock and Gordon were in studio A at Criteria ready to get down to business. On the evening of 26 August Clapton and the others had been invited to an Allman Brothers concert at Miami Beach Convention Center; as Clapton watched Duane play for the first time was hooked. After the gig the two bands headed back to Criteria and jammed for hours.

On Friday, 28 August the sessions for Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs began in earnest, joining the other four musicians for the next week or so of recording was Duane Allman who was thrilled to be playing with Clapton. The first song they recorded was Clapton and Whitlock’s, ‘Tell The Truth’ – a far more assured version than their earlier effort; it became the opening track of the first side of the second record on the double album that came out in November 1970.

There was no recording on Saturday, but on Sunday and for the next five nights there was some intense activity, intense because on 4 September Duane had a gig in Milwaukee with the Allmans. On Sunday night the session was under way, and despite Tom Dowd’s orders to keep the tapes running at all times, someone had screwed up and it was only Dowd rushing back into the control booth from the men’s room shouting, “Turn the faders up” that preserved the brilliance of the cover on Big Bill Broonzy’s, ‘Key to The Highway’. If anyone asks you if white men can play the blues, point them in the direction of this track.

Monday produced ‘Nobody Knows When You’re Down and Out’ and ‘Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad’. On Tuesday Clapton and Whitlock’s, ‘Keep On Growing’ was laid down. Wednesday, I’ Looked Away’, ‘Bell Bottom Blues’ and a cover of a Billy Myles song, made famous by Freddie King, ‘Have You Ever Loved A Woman’; King was one of Clapton’s favourite blues guitarists.

Thursday was the last day of Duane Allman being available and the band nailed, ‘I Am Yours’, ‘Anyday’ and another by the man they called, ‘The King of the Stroll’, Chuck Wills’s, ‘It’s Too Late’. On Friday and Saturday, with Duane away, the rest of the guys concentrated on overdubs for everything they had so far recorded, barring ‘Key to The Highway’ and ‘Nobody Knows When You’re Down and Out’.

After the Allman Brothers Milwaukee gig they played another at Jolly’s Place in Des Moines on 6 September after which Duane flew back to Miami so that the last few songs could be completed. On Wednesday 9 September there was also overdubs to be done and the five musicians, who by this time were all in the proverbial zone, together tackled ‘Little Wing’ and ‘Layla’.

Layla Sessions Tapes

‘Little Wing’ is the band’s tribute to Jimi Hendrix who recorded it on his Axis: Bold As Love album in 1967. It is a monumental; record, the playing so tight, which belies the fact that Whitlock later recalled he had never heard the song before they cut it and had the words laid out on top of his organ so he could sing them. Nine days later Hendrix died at the Samarkand Hotel, in London’s Notting Hill.

And then there’s ‘Layla’. Clapton was inspired to write the first part of the song having been given a copy of the Persian classical poet, Nizami Ganjavi’s book, The Story of Layla and Majnun. As we now know it is Clapton’s love song to Pattie Boyd, who at that time was married to George Harrison; she later married Clapton in 1979. It is also a song of two halves.

The first half recorded by the band on sixteen tracks including multi layered guitars by Clapton and a single track of Allman’s solos. After laying down his song Clapton returned to the studio to hear Jim Gordon playing a piano piece that he immediately loved and decided he wanted to add it to ‘Layla’ to complete the track; it proved to be an inspired decision of a happy coincidence. The composing credits on the song are Eric Clapton and Jim Gordon, but Gordon had in fact borrowed the melody from his former girlfriend.

According to Bobby Whitlock, “Jim took that piano melody from his ex-girlfriend Rita Coolidge. I know because in the D&B days I lived in John Garfield’s old house in the Hollywood Hills and there was a guesthouse with an upright piano in it. Rita and Jim were up there in the guesthouse and invited me to join in on writing this song with them called ‘Time.’ Her sister Priscilla wound up recording it with Booker T. Jones; Jim took the melody from Rita’s song and didn’t give her credit for writing it. Her boyfriend ripped her off.”

Derek and the dominos layla sessions log

For the last session for the album it seems somehow appropriate that it should be the delicate, ‘Thorn Tree In The Garden’ a Bobby Whitlock song, which he also sings, that is poignant and such a fitting closer. It’s like the morning after the party when there is peace and quiet imbued with a reflective air that is perfection.

After wrapping up the sessions Clapton, Whitlock, Radle and Gordon headed back to the UK to begin an extensive bout of touring beginning at Croydon’s Fairfield Halls, in South London on 20 September. Between then and 28 September they played eight UK dates and another in Paris. However, according to the tape boxes for the Layla sessions there were sessions in Miami at Criteria on 1 October where they overdubbed ‘Layla’ and ‘It’s Too Late’ and on the following day Clapton, Allman and Gordon cut a version of little Walter Jacob’s ‘Mean Old World’.

October 1st was a Thursday and on that day Derek and The Dominos, were 4,400 odd miles away from Florida in the south of England playing a gig at Swindon Town Hall. So what is the story here? Could it be that they flew to Miami during their two days off on 29 and 30 September and the boxes were labelled a day or so later?

Derek And The Doimino’s Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs can be bought here.

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43 Comments

43 Comments

  1. Cândido Borges

    August 27, 2014 at 10:10 pm

    I like very much all the itens of your playlist. Go on the excelente job that you’re starting now. My best regards!

  2. Cândido Borges

    August 27, 2014 at 10:14 pm

    Again?!… I don’t like…it’s the only true that I know !!! My best regards…

  3. Jessie

    August 29, 2014 at 12:32 am

    My all time Favorate Album and Claptons best work !!!

  4. Jmack

    August 29, 2014 at 3:31 am

    A legendary album from legendary players
    Ec and Duane?! doesn’t suck
    Love “why does love got to be so sad”
    Major jam

  5. Jim

    August 29, 2014 at 3:38 am

    The 10 albums I would choose to have if stranded on a desert island starts with ‘Derek and the Dominoes and other assorted love songs’. I’ve been a fan of Eric Clapton’s from his beginnings to this day. I saw Derek and the Dominoes at Suffolk County Community College on Long Island, NY in the fall of 1970. It did seem that if you were not a true fan of Clapton’s at the time there was a good chance at that point you didn’t know Eric was a member of Derek and the Dominoes. The show was terrific and not long after that they played the Fillmore which was later released as a live recording. The duel guitars of Eric Clapton and Duane Allman on many of the albums cuts are just amazing. It really is a shame that Duane Allman was taken so young and the sound of his guitar lost from future collaborations with Clapton, Allman Brothers and potentially so many others.

  6. pete

    August 29, 2014 at 1:21 pm

    Didn’t Ahmet Ertegun visit the Dominos at Criteria and broke down in tears when he saw how much hard drugs they were doing? I vividly recall hearing about that. Said he’d already been through this crap with Ray Charles and didn’t want to do it again.

    • nestor

      August 30, 2014 at 6:49 pm

      Pete, according to Eric Clapton’s autobiography, Tom Dowd became concerned with his (Clapton’s) drug use around the time of the Layla sessions and asked Ahmet Ertegun to speak with EC about it. The story is that Ertegun did break into tears while doing so because he had witnessed Ray Charles sink into the depths of heroin addiction in years past.

  7. doug

    August 29, 2014 at 7:45 pm

    always felt that without duanes playing on alot of the songs not that they would not have been good song, its his sound and feel of playthat help to really make the songs outstanding

  8. Michael Solomon

    August 30, 2014 at 1:01 am

    Possibly the greatest performances of two guitarists produced in modern recorded history
    I’ve been in that studio and it was an awesome experience being in theb place where all of Layla’s incredible material was performed, recorded and produced

  9. Richard Cosmillo

    August 30, 2014 at 4:54 pm

    Layla is probably one of the highest regarded albums ever recorded. Duane and Eric were like brothers on this album but the whole D & the D crew were like magic. Duane found his soul mate in Eric and the both of them found each other. Every song has flames coming out of it every note and every phrase. Duane must have showed up and really inspired Eric and the Dominos to get their shit together because Duane as he says was a “no bullshit kind of cat” and business was always first. I did read when Duane showed up the Dominos were all endulging in tons of cocaine and heroin at the time and Allman who was not shy about drugs stated flatly, ” business is first man” no drugs. So in essence, Duane saved Clapton and crew from total destruction. I’m sure Clapton realized now Duane was a huge asset to him in 1970. Not only that, Duane showed Clapton how to play side! Ha!

    • Tom Rinaldi

      March 23, 2015 at 12:35 am

      My favorite song of all time is Key To The Highway by Derek And The Dominos. I love the the way Duane makes Eric shout out continuously throughout the song after one of his awesome riffs. Duane was truly the greatest guitarist that ever lived especially since he only played for 10 years and Eric was probably a close second. Nobody could play the blues like those two.

  10. John Flowers

    September 3, 2014 at 4:13 am

    Interesting to see the drummer on that first gig at The Lyceum was billed as Jim Keltner – I assume this was a mistake?

  11. John Henfrey

    September 3, 2014 at 9:01 am

    The best album Eric Clapton was ever involved with, and one of the greatest albums ever made in my opinion.

  12. Will

    September 4, 2014 at 7:39 am

    Does anyone know who played bass on the slow section? That section is played with a pick, has reverb and does not sound like Carl Radle to me.
    I was able to see the Tampa show with Duane. It was amazing. That show and the Layla LP have had a profound effect on my life.

    • Dan Howard

      October 1, 2014 at 12:03 am

      That was indeed Carl Radle on the slow bass parts playing with a pick. Carl, from my hometown of Tulsa, was known for playing both ways… with his fingers, and at times with a pick. If one listens very closely, quite a bit of the baselines were laid down with a pick.

      I remain a staunch believer that the late Carl Dean Radle (1942-1980) was one of the greatest blues/rock groove layers of all time.

  13. Bobby Whitlock

    September 5, 2014 at 9:43 pm

    Just so that everyone knows and you heard it from me,
    Duane did not save us from destruction~He joined right in on everything that we were doing~We had already recorded “I Looked Away” and “Bell Bottom Blues” and “Keep On Growing” before we even knew that Duane was in town with his band~And Ahmet did come and talk to us about drugs, but it was too late as we were already finished with the recording~He and Jerry Wexler came down to our listening playback party~

    • john cline

      September 7, 2014 at 6:05 am

      Layla no doubt is in my opinion top five greatest rock albums ever made……

    • Doug

      September 10, 2014 at 7:00 am

      hello Bobby,
      thank you for your straightforwardness
      and clarification on the erroneous ‘facts’.
      As you’ve likely heard many times:
      wow, what a marvelous and historical
      recording – we still really love it, yep!
      Btw, you cleared-up the ‘mystery’ – naming
      the piano player guy in that D&D photo.
      And: your home video demoing
      the B-3 sounds great. Thnx, man…

    • William Pemberton

      September 15, 2014 at 8:57 am

      Thanks for setting the record straight.I just want to say how much I LOVED the Sam & Dave approach you and Eric took on some of the vocals .I’ve always felt that the vocal interplay between you & Eric were one of the main reasons the album was so magic… of course,one has to include Duane Allman’s slidework & other guitar parts as part of the magic recipe.The title track would have merely been slightly above average if Allman hadn’t entered the picture & inspired/forced Eric to reach deep down inside to bring his absolute best game out… your keyboard playing was the third part of the triumvirat that I feel made the album special… of course,one can’t downplay Carl Radle or Jim Gordon’s contributions,either.The “Layla” tailpiece was truly an inspired choice by Eric.I just wish they’d had you play the piano part instead.It sounds like an ameteur player at times – although an inspired one… Keep on keepin’ on,bro !!!

      • Bobby Whitlock

        September 26, 2014 at 3:59 pm

        I did a piano over dub to give it some feel~It’s track #14 in the track sheet~Called support piano~

    • gordon campbell

      September 25, 2014 at 11:16 pm

      Hey Bobby

      Does anyone visit or stay in touch with Jim Gordon in Cal at the facility ?
      gc

    • Nicholas Couch

      September 26, 2014 at 4:26 am

      so how come the poster has Keltner and not Gordon?

    • Phil crowley

      October 4, 2014 at 4:15 am

      Do you think Duane was integral in the record or would it have made it without him? I’ve always believed that he was a driving force.

    • Bill

      November 20, 2014 at 9:39 pm

      Bobby, are you still in the Austin area? Would really enjoy seeing you perform, sometime! South Texas is just a short drive away!

  14. Pete Martin

    September 9, 2014 at 7:21 pm

    For my money “Layla and Other Love Songs” is among the finest if not the finest rock/blues albums ever released. That seminal effort made me an Eric Clapton fan for life. How I wish that effort could be copied again on one more fine effort by Eric and some of those players.

    • Bobby Whitlock

      September 26, 2014 at 4:03 pm

      Jim Keltner was supposed to be our drummer but Jim Gordon stormed in on his gig~The office didn’t know about the new drummer and had started advertis
      ing Jim Keltner~

      • Jeff Costlow

        February 5, 2015 at 1:54 am

        Bobby, your back up vocals are great, theres versions of Layla on youtube pulled from modern video Rock Band games where Eric’s Vocals can be separated from yours, also your awesome Organ playing is much better heard. Your Organ work through out the album and on Live at the Fillmore is incredible. You are probably the one of the best qualified people I can ask this question to. Whats the likelihood of someone being able to get their hands on the master tapes, example to explore the 16 isolated tracks and remix them? Is this something that in the future could one day be released or would a millionaire have to arrange a meeting with the record company to even look at the master tapes? I do believe that Layla could be released a few different ways and was sad that there is only an alternate (some say out of tune) release of the song on a recent super deluxe box set, though it had floated around youtube for a while so was nothing new to me. I’ve always said that just an instrumental version of the song would do well and that an Eric mix versus Duane Mix would be a fun release, however the piano part is such a notorious and desired part and I understand there are atleast two piano tracks, is it possible to just release the piano tracks? Theres so much going on in the song where with harmonic parts and the organ and what not, I think some of the song gets missed when heard on bad speakers or a basic car radio, I find myself at night in a dark room with headphones listening to songs like Layla but on repeat and every time its played I train my ears to follow one instrument, I just really wish I could have the damn thing on a mixer right infront of me like in that Tom Dowd documentary, I’ve never heard a better song in my life. (I’m 29 fyi) I know thats a bit much to write, if thats really you, maybe you can shed some light. Thank you! – Jeff from NC

  15. Bryant Bailey

    September 10, 2014 at 1:34 pm

    Absolutely greatest album ever made.

  16. gordon campbell

    September 25, 2014 at 11:02 pm

    Some great rock history. And one of the top 5 albums of all time in my mind. It is really sad to hear what happened to Jim Gordon a few years later. He was a fine drummer. I sent him a letter a couple weeks ago to see if he would respond to a pen pal request. As of today no answer
    gc

  17. Bruce

    September 26, 2014 at 12:35 am

    The best ever. A classic.

  18. Steve Baum

    October 3, 2014 at 5:42 am

    Bobby’s vocals on this album added a ton of soul. Amazing… I Looked Away… Takes a team. Duane’s slide on I Am Yours … a master at work. Carl too. Why doesn’t anyone make music like this anymore?

    • gordon campbell

      October 5, 2014 at 5:46 pm

      I agree Steve. We could use more music like this!

  19. A. Thomas Fenik

    November 20, 2014 at 10:09 pm

    Drugs, no drugs – somehow there’s a rare chemistry on this album I’ve rarely heard before or since – maybe never. Allman being a catalyst feels true – those two meeting and the ensuing synergy that developed is so clear throughout this record. To have Allman step in amid a group of players who had been recording/touring together for quite a while and just so subtly and yet profoundly nail it is testament to his genius. Whatever the circumstances or the substances, all of these exceptional players found themselves in Miami for a very, very short time and elevated one another to a much higher plane. Extraordinary occurrence.

  20. Tim

    December 3, 2014 at 12:09 am

    Controversial perhaps but I think there is actually too much guitar on a some songs on Layla. If you listen to the live stuff, particularly the original live album, the songs can breathe more and you can really hear how great the songs themselves actually are. Also you can hear how funky and integral the keys and bass are. The organ should have been way higher in the mix on Layla. I’m not just saying that coz bobby was on the thread!

  21. Douglas

    August 27, 2015 at 7:28 am

    This is still one of my all-time favourite albums. It’s tight and loose at the same time. The musicianship is so tight and yet the atmosphere is very loose. What struck me the very first time I heard these songs (and I still feel the same way all these years later) is that these guys were having FUN! It sounds like they’re having a blast! When you love the music you’re playing, it comes across to the listener. Thanks guys!

  22. Bill

    August 29, 2015 at 4:18 pm

    And to think that this album bombed when first released. We nearly wore it out in the first couple months after its release. A deliriously tight band, the core four having spent over a year together with D&B and acting as the house band for Harrison’s ATMP recordings. When you put the Jams from ATMP in context of Layla it all flows together as perhaps the greatest rolling jam fest of all time. Tom Dowd said the he had never heard two players play so beautifully together and was amazed at how they pushed each other to the highest frets and beyond. Toss a copy of this album in the coffin with me. It’s the one thing I’d like to take with me. ;>)

  23. KKSCULL

    September 10, 2015 at 10:27 pm

    LAYLA TO ME WAS THE MID-SECTION OF E.C.’S MASTERFUL AND BRILLIANT LIFE. THE MIDDLE THAT HAS BRIDGE THE TWO HALVES OF HIS WRITING. I DO NOT CARE ABOUT THE DETAILS OF THEIR PERSONAL PREFERENCES IN INSPIRATION THROUGH CHEMISTRY. IT WAS A PERFECT STORM THAT BROUGHT ALL THE ACTORS TOGETHER THAT HAS PROFOUNDLY AFFECTED THE MUSICAL DIRECTION OF THOUSANDS OF ASPIRING MUSICIANS. THE FACT THAT THIS WAS A ONCE IN A LIFETIME ALBUM, AND AND WE WERE ABLE TO EXPERIENCE IT IN REAL TIME SHOULD BLESS EVEN THE MOST ACCOMPLISHED GUITARIST / KEYBOARDEST / DRUMMER / BASS PLAYER / VOCALIST. IT AFFECTED MY PLAYING LIKE NO OTHER. MORE IMPORTANTLY I USE THE RELEASE OF THIS ALBUM AS THE ULTIMATE TIME MARKER IN MY DEVELOPMENT AS A MUSICIAN AND A PERSON. NOW THAT IS A TRANSCENDING ALBUM!!!

  24. Susan Keller

    November 22, 2015 at 8:37 pm

    Shame on you all you theiven twits.

  25. Ray laws

    November 22, 2016 at 1:04 am

    Your article s way off the mark. As Bobby Whitlock states i looked away followed by Bell Bottom Blues were the first two cuts, before Duane joined the party. The entire album runs jat as the tracks were cut, starting with i looked away and ending with Thorn Tree In The Garden. Get your facts straight.

  26. Paul Sellers

    April 23, 2017 at 5:44 pm

    On Layla, at about 1:50, there’s a flaw in the mix. They lifted the mute on Clapton’s vocal just a bit late as the chorus starts. The background vocals have already started and he comes in on “…aaaaayyyla!” It could have been a bad punch-out on the 16-track, too. Hard to know but I bet someone left the studio pissed off that the mistake was allowed to stay in there.

  27. Luis Luna Jr

    August 29, 2017 at 12:42 am

    I’d would love to see a very discrete 5.1 Blu-Ray DVD.

  28. susan Nuttall

    November 11, 2017 at 9:34 pm

    Did Derek and the Dominos play Layla at The Free Trade Hall in Manchester on 28th September 1970

  29. Rob

    November 25, 2017 at 5:12 am

    I was 12 years old the first time I heard Layla, and it made the hair on the back of my head stand up, and it still does every time I hear it. A lot of things influenced my playing, but this album was certainly at the top

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