Derek & The Dominos Record ‘Layla’
“What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.”
I’ve never appreciated an opportunity to quote Shakespeare, but it’s quite fitting here. A name doesn’t always tell the tale, nor does it identify the storyteller. In August 1970, five talented musicians decided to play shows at some smaller clubs in Britain to help them work out the bugs in the new material they’d written.
Eric Clapton, Bobby Whitlock, Carl Radle, Jim Gordon, and George Harrison took the stage at the Lyceum Theatre on June 14th, 1970. They were billed as Eric Clapton and Friends, but by the time they took the stage, the name had evolved. Exactly how they settled on that name is still debated.
Keyboardist Bobby Whitlock suggests that the group had settled on the name “Eric and The Dynamos,” but when they were mistakenly introduced to the crowd as “Derek and The Dominos,” the name stuck. In his biography, Clapton claims that his friend, Tony Ashton, suggested to him the name "Del and the Dominos” since Ashton’s nickname for Clapton was “Del.” Then, Del and Eric were combined, and the final name became Derek and The Dominos.
Regardless of how it came to be, the band embraced the name and spent the summer touring small clubs in England. Clapton opted to stay anonymous, as he didn’t want to deal with the pressure and chaos that had followed him as a member of Cream and Blind Faith. It was even suggested by Hit Parader magazine that venues were not allowed to reference Clapton’s name to sell tickets.
In late August of 1970, Derek and the Dominos set up at Criteria Studios in Miami to record what would be their only album - “Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs.” Their time was consumed by excessive hard drug use. According to Clapton:
“We were staying in this hotel on the beach, and whatever drug you wanted, you could get it at the newsstand. The girl would just take your orders.”
Their producer, Tom Dowd, felt the group needed some inspiration, and a break from the extended drug sessions, so he invited them to watch an outdoor concert in Miami. This was the first time Clapton heard Duane Allman play. Dowd was producing the Allman Brothers’ album “Idlewild South” and thought it a good idea to introduce the bands. He remembers:
“Duane was in the middle of a solo; he opens his eyes and looks down, does a dead stare, and stops playing. Dickey Betts (Allman guitarist) is chugging along, sees Duane's stopped playing, and figures he'd better cover, that Duane must've broken a string or something. Then Dickey looks down, sees Eric, and turns his back. That was how they first saw each other."
After the concert, Clapton invited the entire back to the studio to jam. They jammed until six o’clock the next night, according to Dowd:
“They were trading licks. They were swapping guitars. They were talking shop and information and having a ball; no holds barred, just admiration for each other's technique and facility. There was no control. We turned the tapes on, and they went on for 15 to 18 hours like that. You just kept the machines rolling. I went through two or three sets of engineers. It was a wonderful experience.”
They rushed into the studio to complete the album. Duane Allman was so inspired by the experience he asked if he could sit in on the Dominos’ recording session. Clapton refused his request to merely sit in, telling him: “Get your guitar. We got to play.” Clapton referred t Allman as “the musical brother that I never had, but wished I did.” He was so taken with Allman’s playing, Duane was offered a permanent spot as the fifth member of the band. He declined, of course, citing loyalty to the Allman Brothers Band. He did make a major contribution to the album, however, playing lead and slide guitar on eleven of the fourteen tracks.
The Heart of The Issue
Clapton was head-over-heels in love…with George Harrison’s wife. English model Patti Boyd had stolen the musician’s heart, and it was no secret. Though he tried to keep it under wraps, Harrison knew. George was preoccupied with a new plan to be with Beatles’ bandmate Ringo Starr’s wife, Maureen Starkey Tigrett, who he was “deeply in love with.” Patti agreed to enter into an affair with Clapton in 1970, and they moved in together in 1974 and married on March 27th, 1979.
She represented the “Layla” figure in the album’s now iconic track. The name stems from the female love interest in the ninth-century Persian adaptation of “Layla and Majnun.” It’s a tragic story of Majnun’s undying love for Layla. He would obsess over her in his poems, mentioning her name repeatedly. When he asked for her hand in marriage, her father refused because it would’ve been scandalous for her to marry someone mentally unbalanced. After learning that Layla was forced to marry another man, he wandered the desert, forcing his family to give up hope of his return. He was seen reciting poetry to himself and writing in the sand with a stick. Most of his poetry was written before this descent into madness.
A Fortuitous Masterpiece
“Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs” is regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time. Something that started as an undercover project, an escape from fanfare for Clapton, has found incredible staying power over the last five decades.
Clapton reflects: “...there was this quartet that was one of the most powerful bands I’ve ever been anywhere near – and I was in it! It was the most pure experience I’ve ever had in terms of making an album and then promoting it anonymously. It’s almost unheard of.”
Derek And The Dominos attempted to record a second album, but the project was halted by drugs and the paranoia that went with it.