Thursday, April 7, 2016

Derrick and The Dominos - Layla

You have heard it on the radio before, Eric Clapton’s greatest, most famous song, “Layla.” Only it is not a Clapton song, at least not technically, technically the artist credit for “Layla” is Derrick and the Dominos.

Derrick and the Dominos is a band that consists of Eric Clapton on lead guitar and lead vocals, Jim Gordon on drums and piano, Carl Radle on Bass, and Bobby Whitlock doing a little bit of everything. The band existed for a single album “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs” and then dissolved. A combination of exhausting touring and drug abuse casually caused the four gentlemen involved to go their separate ways.

If you look at Clapton’s history it is full of stories like Derrick and the Dominos, the guitar legend wandered from group to group and from project to project almost like he was in a daze and at some point in the seventies he stopping trying to be part of any group altogether and finally settled into his solo career. The end result is that there are surprisingly few studio albums Eric Clapton can claim, at least in comparison to the massive number of live, compilation, and collaborate albums he was involved in.

However Derrick and The Dominos is a very important moment in the history of Clapton’s music, it produced his most famous work “Layla” and that song tells a story.

Lovers of folklore may be knowledgeable enough to recognize the name Layla or Laila as the female half of lovers from the Persian poem “Laila and Mujnun” by Nizami Ganjavi. The story is, Qays and Layla meet when they are children and as they grow older Qays becomes obsessed with Layla’s love and the community begin calling him “Mujnun” which means “madman,” and as a consequence Layla’s father forbids her from marrying someone who is considered mentally unwell. Layla is then married to someone else and when word reaches Mujnun this drives him even more insane and he ends up wandering the desert. Layla dies, in some versions from heartbreak from not being with Mujnun, and in some versions Mujnun find her remains, or burial in the desert, and writes poems on her grave. It is then assumed Mujnun also perishes. There have been many adaptations of the story throughout India, Arabia, and all former Persian territories.

Layla and Majnun
It is very similar to Romeo and Juliet. Some versions, including the Hindi film “Laila and Majnun” take on additional similarities to the Shakespearian story having Layla’s father refuse to let her marry Qays because he is from a rival family, and street brawls between family members result in important character deaths like Majnun’s father much the way Tybalt killed Mercutio. Also in the Hindi film Majnun places a piece of jewelry on Layla’s ankle while she sleeps as a sign of his affection for her, and I thought maybe this could be referenced by the famous song line “Layla, you got me on my knees,” but I am probably reaching.

The theme of love causing madness interested Clapton and he created a song dedicated to this love struck insanity. Clapton was experiencing a little love induced madness himself, so while “Layla” the song is certainly about this Persian poem, it is also a smokescreen, because Eric Clapton’s “Layla” is very much about a very real woman whom Clapton was going insane with desire for, Pattie Boyd.

Pattie Boyd, Eric Clapton's Layla.
In 1970 when Clapton wrote the song “Layla” he was madly in love with Pattie, but there was a problem she was already married to one of Clapton’s friends, George Harrison, of the goddamn Beatles. Perhaps I should let Pattie herself set the scene:

"We met secretly at a flat in South Kensington. Eric Clapton had asked me to come because he wanted me to listen to a new number he had written. He switched on the tape machine, turned up the volume and played me the most powerful, moving song I had ever heard. It was Layla, about a man who falls hopelessly in love with a woman who loves him but is unavailable. He played it to me two or three times, all the while watching my face intently for my reaction. My first thought was: 'Oh God, everyone's going to know this is about me.'

I was married to Eric's close friend, George Harrison, but Eric had been making his desire for me clear for months. I felt uncomfortable that he was pushing me in a direction in which I wasn't certain I wanted to go. But with the realization that I had inspired such passion and creativity, the song got the better of me. I could resist no longer."
- From “Wonderful Tonight: George Harrison, Eric Clapton, and Me” by Pattie Boyd

Eric Clapton, Pattie Boyd and George Harrison, 
Call it a hunch but it is probably very difficult to have an affair when you are a super famous rock star and even harder when you are wooing the wife of one of the Beatles. I am not sure how exactly Pattie responded to Clapton putting “Layla” out on the radio, but it seems to me that he kind of forced her into a very compromised position, the whole world was going to know that Clapton was throwing all of himself out there to her, publicly, and she had to either break his heart or leave Harrison; she chose the latter.

Bold Mr. Clapton, bold.

From all reports Harrison seemed completely neutral about the whole ordeal. In 1977 the couple finally broke up, seven years after the release of “Layla,” so I suppose Harrison had a while to brood over the situation, he supposedly gave Pattie permission to leave and moved on without any issued whatsoever. As for our “madly” in love couple, the chase proved to be better than the catch. After nine years of marriage Eric and Pattie separated and they too were forced to move on. I think I would like to read Pattie's book, she must have some interesting insights to offer being married to two of the greatest guitar legends ever.

There is one more thing that “Layla” is about, and to me at least is the most important part, the piano and guitar outro.

Drummer, Jim Gordon, was playing the piano when Clapton heard his melody and asked him to include it on the song “Layla,” and it is this piano part that is the best part of the entire song, and is shockingly sometimes overlooked. Case in point the original radio version of “Layla” was just over three minutes in length and cut out the entire instrumental outro of piano and guitar. This was a huge mistake for a variety of reasons, but mostly because everyone was missing out of the best part. Sure “Layla” is one of the most powerful desperate love songs of all time and is just raging with emotion, but despite that the piano at the end is the best part and not including that on the radio release may have been a factor into why the radio edit was largely ignored, granted the studio doing nothing to advertising Derrick and the Dominos album and not pushing the single “Layla” at all probably had more to do with the single’s initial flop, but still. It may seem strange that the studio would not advertise work done by Eric Clapton, but their reasoning at the time was that anything Clapton did would sell itself, and evidently they were wrong.

One would think that the guitar of “Layla” is some of Clapton’s finest guitar work, but the truth is guest guitarist Duane Allman, of the Allman brothers, was playing the lead guitar on this track, and the most famous guitar rift is openly lifted from Albert Kings “As The Years Go Passing By.”

Albert King - "As The Years Go Passing By"

It is weird that Clapton’s best guitar song is sort of not his guitar work, but I guess that just speaks to how great Duane Allman was. Allman passed away in 1971 when he was involved in a motorcycle crash. His death would prompt radio professionals to start playing an assortment of his work on the radio including the full version of “Layla” which then become a huge hit.

There is a lot to discuss when talking about “Layla.” We have a epic reference to ancient Persian poetry, this bizarre love triangle involving two of the greatest guitar legends ever, we have this unusual attitude from the produces regarding promotion, and we have some amazing work by underappreciated rock stars Jim Gordon and Duane Allman, and most people have no idea all of this is going on, all at once, in a very famous song that we have all heard on the radio.

- King of Braves

No comments:

Post a Comment