Bands don’t always last forever. They may be making the best music in the world, but for whatever reason, the magic simply doesn’t last. The band I’ll be discussing today suffered tragedy after tragedy, until the band just kind of disappeared. And what at the time was thought to be a throw away record, turned out to be what may be the most storied album in one musician’s brilliant career.
Derek and the Dominoes formed in 1970 mostly through a prior band called Delaney & Bonnie and Friends. In-house fighting caused the band to break up, and the Dominoes began. In the early days, the band would just get together and jam–not really looking to record or write anything specific. Just a bunch of people looking to have a good time. After months of jamming, they finally started talking about forming a legit band, and putting on a show. Keyboardist Bobby Whitlock explained, “we didn’t want any horns, we didn’t want no chicks, we wanted a rock ‘n’ roll band.”
Having Eric Clapton in your band wasn’t the big attraction you’d think at that time. He’d been part of a couple disappointing bands and had a very low-selling solo album right before the Dominoes. Many thought he’d lost something since his Cream and Yardbirds days. Because of that, critics approached the band with caution, believing it to be another feeble attempt to put Clapton’s name out there.
The Dominoes finally started to have a few recording sessions in Miami around August of 1970. Hard drug use by band members lead to the album stalling for a bit, but when Clapton had Duane Allman joined the band for recording, everything took off. They would end up being dubbed the ‘Layla Sessions’ due to the popularity of the lead single.
Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs would debut in November of 1970. It would consist of nine original tracks, and five covers of various blues tracks. With Jimi Hendrix passing a couple months prior to recording, Clapton desired to get a cover of his ‘Little Wing’ added to the album before its release as a tribute. The cover art image is of a French painting that Clapton was enamored with. He spotted a likeness between the image and a woman he was in love with at the time. He loved it so much he insisted no text be placed on the cover, just the image of the beautiful woman.
Usually I talk about how albums span various genres, but this is a straight up blues rock album—the sound doesn’t vary. It’s very guitar heavy with lyrics having to do with love, lost love, and general heartache. It’s a very laidback, relaxed record, which kind of gives it this warm feel but it’s also very raw feeling and I think that’s part of the charm. It’s a jam record, but with emotions—something very hard to accomplish.
Upon release, reception was very mild. With the passing of Allman not even a year later, it would be the only record released by the band. More than a decade later, it would be re-certified and end up being praised as Clapton’s greatest work of his career. If you look the album up on Wikipedia, you’ll find nothing but 5 star and A+ ratings. It’s that good. And for $5 bucks, how can you pass that up? It’s music history and this album is an icon.