This one comes all the way from 1970 – three years after a famous bit of graffiti declared: “Clapton is God”, a daub inspired by his time with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers (the first band I ever saw, although in a later line-up).
Heard again, this double album of bluesy love songs is both instantly familiar, thanks to that title track, and a happy revelation. The album wasn’t a success in its day, due in part to puzzlement over who Derek might be. Clapton’s ‘post-God’ desire for anonymity had a self-fulfilling consequence: the album was so anonymous it initially disappeared.
At the time of recording, Clapton and his Dominos were working with George Harrison on his album, All Things Must Pass. The guitarist was said to have been in love with Harrison’s wife, Pattie, and at night poured his heart into writing these songs. Hence the sense of longing; and as for the long notes sliding in, they were supplied by Duane Allman, of the Allman Brothers, who died in a motorcycle crash the following year, aged 24.
Allman provides the slide guitar solo in the instrumental second part of that title track. In an interview in the Daily Telegraph to mark the album’s 40th anniversary, organist and pianist Bobby Whitlock said: “Duane was a good addition to the band, but I can tell you one thing – if Eric had played those parts, they would all have been in tune.”
But Layla still rouses the spirt and colours the soul blue: it’s one of those tracks, perhaps like Free’s All Right Now, that the years cannot diminish. At the time, Layla sank as a single and interest in the track only revived two years later as it was re-released to promote a Clapton compilation.
Fourteen tracks are spread over two vinyl discs, some longish blues jams, and some betraying Clapton’s feelings at the time (Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad?).
The other stand-out song is Bell Bottom Blues, again filled with intense longing – “I don’t want to fade away/Give me one more day, please…”
Drummer Jim Gordon was said to have been a deeply troubled and troublesome man on tour.
“Cocaine and heroin and whisky will make you one crazy dude,” Whitlock said in that Telegraph piece. “Eric and I managed to come out relatively unscathed. But Jim’s alcohol and drug intake was way over the top. It was pretty scary what was going down.”
In 1983, Gordon was convicted of murdering his mother and, aged 73, is still in prison.
Not fully perfect perhaps – yet Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs holds its own, even if the band never released anything else.
Although the album toured well in the US, a follow-up never fully came about, thanks to drug use, frustrations and endless conflicts. In the last session, Clapton put down his guitar and walked out.
“It was frustrating,” Whitlock told the Telegraph. “Eric just went ahead and locked the door at Hurtwood [Hurtwood Edge, his Surrey mansion] and stayed home for two years and did heroin.”
This selection from the vinyl shelf belongs to my wife: she didn’t buy it on release, as she was only 12 at the time, but picked up the album sometime later.