Eric Fucking Clapton: I’ve been blowing hot and cold on the guy for decades now, and would most likely completely despise him (for his racist comments, innumerable mediocre solo LPs, and general lack of a chin, to say nothing of “Tears in Heaven”) were it not for the ace up his sleeve, namely 1970’s Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs by Derek and the Dominos. One of rock’s greatest albums, Layla offers up a vision of a Clapton one will find nowhere else. Impassioned, funky, and loose, the Clapton of Layla is a man free at last of the shackles of this supergroup or that, and he has something to prove. Which he does, on a bunch of songs that sound as fresh, frenetic, world-weary, heartbroken, and wild as they did when they were recorded.
Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs has been one of my favorite LPs since the early seventies. I played the hell out of my older brother’s copy, and was not above listening to the title track 10 or so times in a row, while playing air guitar before the mirror to its remarkable coda. It’s sublime, that coda, one of the most sublime things I’ve ever heard, and I’ve never tired of it and I never will.
The story behind the double LP is well known. Clapton hooked up with a stellar cast of musicians (Bobby Whitlock on organ, piano, vocals, and acoustic guitar; Jim Gordon on drums, percussion, and piano; Carl Radle on bass and percussion; and coup of all coups, Duane Allman on guitars), all but Allman being alumni of Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, with whom Clapton, happy to be sideman for once, had been playing. Clapton and Whitlock co-wrote a good number of the originals, five were covers, and so on. The musical rapport between Clapton and Allman was, by all accounts, instantaneous, and Clapton was thrilled by his sidemen, saying later, “Carl Radle and Jimmy Gordon are the most powerful rhythm section I have ever played with” and calling Gordon “the greatest rock’n’roll drummer who ever lived.” (Those are strong words coming from a guy who played with Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce.)