There’s an amusing ongoing correspondence in The Guardian in which readers describe how their elderly relatives liked to get visitors to leave their house. Today’s letter states that an anthropologist in Uganda in the 1950s used to eject her guests at 10:00 by wearing a nightie underneath her clothes and simply undressed when the clock struck. Another reader wrote about her Nan who used to take off her corsets and placing them over a fire. In another example, at 10:00, a well trained dog would go to its favourite chair and gently push the owner off it. Best of all is “At one of his parties, my late father-in-law, on waking from a nap, said “Are those buggers still here”.
My experience is the opposite one. It’s borne of a fear of overstaying my welcome and my default state of mind is to leave before people tire of me. (Cue jokes about leaving after 20 seconds). I guess this fear was formed from years of experiencing my parents host small parties, mainly for my Dad’s siblings and their families. When all the guests had finally left, my Mum would always say “I thought they’d never leave”.
I once took this fear of overstaying my welcome to extremes. Tye Green had played a cricket match at Galleywood, near Chelmsford on a Sunday afternoon. As was fairly typical, a decision was made to celebrate by eating an Indian meal when we got back to Harlow. I can’t remember who was driving but the other passengers were Martin, Kevin and me. Kevin was in the Upper Sixth at the school where I taught and, as it happens, 10 hours after we got to the restaurant, I was timetabled to teach him A level Maths. He had never eaten Indian food before but was persuaded by Martin to join us. The four of us ordered huge quantities of poppadums, rice, curry and lager. Not that I needed any more to drink. While waiting for the order, I decided I needed to go to the loo. As I emerged from the toilet, I was confronted with a choice. Turn left to return to my friends and a huge meal. Or turn right to go out of the back door of the restaurant and walk home, leaving my friends with 33% more food to eat than they expected. I chose to turn right. I’m not sure why. At 9:00 the next morning, as I prepared to attempt to teach how to integrate using the chain rule, Kevin walked in to my classroom, sat in the front desk and with a deadpan expressionless look on his face, handed me the bill from the curry house. His mates weren’t quite so unjudgemental. Forty years later, I’m pleased to count Kevin amongst my good friends. He is clearly very forgiving. On the other hand, he doesn’t really like Indian food.
Eric Clapton found out, at an early age, that the couple he had been led to believe were his parents, were in fact his maternal grandparents. His mother pretended to be his sister until she abandoned him completely. Leaving school at 16, he enrolled in Kingston College of Art. He spent much of the following year, becoming proficient at the guitar and decided to leave. However, before he could inform the College of his decision, he was expelled. His first two groups were called The Roosters and Casey Jones & The Engineers, but he left them both after a few months. Eric Clapton hung around The Crawdaddy Club with Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Brian Jones and this led to him joining The Yardbirds. However, just as “For Your love” was about to become a hit in 1965, he left the group, to be replaced by Jeff Beck. His next group was John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, which he left after a couple of months to tour Greece with a band he called The Glands. Returning to England, he rejoined John Mayall and his reputation as one of Britain’s best guitar players was confirmed on an album called “Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton”. On the cover of this album, he is shown reading a copy of “The Beano” and this album is sometimes referred to as The Beano album. He left The Bluesbreakers before the albums’ release in 1966 (to be replaced by Peter Green), to form Cream. At the height of their success, they split. The reasons for the split include 1) the fiery relationship between Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce, 2) Eric Clapton hearing “Music From Big Pink” by the Band and deciding that a less flamboyant approach was the way forward for him and 3) Eric Clapton’s fear of rejection, fostered by his traumatic discovery that his mother and father and both abandoned him. He developed a predilection for leaving people before they left him. This continued with his next two bands. As soon as Blind Faith played their first note at a concert in Hyde Park on 7th June 1969, Eric Clapton started thinking that he had to leave the group. When Blind Faith toured, they were sometimes supported by Free, sometimes by Taste and sometimes by Delaney and Bonnie. Hearing echoes of The Band in the latter, Eric Clapton left Blind Faith and joined Delaney and Bonnie as a sideman. Delaney Bramlett encouraged Eric Clapton to sing and write songs and “Eric Clapton”, his first truly solo album, was released as a side project whilst still a member of the group. Backing musicians on this album included Delaney Bramlett, Bonnie Bramlett, Stephen Stills, Leon Russell, John Simon (producer of The Band’s first two albums), Bobby Whitlock, Carl Radle, Jim Gordon, Rita Coolidge and Bobby Keys. (Bobby Keys played the saxophone solo on The Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar” but was sacked when Keith Richards found him with a groupie in a bath full of Dom Perignon champagne when he should have been rehearsing). Having left Delaney and Bonnie, for his next solo album, Eric Clapton wished to portray an image of him being just one member of a band and so “Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs” was released by Derek And The Dominos. In truth, it was another solo album with many of the same backing musicians as he used on his first album.
Bobby Whitlock is an American keyboard player. Eric Clapton described him as “without doubt the most energetic sideman I had ever seen. When Derek And The Dominos toured the U.S. in 1970, The Elton John Band were their opening act. Elton John said “They were phenomenal. It was their keyboard player Bobby Whitlock that I watched like a hawk. I watched and I learned“. So, those of us that disliked Elton John’s flamboyance in the Seventies should blame Bobby Whitlock. He met Delaney and Bonnie in 1969, playing on their first two albums and touring the U.K. with them. When they opened for Blind Faith, he met Eric Clapton and, when in the U.K., he played on Doris Troy’s album for Apple, produced by George Harrison. This resulted in him playing on “All Things Must Pass”. Around this time, Bobby Whitlock started a relationship with George Harrison’s sister-in-law, Paula Boyd. He wrote or co-wrote seven of the fourteen songs on “Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs” and was a key member of Derek And The Dominos. Between 1976 and 1999, he withdrew from the music business, living on a farm in Mississippi, raising children with his wife, CoCo Carmel. In the last twenty years, he has been more active musically and in 2010, he wrote his autobiography, which sounds compelling.
Drummer Jim Gordon followed a similar path to Bobby Whitlock – touring with Delaney and Bonnie, “All Things Must Pass” and Derek And The Dominos. However, he started to suffer from schizophrenia in the early 1970’s and he once ended his relationship with Rita Coolidge by punching her in the face. In 1983, he murdered his mother and was sentenced to 16 years in prison. He has been denied parole and is still a resident of a medical and psychiatric prison in California, 38 years later, being deemed to dangerous to release.
Eric Clapton developed an unrequited passion for George Harrison’s wife, Pattie Boyd and many of the songs on “Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs” are poorly disguised love songs to her. The title song, “Layla” was inspired by an ancient Arabic story called “Layla And Manjum” in which a princess who was married off by her father to a man she did not love, resulting in Majnun’s madness. Pattie Boyd divorced George Harrison in 1977 and she married Eric Clapton in 1979. George Harrison, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr all attended the wedding which took place is Tuscon, Arizona. Eric Clapton subsequently wrote “Wonderful Tonight” to her but their marriage ended in 1989.
Pattie Boyd was one of three sisters. Paula Boyd had a short relationship with Eric Clapton before Bobby Whitlock. She died in 2006. Donovan wrote “Jennifer Juniper” about Jenny Boyd who, at one time, shared a London apartment with “Magic” Alex Mardas, the scientist who promised The Beatles everything but failed to deliver anything. Jenny Boyd married Mick Fleetwood twice and Ian Wallace of King Crimson. She has been married to architect David Levitt since 1997.
Other songs on this album that were inspired by Pattie Boyd include “I Looked Away”, in which the singer was promised that his love “would always be there” but when he “looked away“, she made her escape, leaving him to wallow in his loneliness. When Eric Clapton went to record the album in Miami, Pattie Boyd asked him to bring her back a pair of Landlubber bell-bottom blue jeans. During the course of “Bell Bottom Blues”, he sings “Do you want to see me crawl back on the floor to you? Do you want to hear me beg to take you back”? These lyrics are similar to some of the lyrics of “Layla”: “Layla, you’ve got me on my knees. Layla, I’m begging, darling, please. Layla. Darling, won’t you ease my worried mind?”
“It’s Too Late” was a hit for Chuck Willis in 1956 and his recording had been engineered by Tom Dowd, who is also credited as inventing multi-track recording and stereophonic sound. Tom Dowd had performed the final remix for Eric Clapton’s first solo album and was working in Miami with The Allman Brothers Band when Eric Clapton asked him if he would produce “Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs”. Recording of the whole album took just over two weeks. Bassist Carl Radle was a Chuck Willis fan and when he learned of Tom Dowd’s involvement with the original recording of “It’s Too Late”, he suggested that Derek And The Dominos perform a cover of it. Bobby Whitlock recalls that the band were keen to appear on The Johnny Cash show and felt that if they recorded a country standard they stood a good chance of being invited. And so it came to pass…
Another cover is “Key To The Highway” which was first recorded by pianist Charlie Segar although the writer of the song is unknown. The recording on the album was unplanned and the band believed that the tapes were rolling when they started. However, Tom Dowd had popped to the toilet and left the faders down. When he heard the music that the band were playing, he rushed back, pulling up his trousers and yelling “Push up the faders!”. This is why the song fades in at the start.
One of the reasons for the spectacular sound of this album is the twin guitar duelling between Eric Clapton and Duane Allman who appears on 11 of the 14 tracks. Possibly the most memorable performance comes on Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing”. Duane Allman composed an energetic three-chord riff to start the song that becomes an integral recurring motif throughout. Astonishingly, the song was recorded in one live take. Eric Clapton was in special thrall to Jimi Hendrix and, being very proud of the version he had made, arranged to give him an acetate of the recording. On impulse, he bought a white Stratocaster from a shop in the West End to go with the acetate and planned to give the gifts to Jimi Hendrix after a Sly and the Family Stone concert in London. His disappointment when his hero failed to turn up turned to grief when he learned that Jimi Hendrix had died of an overdose that day.
In 2004, “Layla” was ranked Number 27 on Rolling Stone’s list of the greatest songs of all time. In 1972, the 2:42 single edit reached Number 7 in the UK Charts and Number 10 in The Billboard Top 100. The album version is just over 7 minutes long and includes a four minute piano piece played by Jim Gordon along with Eric Clapton playing acoustic and slide guitars and Duane Allman playing electric and bottleneck slide guitar. Eric Clapton had heard drummer Jim Gordon playing the tune between takes and felt that this would be a perfect way to express solace at the end of a emotional and unhappy song. Bobby Whitlock had heard Jim Gordon compose the piece with his former girlfriend, Rita Coolidge, a year earlier. Although Jim Gordon got a writing credit for the song, Rita Coolidge didn’t.
Eric Clapton’s insecurities and fear of being abandoned resulted in him restlessly moving from one band to another until heroin addiction, alcoholism and unrequited love resulted in his withdrawal from recording between “Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs” in 1970 and “461 Ocean Boulevard” in 1974. For many music lovers, this is his finest moment.