I understand The Yardbirds. I understand John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. I understand Cream. I (almost) understand Blind Faith. But I have trouble understanding Derek & The Dominos. It’s not that I think it’s a bad record, it’s just that it doesn’t really appeal to me like those other projects / records.
Layla is a different beast altogether – without a doubt it’s one of the best rock records committed to vinyl. But maybe that’s why I have a problem with the rest of the record. Compared to the frantic bombast of Layla, the rest of the album is bordering on easy-listening. It’s about as far as from Cream as you could get. I read an interview with Clapton the other day, and the interviewer brought up the subject of Layla. Clapton said he always has problems listening to it because it sounds so different to his usual self. He’s right – it’s probably the best thing, and most outlandish thing he’s ever done – but it also sounds like nothing else on this record.
Clapton and the band (Bobby Whitlock on keyboards and vocals, Jim Gordon on drums, Carl Radle on bass, and Duane Allman on lead and slide) even bother to record a turgid cover of Little Wing, one of my favourite Hendrix songs.
Robert Christgau rates this as the third greatest album of the 1970s. I just don’t see it.
Calling this album Eric Clapton’s debut is a bit of a misnomer. This is man who has been through The Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith, and Delaney And Bonnie And Friends before getting around to releasing a solo album. Not surprisingly, given that pedigree, it’s a pretty robust offering – miles away from the highs he would hit on later solo albums, but still a decent rock and roll record.
The band that backs Clapton on this album is essentially Delaney And Bonnie And Friends, key members of which he would also recruit to form Derek & The Dominos. That record – Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs – is really where Clapton’s solo career really gets going, despite the anonymity of the ‘group’ name. Layla remains one of the finest rock songs committed to vinyl – and there’s not really anything as cutting as that on Eric Clapton, even though it was only recorded six months prior to the Dominos record.
I’ve only seen Clapton play live once, and he remains one of my biggest disappointments. It might have been that we had bad seats, up in the rafters; or that he hardly played any of his hits, save for Layla and Cocaine, leaning on a set-list geared more towards his own enjoyment rather than the paying audience; but he just didn’t cut it. Since I saw him that time, I have read his autobiography, and I guess I’m just happy I got to see him at all, given how he squandered most of his life (and talent) to drugs and alcohol.
In terms of album covers, this has to be up there with the worst. Not only is it a photograph of a topless eleven year old girl (who is now a massage therapist in London), but this has been badly superimposed onto another image of a pastoral landscape, which clashes with the futuristic “spaceship” that the girl has in her hands. Thankfully the music inside is much better.
I’ve never been a huge fan of Cream because Jack Bruce’s vocals can be pretty annoying. Here you get Steve Winwood’s vocals (and keyboards) on top of Clapton’s guitar playing, and Ginger Baker on drums. It’s not the greatest album in the world – falling somewhere between late-60s psychedelia and early-70s rock – but it was a stepping stone nonetheless for Clapton.
The only reason I have this on vinyl is down to my good friend, Moo. I was searching frantically for this in every record shop in Manchester until Moo let me have his copy – a very good copy, too – in exchange for a newly remastered copy of the album on CD.
I can’t remember why I wanted it so much at the time, but it takes pride of place in my collection, alongside Clapton’s other key moonlighting appearances (outside of his solo stuff, Cream and The Yardbirds): the eponymous Blind Faith album, and Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs byDerek And The Dominoes.
The album is very easy to listen to – similar to early Fleetwood Mac in scope (and general reverence to the blues), and Clapton’s guitar sound is awesome. This marks the first time a Gibson Les Paul had been recorded through an overdriven Marshall amplifier. Smoking!