By Todd Lancaster
In the fall of 1970, Criterion Studios in Miami may have been the hippest place on earth.
For several magical weeks, a pair of 25-year-olds, Eric Clapton and Duane Allman used each other as muses to create “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs,” an album that is often looked upon as the high-water for guitar-oriented rock. Although it was initially poorly received (in some part because neither Clapton nor Allman’s name was on the cover of the album, and the confusion over who Derek and the Dominos really were) it has moved into zeitgeist status in the last four decades.
From the iconic intro riff of the namesake “Layla” to the sultry, but driving blues of “Key to the Highway,” “Bell Bottom Blues” or “Why Has Love Got To Be So Bad,” the album was an example of what happens when virtuosity at its peak meets modern production techniques. When one throws in the tearfully soulful version “Little Wing,” as a tribute to Jimi Hendrix who had passed away only six weeks earlier, the album basically has two of the greatest rock guitarists ever, paying tribute to the greatest guitarist ever.
The song “Layla” still draws attention from rock historians, as it was inspired by Beatle George Harrison’s wife Patti Boyd, whom Clapton had developed an infatuation for at the time. Although Boyd would eventually leave Harrison for Clapton, Clapton and Harrison never let a little infidelity damage a friendship that lasted from the early 1960s until Harrison’s death in the early 2000s. In fact, Harrison attended the Clapton-Boyd wedding in 1979.
The 3:00 coda at the end of “Layla” has taken almost a life of its own movie soundtracks for Goodfellas and The Departed, both Oscar winners. The beautiful interplay between Allman’s slide work, Clapton’s acoustic guitar and Jim Gordon’s piano has become almost as iconic as the riff that introduced the song to the world.
Sadly, not too much later, Gordon’s use of drugs led to spiraling mental health issues that would eventually lead to Gordon murdering his mother.
The name “Layla” was inspired by a love story that originated in Seventh-Century Arabia and later formed the basis of “The story of Layla and Majnun,” by the 12th-Century Persian poet Nizami Ganjav. It was the name Clapton chose for Boyd so as not to embarrass Harrison.
Boyd, who was a model during the London Carnaby fashion scene in the mid-’60s, was also the inspiration for the Beatles song “Something” and Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight.”
Allman missed several gigs with the Allman Brothers Band during the recording sessions and seriously considered joining the Dominos, but due to loyalty to his brother Gregg, he returned to the road. Allman did make two appearances with the band, though.
Sadly, Allman would die in a motorcycle accident about a year later, and Clapton would develop a heroin habit that kept him from working seriously for several years.
The album is now regarded as the 89th greatest album of all time, and Clapton’s finest work. Clapton has continued to make music and is the only performer to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame three times (with the Yardbirds, Cream and as a solo artist).
Todd firmly believes that this would be the one album that could be sent into space to teach aliens how to rock. Follow him on Twitter @blasterdog.