Derek and the Dominoes
Origin: London, England
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Derek and the Dominoes were an English-American blues-rock band formed in 1970 by guitarist Eric Clapton, keyboardist and singer Bobby Whitlock, bassist Carl Radle and drummer Jim Gordon. All four members had previously played together in Delaney & Bonnie and Friends during Clapton’s brief Blind Faith tenure.
The band released only one studio album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, produced by Tom Dowd, which also featured extensive contributions on slide guitar from Duane Allman. A double album, Layla did not immediately enjoy strong sales or widespread airplay, but went on to receive critical acclaim. It was not until March 1972 that the album’s single “Layla” a tale of unrequited love between Clapton and George Harrison’s wife that the album took off landing the single in the top ten. The album is often considered to be the defining achievement of Clapton’s recording career.
Together and with his future Dominoes Clapton toured Europe and America in late 1969 early 1970, this time as a member of Delaney & Bonnie and Friends. Clapton was drawn to Delaney & Bonnie’s relative anonymity, which he found more appealing than the excessive fan worship lavished on his own band. The band also backed Clapton on his debut solo album Eric Clapton.
In April 1970, Whitlock traveled to England to visit Clapton. The two musicians jammed and began to write the bulk of the Dominoes’ catalog on acoustic guitars.
Soon after Whitlock’s arrival the duo were eager to form a new band and contacted Radle and Gordon in America. Later in 1970 the four reunited to serve as the backing band on much of Harrison’s All Things Must Pass.
Clapton and Whitlock considered adding the Delaney & Bonnie horn section to the band, but the plan was abandoned. Their vocal concept was to singing like Sam and Dave did with Clapton singing a line, Whitlock singing a line and then the duo singing together.
Toward the All Things Must Pass sessions Dave Mason another former Delaney & Bonnie guitarist joined the Dominoes. With the lineup expanded to a five piece the band billed as “Eric Clapton and Friends” gave their first live performance at a London Charity event in June 1970.
The band’s proper name came about as Eric was often called “Derek” in Delaney & Bonnie.
The initial reception from critics and fans to the band was mixed. Together with the unfavorable reviews with Clapton’s solo album, the attitude reflected the widespread reluctance to view Clapton as a singer and frontman rather than as the guitar virtuoso synonymous with his role in such bands as Cream and the Yardbirds.
In return for the Dominoes’ assistance on All Things Must Pass, Clapton and Harrison had agreed that the latter’s co-producer Phil Spector would produce a single for the new group. In June 1970 the five Dominoes together with Harrison on guitar headed to the Beatles’ Apple Studio to record two Clapton-Whitlock compositions “Tell the Truth,” and “Roll it Over,” along with two instrumental jams that would be included on the Apple Jam disc of Harrison’s triple album.
After these sessions Mason departed from the lineup impatient to see the band start working full time, while Clapton was committed to helping Harrison complete All Things Must Pass.
Throughout August 1970 the group performed in clubs and small venues across Britain, where Clapton chose to play anonymously, still weary from the fame that he felt plagued Cream and Blind Faith. Contract clauses stipulated that Clapton’s name was not to be used by the venue as a draw. Since their debut concert the band had made great stride with their sets now including “Tell the Truth,” Billy Myles’ “Have You Ever Loved a Woman,” Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing,” and songs from Clapton’s solo album.
The band flew to Miami, Florida in late summer 1970 to begin recording their debut album. After Clapton’s and Whitlock’s initial experimentation with heroin while recording All Things Must Pass, the band’s time in Miami was marked by all four members excessive use of hard drugs causing the initial sessions to be unproductive.
One night producer Tom Dowd who was also producing the Allman Brother took them to see the band in concert. For Clapton, already a fan of guitarist Duane Allman this was his first chance to see him perform live. The two formed an instant bond that became the catalyst for the Layla album. Over ten recording dates Allman contributed to most of the album’s tracks. Allman’s slide guitar playing elevated the album’s blues covers which included “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out,” (by Jimmy Cox) “Have You Ever Loved a Woman” and “Key to the Highway” (Big Bill Broonzy). Clapton invited Allman to join the Dominoes but he demurred choosing to remain loyal to his own band. The jams from Allman’s first night at Criteria with the Dominoes were issued on the second CD of The Layla Sessions: 20th Anniversary Edition.
The album’s best-known track, “Layla,” was compiled from recordings from two separate sessions. The main, guitar-oriented section was taped after the band had recorded their version of Hendrix’s “Little Wing,” the closing section was added several weeks later, after Clapton had decided that the song lacked a suitable ending. The answer was an elegiac piano piece composed by Gordon and an uncredited Rita Coolidge and played by the drummer, with Whitlock providing a second piano part to cover Gordon’s relative inexperience on the instrument. During the Layla sessions, Gordon had been writing and playing songs for an intended solo album when, by chance, Clapton first heard the piano piece. In return for continuing to use the Dominoes’ studio time for his own project, Gordon agreed to have the segment used as the ending for “Layla.”
In 1973, a live double album, titled In Concert was released, culled from the band’s October 1970 shows at the Fillmore East in New York City Six of the recordings from that album were digitally remastered and expanded with additional material from the same shows to become Live at the Fillmore released in 1994.
Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs was issued in November 1970 and was a critical and commercial flop. When “Layla” was included on 1972’s The History of Eric Clapton it was issued as a single and became a hit. The single’s success led to a reappraisal of Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. The album has since received widespread critical acclaim with Rolling Stone magazine ranking it #115 in its greatest albums of all time.
Tragedy and misfortune dogged the group throughout and following its brief career. In September 1970 Clapton was devastated by his good friend Jimi Hendrix’s death; having just recorded a version of “Little Wing.” In October 1971 Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident. In addition Clapton took the lukewarm reception to Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs personally leading to years of depression and drug addiction. Carl Radle died in 1980 of complications from a kidney infection brought on by alcohol and drug abuse. In 1983 Gordon, an undiagnosed schizophrenic killed his mother with a hammer and was sentenced to life in a mental institution.
In 1972 the Dominoes disbanded just before they could complete their second album with recordings from the 1971 sessions from the band’s second album appearing on Clapton’s Crossroads box set released in 1988.
Derek and the Dominoes discography
Layla and Assorted Other Love Songs (1970)
Sacramento’s K-ZAP 93.3 FM plays Derek and the Dominoes. All part of 50 years of Rock, Blues and More, 24-7 on our station’s stream at K-ZAP.ORG/LISTEN/
Check out Derek and the Dominoes performing “Layla.”