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This is the second in a series of Rock & Roll features I'm writing for this site. I'm a rock and roller and I love blues so this column is a way for me to feature a different album that I like from those genres every month.
In 1970, with amazing results, two of the best guitarists of the day came together, although only briefly. Only one short year later one would be dead, the other removed from the music scene, but that brief moment, the "perfect storm" collaboration, is forever immortalized in a single song: "Layla". The band was called Derek and the Dominos, the album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, and the guitarists were Eric Clapton, and Duane Allman. Always aware of this album and in particular "Layla" the song, I only recently came to appreciate it in its entirety. Groundbreaking blues and rock and roll, this album can easily be considered one of the greatest rock and roll albums of all time, but other than the title track it is somewhat unknown. I chose this album for this month's rock and roll feature simply because I feel this album is timeless. Was it a â€œPerfect Stormâ€ type of scenario that brought together such talent and produced such amazing results? Maybe... No matter the cause though, they truly do not make music like this anymore.
The title of this album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, can be both confusing and extremely accurate depending on your viewpoint. These certainly are not traditional love songs. They all do deal with "love" topics but more often than not its heartbreak. In a way, yes they are love songs, but if you're expecting sappy romantic love songs you might want to look elsewhere. The music itself is less about the psychedelic than other late 60s early 70s albums, like Clapton's work with Cream. Instead its a straights forward, blues rock explosion that ranges from foot stomping rock and roll to the purest blues. There is also a lot of the earthiness that would become more prominent on Clapton's own 461 Ocean Boulevard album released in '74. The "Layla" album was supposedly fueled by Clapton's unrequited love for his friend George Harrison's wife, and the topics and emotional content of the writing make this easy to believe. There are few rock and roll albums that can rival the emotional power of these songs. Its easy to see the turmoil that existed in Clapton's life when these were written purely by their emotional content. The "Layla Sessions" were plagued by heavy drug use and it would be shortly after this album that Clapton would retreat from the musical spotlight to deal with his own heroin addiction. All of these factors seem to have contributed to something of a unique musical event that would only happen once. To top it off, the album features not just one great guitarist, but two.
Duane Allman, session guitarist and famous for his own band, The Allman Brothers with his brother Greg, came to the recording session late in the game but after hearing the album, its almost impossible to picture these heart wrenching songs without Allman's spine tingling slide work. Duane Allman would be killed in a motorcycle accident only one year later and although his guitar work with his own band is equally impressive, there is something about his collaboration with Clapton that just seems magical. The rock and roll world is lucky to have had such a collaboration recorded for future generations to enjoy, especially because of Allman's untimely death.
Songs like "Bell Bottom Blues", "Have You Ever Loved a Woman" and a unique take on Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing", are incredibly emotionally heavy, but not dramatic. These songs come off as very real. The blues aspect of these songs makes them far easier to relate to. While other singers might have these songs come off as whiny or overly dramatic, when Clapton sings them his soul comes through perfectly. "Anyday" and "Why Does Love Have to be So Sad" are also album highlights with a more rock and roll feel while still maintaining the same intensity in the vocals making for a very broad album musically. It hard not to get caught up in the music and when the title track's first guitar riff is played, it serves as the perfect summary for the album as a whole. Like the closing song of a live show, "Layla" is the perfect encore to an amazing album, and then the subtle "Thorn Tree in the Garden" serves as a quiet folksy reminder of everything that came before. Although not necessarily a conceptual album, this is definitely a complete work and it works much better as a whole. Although "Layla" is a fantastic song, it seems to have more of an impact when serving as the rock and roll closer to this soul baring roller coaster of an album.
In a way, its a good thing that there only was one Derek and the Dominos album. Who knows if a follow up album could be anything but a disappointment or if the tumultuous times that spawned the first album would have caused the band members to self destruct had they tried to make a second.
Most people who know something about rock and roll have heard "Layla", most known Eric Clapton and a good portion probably know Duane Allman as well, but they don't know the whole story. Until you pick up this album (or better yet the 20th anniversary edition with 3 disks of material from outtake to blues jams), you're missing out on not only one of the best rock and roll albums of all times, but on an emotional pinnacle that was almost like a rock and roll perfect storm never to be repeated.
Sometimes the best art can come out of the worst times.
References include www.allmusic.com for dates and some biographical information, and my own music collection.
You can buy this album directly from Amazon.com here: Buy Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs at Amazon