This week in 1970, Eric Clapton and Duane Allman and the rest of Derek and the Dominos recorded Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs in Miami. Here’s the story of that landmark album, in an excerpt from One Way Out: The Inside History of the Allman Brothers Band. Copyright 2014 – Alan Paul.
With their second album done, the band returned to the road. One of Dowd’s next clients was a hero of Dickey and Duane’s – Eric Clapton, recording with his new band of American musicians poached from his friends Delaney and Bonnie. Soon to be known as Derek and the Dominos, the band came to Miami to record their debut album, with just a few songs written.
TOM DOWD: When I was working with the Allman Brothers on Idlewild South , I got a call from [Clapton manager] Robert Stigwood saying that Eric would like to record and asking if I could fit him in my schedule. Of course I said I’d be delighted. It became a lengthy conversation, which I normally would never have while I was working with someone. I put the phone down and apologized, saying to Duane, “You have to excuse me. That was Eric Clapton’s manager. They want to come here and record.”
He said, “You mean this guy?” and plays me an Eric solo note for note. I said, “That’s the one,” and he goes, “I got to meet that guy. Let me know when he’s gonna be here. I’d love to come by and watch. Do you think that would be possible?” And I told him I was sure it would be fine, he should call me and we’d work it out.
ERIC CLAPTON: I was very aware of Duane. I had become aware of him when I heard Wilson Pickett’s “Hey Jude.” That break at the end just blew me away and I immediately made a call to Atlantic Records to find out who it was. It was one of the few times in my life where I had to know who that was — now!
We went to Miami just to record with Tom Dowd. It’s where he was based, and he was raving about the studio and the musicians we could get if we needed anyone extra. Duane hadn’t even been talked about at that point. That was much more coincidental.
DOWD: I was recording with Derek and the Dominos [at Criteria, on August 26, 1970], and Duane calls: “Is he there? We’re gonna be in Miami tomorrow for a concert. Can I come meet him?’” I said, “I’m sure you can. Hold on.”
I grabbed Eric and said, “I have Duane Allman on the phone. His band is playing in the area tomorrow and he’d like to come meet you.” And he goes, “You mean this guy?” And he plays Duane’s solo off of Wilson Pickett’s “Hey Jude”’ note for note. I said, “That’s the guy.” And he goes, “I’ve got to see him perform. We’re going to that concert.”
CLAPTON: When I heard they were playing nearby after we had been in the studio about a month, I immediately wanted to go.
DOWD: Now I knew the two of them personally and they were both low-key, beautiful human beings and wonderful musicians, so I thought, “This is gonna be fun.” Sure enough, Saturday afternoon, we record for a few hours, and then head out to the limos Eric had waiting and go down to the Convention Center, where the Allman Brothers are playing. They snuck us in behind the photographer’s barricade, sitting on the floor with our backs to the audience, right in front of the stage. Duane’s in the middle of a solo, when he opens his eyes, looks down, sees Eric and stops playing cold, in shock. Dickey starts playing to cover until Duane regains his equilibrium, and then he sees Eric and he freezes too. That’s how big Eric was to them.
BOBBY WHITLOCK, Derek and the Dominos keyboardist: They were playing on a flatbed behind an 18-wheeler that had hay bales around the front to keep the crowd back and we crowded up under the trailer and put our backs to the bales and were sitting there looking up at them. Duane was wearing it out and he looked down and saw us – saw Eric looking at him – and he just stopped playing. He always had his mouth open when he was getting down on it, but he didn’t close it this time. Then Dickey was wondering what was going on and looked down and stopped playing, and I thought the whole band would stop, but they kept cranking and then the guitarists got back on it.
DOWD: After the show they met and hung out and all of a sudden I had half the Allman Brothers and all of Derek and the Dominos crammed into a limousine going back to Criteria, where they jammed until two or three the next afternoon. I kept the tape running the whole time. There’s Duane playing Eric’s guitar and Gregg playing Bobby Whitlock’s organ and they were all in piggy heaven.
JAIMOE: Everyone was really grooving, but I wasn’t all that knocked out by what Clapton was doing, or the whole scene, so I went out to the Winnebago, smoked some pot and listened to Tony Williams’Emergency!
Many of these impromptu performances were eventually released on The Layla Sessions: 20th Anniversary Edition, which included five jams totaling over 70 minutes.
CLAPTON: Needless to say, Duane and me hit if off instantly — soul mates, instant soul mates.
WHITLOCK: This thing with Eric and Duane was such a natural. They had the same authority, and they dug from the same well: Robert Johnson, Elmore James, Sonny Boy Williamson, Bill Broonzy. Of course, I already knew Duane from working together with Delaney and Bonnie, so I wasn’t surprised at all that they hit it off.
ALLMAN: That was a lot of fun and a lot of good music went down that night. I was glad to be there, man.
WHITLOCK: Of course we had some drinks and other recreational relaxants and were just enjoying each other’s company. But something deeper was happening right away with Eric and Duane, who were like two long-lost brothers. Those two guys started bouncing back and forth on each other and it was an amazing experience. Everyone else drifted away eventually, but Duane stayed all night.
DOWD: When it was over, they were all such good friends, then Eric said to Duane, “When are you coming back? We should record some.”
CLAPTON: I just asked him if he’d like to come into the studio and play and help me out.
DOWD: The Brothers had to go back on the road, but Duane said he’d be back as soon as he could and a few days later he called and said, “I’ll be there tomorrow.”
DOUCETTE: Wexler called Phil and asked Duane to come back to Miami and I got into that Ford van and drove down with him. When we arrived we had about 14 dollars, half a joint and a wee bit of a wine. Wexler goes, “You need anything?” I said, “We’re broke, man, tapped.” he reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of hundreds and hands them to Duane, who eyeballed it and handed me about half.
This is close to midnight. He walks in there with his amp in one hand and his guitar in the other and all the guys are sitting around and they go, “Well, tomorrow we’re going to get busy.” And Duane goes “Tomorrow? I just drove 15 hours in that piece of shit. Let’s play some music.” He plugged in and tuned up and everyone started getting up and going to their instruments.
WHITLOCK: He came and joined us at the Thunderbird Motel. He got a room right next to mine. One of the most amazing things I ever witnessed was in Eric’s room there. The two of them were going back and forth hitting a Robert Johnson lick, then Elmore James and on and on. I knew I was witnessing something real special – these guys in front of me pulling all this from the deep well. I was in awe, because they were both in their early 20s and they were like two 70-something old blues guys from the fields of Mississippi running it down.
DOWD: By then, the Dominos had recorded several songs and had arrangements set for others, but right away Duane started fitting in parts and the more he did that, the more songs started to radically change. Duane had unleashed this dynamic entity that was just ridiculous. They were feeding off each other like crazy and running on pure emotion.
WHITLOCK: We weren’t really stagnant before Duane arrived. “I Looked Away,” “Tell the Truth” and “Bell Bottom Blues” had been written and recorded. We had come up with “Keep on Growing” in a jam. Eric kept Playing guitar parts and I ran out into the lobby with a yellow pad and wrote out the lyrics as fast as my fingers would move. So we had something, but we didn’t have enough material for one album, much less a double album. We didn’t have a plan and when Duane came on the scene, everything exploded and things just started coming.
DOWD: I’ve never seen spontaneous inspiration happen at that rate and level. One of them would play something, and the other reacted instantaneously. Never once did either of them have to say, “Could you play that again, please?” It was like two hands in a glove. And they got tremendously off on playing with each other. That whole album is definitely equal parts Eric and Duane. The whole session was just so damn impromptu and fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants brilliant. It was just a wonderful experience to witness such meshing of musical minds, such telepathic sympathies.
WHITLOCK: We had two leaders then. We had Eric and Duane. Eric backed up and gave Duane a lot of latitude, a lot of room, so he could contribute up to his full potentiality, and Duane was full of fire and ideas. He’d just go, “Hey, how about we try ‘Little Wing?’” – that was completely his idea and he came up with the intro by himself. He just started playing it.
Duane was very, very good in the studio. Working with the finest musicians and engineers on the planet really paid off for him. When he had the opportunity to be thrust into that environment, he absorbed what was right and righteous and then used it to killer advantage.
DOWD: It was never gonna happen again; if you didn’t catch it, you blew it, so I had the tape rolling constantly. The spontaneity of that whole session was absolutely frightening.
WHITLOCK: Sam the Sham [Domingo “Sam” Zamudio of “Wooly Bully” fame] was in studio B recording. I knew him from my childhood days and he suggested that we do “Nobody Knows You’re Down and Out” and “Key to the Highway.” Those were his ideas.
During the Layla sessions, Duane also found time to join Zamudio to record three songs: “Me and Bobby McGee,” “Relativity” and “Goin’ Upstairs,” all of which can be heard on Skydog: The Duane Allman Retrospective.
WHITLOCK: We were just jamming and it turned into “Key to the Highway.” The reason that song fades in is Tom Dowd was in the toilet and it was one of the few times during these sessions that tapes weren’t rolling. He came running out of the can, screaming, “Push up the faders! Push up the faders!”
DOWD: There have been a lot of stories about how much drugs these guys did, but we started sessions every day at 2:00 and everyone arrived clear eyed and ready to work. As I dismissed people, they may have floated away, but it did not interfere with the album. Even in his wildest moments, Eric arrived at the studio on time with his instrument in tune, ready to play — and he would give absolute hell to anyone who didn’t. Eric and Duane shared that. They didn’t know each other from Adam before the sessions began, but they were both taskmasters. They didn’t give a damn what anyone did on their own time, but when they were in the studio, it was their time, and you better be ready to go.
Excerpted from One Way Out: The Inside History of the Allman Brothers Band. Copyright 2014 – Alan Paul.