Eric Clapton and friends on Derek And The Dominos’ “Layla”: “It still knocks me out every time”

The guitarist, Pattie Boyd and Bobby Whitlock tell the story of the lovestruck hit

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Clapton: We spent a lot of time working together on the guitars and Duane was very instrumental in the development of the song. He came up with this riff that was pretty much a direct lift from an Albert King song, ‘As The Years Go Passing By’ from the Stax album Born Under A Bad Sign. It’s a slow blues and there’s a line that goes, ‘There is nothing I can do if you leave me here to cry’, and we used that.

The piano part was a pure accident. It came from Jim Gordon, the Dominos’ drummer. When the band left the studio, it turned out that, unknown to us, Jim would sneak back in and use the time to make his own record. Basically, he was poaching. One night I went back to the studio to collect something and I caught him, playing that piano riff. I think the deal we offered him was that we’d let him carry on using our studio time to make his record if we could have that tune for the LP. I don’t think he ever did finish his album, but the piano theme fitted what we were doing perfectly and now the song just doesn’t sound right without it.

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There were a lot of drugs around the making of ‘Layla’. There was a nest of dealers in Miami close to the studio who supplied us with whatever we wanted. At first the drugs didn’t seem to have an adverse effect on the work. It would kill me today, but we were very fit at the time and seemed to be able to handle it OK and, before we knew it, we had a double album. But it wasn’t just ‘Layla’ itself that was inspired by my personal situation. I’d known ‘Have You Ever Loved A Woman’ for years but, under the circumstances, that song seemed to take on a new meaning. I wrote ‘Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad’ with Bobby Whitlock, which was also about what was happening to me. So it’s there throughout the album, which is why it was called Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs.

After we’d made ‘Layla’ it was the end of the Dominos. I tried to get Duane to leave the Allmans. But he said he had to be loyal to what he called ‘the family’. We went on tour and I don’t know how we got through it with the amount of drugs we were doing. That’s when it got out of control.

It frightens me to think about it. It was cocaine and heroin and it wore the band down and a hostility was released that hadn’t been there before. When drugs or medication enter the picture, something happens to relationships. They just dissolve. Whatever held us together got thrown out and the atmosphere was so bad you could cut it with a knife. My instinct in those scenes is just to get out. I went back home and stayed there and locked all the doors.

But I’m very proud of the one album we made and that song. You never really get used to having ownership of something that powerful and it still knocks me out every time I play it.

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