Recorded in six weeks in the late summer of 1970, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs is one of rock’s greatest broken promises. The original double LP was the only studio album by Eric Clapton‘s exceptional alliance with keyboard player Bobby Whitlock, bassist Carl Radle and drummer Jim Gordon — all American exiles from the Delaney and Bonnie and Joe Cocker bands — as well as guitarist Duane Allman, on session leave from his own group. By the spring of ’71, Derek and the Dominos were over, fried by drugs and abandoned by Clapton, who went into seclusion. But the band was a rare thing in supergroups, a marquee combo with true superpowers: modern-blues virtuosity charged with the exultant lust and anguish of Southern R&B.
Layla was partly covers, including blues by Jimmy Cox and Freddie King. But the screaming-treble despair was real — Clapton’s then-unrequited love for the wife of his best friend, George Harrison — and the guitarist, writing and singing with Whitlock, hit a rich vein of candor in the mourning flow of “I Looked Away” and the frantic gallop of “Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?” “Layla,” with its immortal lick, rewired by Allman from an Albert King record, was the peak of Clapton’s agony and arguably the beginning of the Dominos’ end. Formed in haste, forged in pain, they were not built to last.
This four-CD set does not have the studio jams from the 1990 anniversary box but covers the quartet’s life span, including a Layla outtake with Allman, tracks from an abandoned ’71 session, the Dominos’ incendiary performances at the Fillmore East and a live romp on The Johnny Cash Show — the last word on a fast-doomed majesty.
Listen to “It’s Too Late,” live on The Johnny Cash Show: