07 December 2006

The Essential Albums: Derek and the Dominoes: The Layla Sessions

Posted by Paco Malo on June 18th, 2006 at 6:04 pm (music)

The Essential Albums: Derek and the Dominoes: The Layla Sessions (1990 box set, originally recorded August to October 1970). In the early 1990s the editors of Rolling Stone magazine chose the Top 50 albums of the last 40 years. Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs was in the top five, the editors calling it “music for the gods”. The Layla Sessions contains the original album on disc 1 of its 3 discs, only slighty remixed without meddling with the original producers’ (Tom Dowd and the band) work.

Why Essential? Because if you think you know, without this record, what a Strat (see comment 1) can do in the hands of Duane Allman at the height of his powers; and what this band, with Clapton and Allman inspiring each other, Cocker Power and coke jet fueling the recording sessions, a broken-hearted Clapton channeling Robert Johnson, you’ve still got some homework to do.

In short, certain definitional elements of electric guitar and blues rock are here, and only here. And as with so many rock artists, death or giving up substance abuse make periods of their work unrevisitable. Definitions lock. And so it is with The Layla Sessions.

Disc 1, the original double album: if there’s a flaw here, you won’t here about it from me. Of course, the song Layla — the original, not the atrocious acoustic arrangement so popular today — along with a half dozen other songs (e.g. Won’t Get Fooled Again by The Who) ruled the rock world in the early ’70s. Layla remains iconic today.

But one great song does not make an essential album. From the opening track I Looked Away, through Clapton’s harmonics in his solo in Bell Bottom Blues, through the Clapton/Allman guitar pyrotechnics in Key to the Highway, to the wistful Thorn Tree in the Garden that closes the record, there’s not a weak track here. This album is searing documentation that for 3 months in 1970, Derek and the Dominoes was the best rock band in the world.

Disc 2 contains 5 jams that truely represent the multi-day recording sessions that gave us the original album. From the liner notes: “Jam V [is] throttled into gear by Duane’s daredevil bottleneck as it skids up the fretboard until it digs in somewhere over the pickups …”. Each jam has its own special revelation. For example, Jam IV is a combination of the Allman Brothers Band with the Clapton and Whitlock.

And Mean Old World from disc 3. I don’t know the story of how this song didn’t make it onto the original album, but blue-eyed blues has no finer moment than the acoustic duet version with Clapton and Allman making music history on this brutally fine disc of outtakes and alternate versions of the album’s songs.

Right down to the liner notes — which tell the story of Eric and Duane meeting — and select session track i.d. charts, The Layla Sessions is an essential part of the “end of the 60’s” rock story. And still fun to listen to today.


Paco Malo said...

When I originally wrote this peice on the The Layla Sessions, I thought that Duane Allman had played a Fender Stratocaster, not the cherry red Gibson he used in the later part of his short, brilliant career.

The evidential tide turned yesterday; see below:

1. Wing said (September 20, 2006)
Straocaster? I’m sure Duane played the Gibson,Eric played the Strat.

2. Paco Malo said (September 21, 2006)
Wing, thanks — you are absolutely right. Wikipedia lists 2 “notable” guitars that Duane played: the Gibson ‘59 Cherryburst Les Paul and the Gibson ‘68 Cherry SG.

3. Storm said (January 4, 2007)
At the Hard Rock vault in London they have a brown Strat serial #00000016 that they say is the ax used by Duane Allman during the Layla sessions. I played it while sitting on Jimi Hendrix’ couch and have a picture to prove it. They also have Hendrix’ Flying V in that collection which is supposed to be the best of the best.

4. Paco Malo said (January 5, 2007)
Thanks, Storm. To my ear, Duane’s slide work on the long jams contained in The Layla Sessions sounds like a Strat. I just wanna get it right.

JazzBass said...

I have it on good authority that he used his gold top les paul on layla. cheers!

Paco Malo said...

Thanks for the input on the Les Paul vs. Stat debate about what Duane played during the Layla sessions. As I've said before, I'm just trying to get it right.

Most importantly, however, the contribution to The Layla Sessions that Duane made is one of the great musical acheivements of the Rock and Roll era.

harry said...

Duane in an interview attributes the strat to Clapton and the Gibson to himself when asked how to identify who was who on the Layla recording.

Paco Malo said...

Thanks Harry:

The comments from those at FloridaCracker.org set me straight on this point; I corrected the original post text based on this information. Your additional verification is greatly appreciated.