Layla

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“Layla” is the title track on the Derek and the Dominos album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, released in December 1970. It is considered one of rock music’s definitive love songs, featuring an unmistakable guitar figure, played by Eric Clapton and Duane Allman, as lead-in. Its famously contrasting movements were composed separately by Clapton and Jim Gordon.

Inspired by Clapton‘s then-unrequited love for Pattie Boyd, the wife of his friend George Harrison, “Layla” was unsuccessful on its initial release. The song has since experienced great critical and popular acclaim. Two versions have achieved chart success, first in 1972 and again twenty years later.

In 1966, George Harrison married Pattie Boyd, a model he met during the filming of A Hard Day’s Night. During the late 1960s, Clapton and Harrison became firm friends. Clapton contributed guitar work on Harrison‘s song “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” on The Beatles‘ White Album but remained uncredited, and Harrison played guitar pseudonymously on Cream‘s “Badge” from Goodbye. However, trouble was brewing for Clapton. Between his tenures in Cream and Blind Faith, in his words, “something else quite unexpected was happening: I was falling in love with Pattie.”

The title, “Layla”, was inspired by the Middle Eastern love story, The Story of Layla / Layla and Majnun by the Persian classical poet Nezami. When he wrote “Layla”, Clapton had been told the story by his friend Ian Dallas who was in the process of converting to Islam. Nezami’s tale, about a moon-princess who was married off by her father to someone other than the man who was desperately in love with her, resulting in his madness struck a deep chord with Clapton.

Boyd divorced Harrison in 1977 and married Clapton in 1979. Harrison was not bitter about the divorce and attended Clapton‘s wedding party with Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney. During their relationship, Clapton wrote another love ballad for her, “Wonderful Tonight.” Clapton and Boyd divorced in 1989 after several years of separation.

In an interview with Songfacts, Bobby Whitlock, who was a member of Derek and the Dominos and good friends with both Harrison and Clapton, explains the situation between Clapton and Pattie around the time he wrote Layla:
“I was there when they were supposedly sneaking around. You don’t sneak very well when you’re a world figure. He was all hot on Pattie and I was dating her sister. They had this thing going on that supposedly was behind George’s back. Well, George didn’t really care. He said, ‘You can have her.’ That kind of defuses it when Eric says, ‘I’m taking your wife’ and he says, ‘Take her.’ They got married and evidently, she wasn’t what he wanted after all. The hunt was better than the kill. That happens, but apparently Pattie is real happy now with some guy who’s not a guitar player. Good for her and good for Eric for moving on with his life. George got on with his life, that’s for sure.”

After the breakup of Cream, Clapton tried his hand with several artists, including Blind Faith and a husband and wife duo, Delaney and Bonnie. In the spring of 1970, he was told that Delaney and Bonnie’s backup band (bassist Carl Radle, drummer Jim Gordon (musician), and keyboardist Bobby Whitlock) was leaving the group. Seizing the opportunity, Clapton formed a new group, Derek and the Dominos.

In mid-to-late 1970 Duane Allman of The Allman Brothers Band joined Clapton‘s fledgling band as a guest. Clapton and Allman, already mutual fans, were introduced at an Allman Brothers concert by Tom Dowd. The two hit it off well and soon became good friends. Dowd was already famous for a variety of work (including Aretha Franklin’s cover of “Respect”), and had worked with Clapton in his Cream days (Clapton once called him “the ideal recording man”); his work on the album would be another achievement. For the making of his biographical documentary Tom Dowd and the Language of Music, he remixed the original master tapes of “Layla”, saying “There are my principles, in one form or another.” With the band assembled and Dowd producing, “Layla” was recorded in its original form.

One night some time later, Clapton returned to the studio. He found Gordon playing a piano piece he had composed separately and convinced him to let it be used with the song. Roughly three weeks after the recording of its first three minutes, “Layla” was complete.

Due to the circumstances of its composition, “Layla” is defined by two movements, each marked by a repeated musical figure, or riff.

The first movement, which alternates between the keys of D minor for choruses and E major for verses, is centered around the “signature riff”, a guitar piece utilising hammer-ons, pull-offs, and power chords. The riff is commonly believed to have originated from Allman, an adaptation of the vocal melody from Albert King’s “As the Years Go Passing By” from 1967′s album Born Under a Bad Sign. The first section also contains the overdub-heavy guitar solo, a duet of sorts between Allman‘s slide guitar and Clapton‘s bent notes. By placing his slide at points beyond the end of the fretboard, Allman was able to play notes at a higher pitch than could be played with standard technique. Tom Dowd referred to this as “notes that aren’t on the instrument!”

The second movement, Jim Gordon’s contribution, is commonly referred to as the “piano coda.” Originally played in C major, the tape speed of the coda was increased during mixing. The resulting pitch is microtonal, somewhere between C and C sharp. The piano solo at the end of the song is augmented by an acoustic guitar and accompanied by the slide guitar.

As Clapton commented on his signature song:
“’Layla’ is a difficult one, because it’s a difficult song to perform live. You have to have a good complement of musicians to get all of the ingredients going but, when you’ve got that… It’s difficult to do as a quartet, for instance, because there are some parts you have to play and sing completely opposing lines, which is almost impossible to do. If you’ve got a big band, which I will have on the tour, then it will be easy to do something like ‘Layla’ — and I’m very proud of it. I love to hear it. It’s almost like it’s not me. It’s like I’m listening to someone that I really like. Derek and The Dominos was a band I really liked—and it’s almost like I wasn’t in that band. It’s just a band that I’m a fan of. Sometimes, my own music can be like that. When it’s served its purpose to being good music, I don’t associate myself with it anymore. It’s like someone else. It’s easy to do those songs then.”

Or, as his inspiration Pattie Boyd once said:
“I think that he was amazingly raw at the time… He’s such an incredible musician that he’s able to put his emotions into music in such a way that the audience can feel it instinctively. It goes right through you.”

The album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs opened to lackluster sales (the album never reached the charts in Britain), as, with Clapton unmentioned except on the back, it appeared to be a double album from an unknown band. Also, the song’s length proved prohibitive for radio airplay; as a result, an edited version of the song, trimmed to 2:43, was released as a single in March 1971 by Atco (U.S.). It peaked at only #51 on the Billboard Hot 100.

However, when “Layla” was re-released on the 1972 compilation The History of Eric Clapton and then released as a single, it charted at #7 in the UK and #10 in the U.S. Critical opinion since has been overwhelmingly positive. Dave Marsh, in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll, wrote that, “there are few moments in the repertoire of recorded rock where a singer or writer has reached so deeply into himself that the effect of hearing them is akin to witnessing a murder, or a suicide… to me, ‘Layla’ is the greatest of them.”

In 1982 “Layla” was re-released as a single in the UK and was an even bigger success than in 1972, peaking at #4.

On September 20, 1983 at a benefit show called the ARMS Charity Concert for Multiple Sclerosis at the Royal Albert Hall in London, which featured a jam with Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page performing “Layla” and “Tulsa Time”—Clapton, Beck, and Page famously were The Yardbirds‘ successive lead guitarists from 1963 to 1968.

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the iconic guitar riff from Layla featured on a series of British TV adverts for Vauxhall cars. It also featured prominently in the 1990 film Goodfellas.

In 1992, Clapton was invited to play for the MTV Unplugged series. His subsequent album, Unplugged, featured a number of blues standards and his new “Tears in Heaven”. It also featured an “unplugged” version of “Layla”. The new arrangement slowed down and reworked the original riff and dispensed with the piano coda. This version climbed to number twelve on the U.S. charts but failed to chart in Britain. It would later win a Grammy Award in 1992 for Best Rock Song, beating out “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana. The win would later be named one of the 10 biggest upsets in Grammy history by Entertainment Weekly.

“Layla” is featured on a number of “greatest ever” lists, including The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll, 27th place on Rolling Stone’s The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and 16th place on VH1′s 100 Greatest Songs of Rock and Roll. “Layla” also has had an effect on popular culture, with the piano coda featured in Martin Scorsese’s film Goodfellas. Covers have been fairly rare, including John Fahey’s cover on his 1984 album Let Go and a cover by session musician and smooth jazz guitarist Larry Carlton.

Beginning in 2003, the song’s history came almost full circle in another direction, when The Allman Brothers Band began playing the song in concert. Warren Haynes sang the vocal, Gregg Allman played the piano part, and Derek Trucks played Duane’s guitar parts during the coda. The performances were seen not only as a tribute to Duane, but to producer Tom Dowd, who had died the previous year.

On May 19, 2007 at a free concert titled “The Road To Austin” Bobby Whitlock performed his own electric versions of “Layla” and “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad” with dueling guitars courtesy of Eric Johnson and David Grissom. Whitlock and Carmel recorded a remake of “Layla” with the same backing band at the “The Road To Austin” show with Johnson and Grissom again handling all guitar duties. The remake of “Layla” is featured on Bobby Whitlock and Coco Carmel’s album Lovers released on Valentine’s Day of 2008. – source: Wikipedia

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