Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Derek and the Dominoes -- "Tell the Truth" (1970)

Whole world is shaking now
Can't you feel it?
New dawn is breaking now
Can't you see it?

Something very weird just happened.  A few minutes ago, I sat down at my piano to noodle the chords for these lines of this song.  (It's a very simple but very powerful hook that I could listen to about a thousand times before getting tired of it.  There's a measure of G, a measure of D, 3/4 of a measure of E, followed by B, E, B, E, B -- always on the off-beat -- and then back to G to start it all over again.)

After that I sat down at the computer and could barely type.  Somehow the difference in layout between the piano keyboard and the computer keyboard have really thrown my brain out of whack.  I never learned to type properly, but use only two fingers -- I don't know if that is part of the problem or not.  

The only way I can describe the sensation I am feeling is that I am looking for black keys while I am typing.  Also, I seem to have lost my memory of where different letters are on the computer keyboard -- I'm having to search for them.  I know it sounds crazy, but I'm going to stop typing for a few minutes and see if my brain will reset itself and work properly.

[Ten minutes later . . .]

Much better.  I've never experienced that sensation before.  Maybe I've never gone directly from piano to computer keyboard before -- it was almost like I was experiencing vertigo when I tried to type.  My fingers just wouldn't do what I wanted them to do.  I swear it felt like I was feeling for the black keys on the computer keyboard.  Very unsettling.     

Anyway, I doubt that I heard any record more often during college than the Derek and the Dominoes.  It was officially titled Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, but I don't remember anyone calling it by that name.  Since it was the band's only studio album, calling it by the group's name didn't confuse anyone.

"Layla" is by far the most famous song on the album -- it's one of the most-played songs of the whole era.  Most people who know the song know that it was inspired by Clapton's then-unrequited love for Pattie Boyd, the wife of ex-Beatle George Harrison.  Clapton and Harrison were good friends and co-wrote Cream's "Badge."  

Boyd was frustrated by Harrison's drug use and affairs with other women.  (Hey, Pattie -- sex, drugs, and rock and roll -- you can't have one without the others, I guess.)  

Mr. and Mrs. George Harrison
Harrison once went to Spain with the wife of Faces' guitarist Ronnie Wood, who later joined the Rolling Stones.  So Boyd had an affair with Wood.  (Payback's a bitch, George.)  

Clapton, who had also professed to be in love with Boyd, moved in with her younger sister.  (The sister left after hearing "Layla," which she felt proved that Clapton saw her as a substitute for Pattie.)  Years later, Boyd and Clapton were married.  

It was a case of out of the frying pan, into the fire for Boyd -- Clapton was a heroin addict and alcoholic and had children by two other women while he and Pattie were married.  (One of these children, a four-year-old boy, died when he fell out of a 53rd-story window in New York City.)  The two were divorced in 1988.

Mr. and Mrs. Eric Clapton
I could go on and on.  (For example, Mick Jagger once told a girlfriend that he had tried for years to get Boyd into bed.)  Boyd wrote an autobiography a few years ago -- I may need to read it.  She's no Pamela des Barres -- the rock supergroupie who has rebranded herself as a "muse" -- but she did OK.  

Several of the tracks on the Derek and the Dominoes album were covers of old blues songs.  Most of the original tracks were co-written by Clapton and Bobby Whitlock, who sang and played keyboards.  

The second half of "Layla" -- the instrumental part that begins with a piano solo -- was written and performed by drummer Jim Gordon.  In 1983, Gordon -- an undiagnosed schizophrenic -- used a hammer and a butcher's knife to murder his mother.  He's been in prison in California ever since.  Here's a link to a "Free Jim Gordon" website.

The other musicians on the Layla album were guitarist Duane Allman (who was invited to sit in with the band after they had started recording the album) and bass player Carl Radle.  Allman died in a motorcycle accident less than a year after the album was released.  Radle died in 1980 of kidney disease (attributed to his alcohol and drug abuse).

Duane Allman
Radle was a Tulsa native, and played with Leon Russell on a number of albums.  (He and Russell were part of Joe Cocker's "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" band, and also played with Delaney & Bonnie, as did Clapton and Allman.)  Of course, Clapton played on Russell's first solo album, as did Jim Gordon.  So all those guys would be acceptable answers in a "One Degree of Leon Russell" game.

For years after the Derek and the Dominoes album was released, Clapton toured with Radle and several other Tulsa musicians.  Famed rock critic Robert Christgau said this in a review of one of Clapton's solo albums:  "No matter what Eric isn't these days . . . he's certainly king of the Tulsa sound."

Here's "Tell the Truth."  Watch out for that B, E, B, E, B, G chord progression -- once it gets hold of you, you may never get rid of it.

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

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