Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Derek and the Dominos – "Layla" (1970)

Tried to give you consolation
When your old man had let you down

Everyone knows that Eric Clapton wrote “Layla” for Pattie Boyd when she was still married to his close friend and musical collaborator, George Harrison.  

George Harrison and Pattie Boyd
What you may not know is that the song was named for the heroine of 12th-century Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi’s most famous work, Layla and Majnun.

In case you’re wondering how the hell Eric Clapton became acquainted with a 12th-century Persian poem, he received a copy of it from Ian Dallas, a Scottish playwright and actor who had converted to Islam in 1967, taking the name Abdalqadir as-Sufi.    

In Layla and Majnun, a young man named Qays becomes so obsessed with a young woman named Layla that the people in his community begin to refer to him as Majnun (which means “madman”). 

Layla and Majnun
Layla’s father refuses to allow her to wed Qays.  Instead, he marries her off to a rich merchant.  The heartbroken Qays leaves his tribe’s camp and wanders in the surrounding desert until he dies. 

Unlike Qays, Clapton eventually got what he wanted.  From Boyd’s autobiography:

We met secretly at a flat in South Kensington. Eric Clapton had asked me to come because he wanted me to listen to a new number he had written.

He switched on the tape machine, turned up the volume and played me the most powerful, moving song I had ever heard. It was “Layla,” about a man who falls hopelessly in love with a woman who loves him but is unavailable.

Eric Clapton and Pattie Boyd
He played it to me two or three times, all the while watching my face intently for my reaction.  My first thought was: “Oh God, everyone's going to know this is about me.”

I was married to Eric's close friend, George Harrison, but Eric had been making his desire for me clear for months.  I felt uncomfortable that he was pushing me in a direction in which I wasn't certain I wanted to go.

But with the realization that I had inspired such passion and creativity, the song got the better of me.  I could resist no longer.

Pattie Boyd's autobiography,
"Wonderful Tonight"
Clapton also wrote “Wonderful Tonight” for Boyd.  (He penned that song just before attending Paul and Linda McCartney’s annual Buddy Holly party with her.)  

Pattie divorced Harrison (who had written “Something” for her) and eventually married Clapton in 1979.  But they separated after only a few years.  Apparently man – or woman – does not live by love songs alone.

“Layla” is actually two songs in one.  Clapton wrote the first part – the part with the words and the famous Duane Allman guitar riff.  After recording that part of “Layla,” Clapton heard Derek and the Dominos drummer Jim Gordon playing a piece on the piano in the recording studio, and asked Gordon if he could use it in “Layla.”

Martin Scorsese famously used Gordon's piano coda in Goodfellas:

By the way, Jim Gordon used a hammer and a butcher knife to murder his mother in 1983.  He’s been in prison ever since.

Here’s “Layla”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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