Eric Clapton spent much of his early career being revered and routinely labelled as a rock music saviour. It was a label that may well have been justified considering, at the time, he was a pivotal guitar player of his generation. While Clapton’s legacy could be in ruins because of his controversial opinions away from the stage, there’s no denying his impact on the development of contemporary music is a significant one. However, there was one man who always, in Clapton’s own mind, had him beat – the late, great Duane Allman.
With that in mind, we’re taking a look more closely at Allman’s integral contribution to the Derek & The Dominoes song from 1970. Clapton’s band, yet another supergroup of sorts, may well have been comprised of some outstanding musicians such as Bobby Whitlock, Carl Radle and drummer Jim Gordon but it still needed Duane Allman to take the song to the next level. ‘Layla’ has gone down in history as one of Eric Clapton’s finest efforts but the truth is, without Allman, the song was nothing.
“I’m very proud of it. I love to hear it. It’s almost like it’s not me,” said Eric Clapton when recalling the iconic song written about his unrequited love for Patti Boyd. “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 any more. It’s like someone else. It’s easy to do those songs then.” It may also help that at the heart of the song lays the searing talent of Allman.
Of course, when the four members of the band originally set out to record the song in Miami after their session with George Harrison had sparked the band into life, things were not moving fast enough laying down the track or, more importantly, the album that would become Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. A combination of Miami’s weather and its penchant for hard drugs had set the band back a few days already and Atlantic Records producer Tom Dowd knew something needed to be done. So, with that, he sent Clapton and the rest of the band to watch the Allman Brothers perform.
It was the first time Clapton would see the guitarist play live and he was instantly smitten. Shortly after, he invited Duane back to the band’s hotel and the two instantly connected over their shared love of the blues and expert playing. Later, Clapton declared his favourite guitar solo of all time was Allman’s on Wilson Pickett’s cover of The Beatles song ‘Hey Jude’, it was clear, as Clapton himself has said, Allman was “the musical brother that I never had but wished I did”.
Allman’s introduction to the record would see the album finally begin to take shape. In the end, Allman was included on ten of the 13 tracks on the record with his expert slide guitar playing — but there was one song on which he made the most vital contribution, ‘Layla’. The track is now widely regarded as one of the finest guitar moments of all time but it is Allman’s insane playing that really elevates it.
The only way to truly appreciate the performance Allman gives is by isolating his solo slide guitar part and listening to it alone, away from the cacophony of blues guitar and pounding rhythm that appears on the album version of the song. By isolating Allman’s guitar track we can understand just how pivotal his role in the song, and the rest of the album, truly was.
Below, listen to Duane Allman’s isolated slide guitar solo from Eric Clapton’s classic ‘Layla’.