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Derek & The Dominos: Derek & The Dominos: Live at the Fillmore

C. Michael Bailey By

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Eric Clapton and Miles Davis have in common their involvement with several "super groups" that changed the way we heard music at the same time illuminated accompanying musicians who would go on and make names of their own. The Yardbirds, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, Cream, The Blind Faith, Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, and, finally, Derek and the Dominoes were all historic assemblies in which Eric Clapton took a major part. Each of these bands fundamentally transformed the blues-rock axis and, with other members of the British Invasion, paid America her greatest compliment: reintroduction to her indigenous and ingenious music.

That impressive bit of musical history occurred before Clapton even released his first solo recording, Eric Clapton (Polydor) in August 1970. Shortly before his solo effort and while on the road with Delaney & Bonnie & Friends (recording Delaney & Bonnie & Friends with Eric Clapton (Atco, 1970)), Clapton conceived his final super group, Derek and the Dominoes. Absconding Delaney & Bonnie's rhythm section with Oklahoma bassist Carl Radle, Memphis keyboardist Bobby Whitlock, LA drummer Jim Gordon and adding guitarist Duane Allman four songs into his new project, Clapton put together history. Between late August and early October 1970, the band entered the Criteria studios in Miami, Florida under Allman Brothers producer Tom Dowd and recorded the 2-LP Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs, which was released in November of that year. Clapton and the band, who had toured prior to recording, returned to touring, wrapping up their blues-rock Gotterdammerung with their final concert date on December 6, 1970.

The myth surrounding Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs is thick. Clapton was woefully in love with the Beatles' George Harrison's wife at the time, Patti Boyd. Clapton had been professionally involved with George Harrison on the Beatles' "While My Guitar Gently Sleeps" from The White Album (Apple, 1968) before leading the bulk of Derek and the Dominoes in backing Harrison on his landmark All Things Must Pass (Apple, 1970). Patti Boyd and George Harrison married on January 21, 1966 in Surrey England. Once their relationship began to fail, Boyd began a relationship with Clapton in an order to gain Harrison's attention. Clapton returned the affection and ended up falling completely in love with his colleague's wife, contributing to Clapton's severe depression and subsequent heroin addiction. Harrison and Boyd divorced after a long separation. She and Eric were married then shortly thereafter. It was during this flirtation with Boyd that Clapton met the muse that inspired Layla, which continues to be his defining moment in music.

During this whirlwind of unrequited love, chemical dependency, depression and creativity, Derek & the Dominos: In Concert (Polydor, 1973), was captured at the Fillmore East culled from two sets each performed on October 23-24, 1970 sans Duane Allman. This original 2-LP set was the precursor to this selection of the Ten Best Live Rock Recordings, Derek & the Dominoes: Live At The Fillmore.

Live At The Fillmore is not simply a remastering of In Concert with previously unreleased sides. It is actually a different assembly of music extracted from the same set of shows used for In Concert. Live At The Fillmore sports six of the nine pieces originally included on In Concert. Two songs, "Key to the Highway" and "Crossroads," were previously released on Crossroads (Polydor, 1988). Three of the five previously unreleased songs are different recordings of same pieces appearing on In Concert ("Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad?," "Tell the Truth," and "Let It Rain"). The remaining two unreleased songs, "Nobody Knows When You're Down and Out" and "Little Wing" have never been available in a live version

Beyond all of this discographical stuff is Eric Clapton as guitar god in the wake of the death of Jimi Hendrix, who passed away from a barbiturate misadventure a month before these shows. Clapton is at the height of his power, just prior to his recording semi-retirement to address his raging heroin addiction and deepening depression. This is rarified music, visceral, exciting, primal, extended, almost but never quite self-indulgent, as is most of the music on Clapton's later Crossroads 2: Live in the Seventies (Polydor, 1996). However, then Creem magazine critic Lester Bangs did not concur, describing the music (from In Concert) as:

"[T]his piece of dreck represents one of the nullest excesses in a time when we've all been so drenched in excess as to be totally acclimated to it. . . . The recording quality is poor, the vocals are muddy and barely passable in the first place, but where [the album] really disintegrates is the solos. . . . [T]his is mostly just muddled idiot riffing for no reason at all . . . it's the dullest drabbest flattest saddest thing I've heard in ages."


"Blues Power," "Tell the Truth," and "Key to the Highway" are defining. "It's got To Get Better In A Little While" transcendent. These song bore the beginnings of what would become the drunk bloated Clapton in the '70s, but was still a ways off. The leader and band were relaxed and loose. Clapton never made music like this after Derek and the Dominoes. The insipid "Wonderful Tonight" might be a commercial success, but it is no "Have You Ever Loved a Woman" and the sincere "Tears in Heaven" may be heartfelt, but it is no "Layla"; they simply lacks the despair of these older songs. Had Clapton had no other recordings than the Dominoes, he would still have assured his place in rock history by these studio and live recordings.

Here in the early throws of the 21st Century there have been a spate of completest box sets, expansions of previously released recordings, devoted to famous live performances from the early 1970s. Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs and Englishmen (A&M, 1970) grew from a 2- LP set into Mad Dogs and Englishmen: The Complete Fillmore East Concerts (A&M/Rhino, 2006). Aretha Franklin's Aretha Live at Fillmore West (Atlantic, 1971) along with King Curtis's Live at Fillmore West (Atlantic, 1971) transmogrified into the mammoth 4-CD Don't Fight the Feeling: The Complete Aretha Franklin & King Curtis Live at Fillmore West (Atlantic/Rhino, 2005). Paul Butterfield's The Butterfield Blues Band Live (Electra, 1970) revealed many more charms as The Butterfield Blues Band Live (Elektra/Rhino, 2006). Humble Pie's very loud Performance Rockin' The Fillmore (A&M, 1971) was fully restored on Performance Rockin' The Fillmore: The Complete Recordings (A&M, 2014). And, the Allman Brothers Band At Fillmore East (Capricorn, 1970) finally became The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings (Polydor, 2014).

Derek and the Dominos played a total of four sets over October 23-24, 1970 and in light of the above re-releases, it now may be the time to release the whole shebang. It is certainly long overdue.

The Ten Best Live Rock Recordings

Track Listing: CD1: Got To Get Better In A Little While; Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad; Key To The Highway; Blues Power; Have You Ever Loved A Woman; Bottle Of Red Wine. CD2: Tell The Truth; Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out; Roll It Over; Presence of the Lord; Little Wing; Let It Rain; Crossroads.

Personnel: Eric Clapton: guitars, vocals; Bobby Whitlock: keyboards, vocals; Carl Radle: bass; Jim Gordon: drums.

Title: Derek & The Dominos: Live at the Fillmore | Year Released: 2001 | Record Label: Polydor Records


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