Sunday, January 21, 2007

Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, a book by Jan Reid

I was a freshman in college and, even though I had bought the single for “Sunshine of Your Love”, the Blind Faith album and Clapton’s first solo album I somehow missed Layla. (Curiously, I didn’t own any Cream albums until later, because I usually listened to a friend’s copy of Disraeli Gears and Wheels of Fire.) Maybe it was the name of the band, Derek and the Dominoes, or maybe it was the cover which somehow didn’t grab my attention but somehow I completely missed it. Fortunately, that year my good friend and band-mate Pete introduced me to both Layla and the Allman Brothers Band Live at the Fillmore East, two albums which featured Duane Allman. These two albums were the soundtrack to much of that year for me and Pete kept them in my room. I had a stereo and he didn’t. (Hey, it was 1972!) As I got home for the summer and no longer had Pete's copies I went out and bought both albums because they were essential to my listening life.

Many many years later I'm still a big fan of both Eric Clapton and his album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. I’m surprised at how little I’ve read about Clapton, since I tend to do a fair amount of rock much reading but I just haven't read much about him. So when I saw that this new book by Jan Reid had come out I checked my local library and I was able to get it from one of their cooperating libraries. Along the way looking for this book (and while I waited for it to come in) I picked up Eric Clapton; Edge of Darkness by Christopher Sandford. I’ve written in this blog before about my dislike of Sandford’s book on Paul McCartney so I picked up Edge of Darkness warily. My misgivings were indeed true and I didn’t get very far in Sandford’s book before I put it down in disgust. Sandford seemed to dwell on the drugs, the drinking and the sex. Reid’s book mentions these things – it’s an essential part of the story – but Sandford seems to go out of his way to wallow in it, much like he did in the McCartney book. And I don't like the way he writes.

But I didn’t come here today to complain about Edge of Darkness, I came to say that Jan Reid's Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs by Derek and the Dominoes is a pretty good book. It is nice that Reid really focuses on the time period in which Clapton and the Dominoes recorded Layla. He does some background stuff but all of it is necessary to the put the album and the life of the band in context. He also writes about all five members of the band, although he covers Clapton in the most depth. His primary source for the book was keyboard player and singer Bobby Whitlock who seems to remember pretty well what happened and actually lived to tell about it. He and Clapton are the only survivors of the Dominoes - drummer Jim Gordon is in jail for murder and suffering from schizophrenia, and both guitarist Duane Allman and bassist Carl Radle are dead.

The book is readable and does a nice job of covering the story of the people involved in the book both before and after the band’s short life. I especially enjoyed the chapter in which Reid actually writes about the songs on the album and does a lengthy review, song by song. It’s also nice that he has a chapter on what happened to the band members after the band broke up. That gives nice closure to the story. It seems that both Clapton and Whitlock are happy and well although Clapton has clearly had much more success. The book is not long, reads quickly and, if you’re interested in Clapton or in this incredible album, not only one of Clapton’s best but one of the all-time best rock albums, this book is a valuable resource.

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