Derek and the Dominos Live In Philly (Retro Concert Review) - by J. Blake

Posted on 12/29/2009 by J. Blake

(New York, NY)

It is October 1970. Eric Clapton has already been called “God” and found international fame with his previous bands, Cream and Blind Faith. In an attempt to step out of the spotlight, he spent four months as a supporting player with the American rock/soul group Delaney & Bonnie & Friends and during that time switched his axe of choice from Gibsons to a 1956 sunburst Fender Stratocaster affectionately called ‘Brownie’.

His latest musical endeavor, Derek & The Dominos, involves keyboardist/vocalist Bobby Whitlock, bassist Carl Radle and drummer Jim Gordon; the core rhythm section of Delaney & Bonnie Bramlett’s band and by now they have already spent the spring writing new material and the summer gigging in Europe with guitarist Dave Mason and backing George Harrison as the session band for his first solo album ALL THINGS MUST PASS.

The last few days of August and the first half of September were spent in Miami Florida at producer Tom Dowd’s Criteria Studios. The band has laid down a collection of blues standards, a Hendrix cover and nine Clapton/Whitlock original compositions. Clapton’s almost juvenile romantic obsession with George Harrison’s wife Pattie Boyd and the presence of Clapton’s recently realized guitar soulmate, Duane ‘Skydog’ Allman, has fueled the sessions with an energy that few studio recordings ever achieve.

On September 18th, just 8 days after Derek & The Dominos recorded a version of Little Wing as a musical tribute to Clapton’s dear friend,
Jimi Hendrix died of mysterious circumstances at the age of 27. With the exception of returning to the USA with the intent of attending his funeral on October 1st and instead opting to spend that time putting the finishing touches on their then unfinished first album, Clapton and his band spent the remainder of September and early October playing a handful of European concert dates.

The Dominos’ American tour kicked off yesterday, October 15th, 1970 at Rider College in Trenton New Jersey. Unfortunately not much is known about that show specifically, but if tonight’s performance in Philadelphia is any indication, then the Trenton crowd was in for quite a treat. Clapton and his band will be spending two consecutive nights in Philadelphia, playing its legendary music venue The Electric Factory. Tomorrow night’s show will slip into obscurity and be barely remembered as time marches on, but thanks to an industrious bootlegger, a decent quality recording will document the band’s performance tonight, Friday the 16th; creating a ‘boot’ that will eventually be considered by many collectors to be among Clapton’s best.

The band’s set-lists up to this point have been mostly made up of material from both the forthcoming double-album LAYLA AND OTHER ASSORTED LOVE SONGS and Clapton’s recently released self-titled first solo album, but remarkably, tonight’s performance feature The Dominos performing a unique and very blues-heavy collection of songs.

With the exception of two shows in December, Duane Allman will unfortunately not be joining Clapton for The Dominos’ American tour, but the weeks they spent in the studio playing alongside one another have had an effect and influence on the British bluesman that will never be more evident than during tonight’s performance. As the band takes the stage, an introduction is announced over the P.A., “Ladies and gentlemen, Derek & The Dominos” and we watch as Clapton counts off the night’s opening number. Suddenly our ears are assaulted by a flurry of slide-guitar as the band launches into an
Elmore James-esque version of Robert Johnson’s Rambin’ On My Mind; a song that Clapton made his vocal debut with, on the now legendary BLUESBREAKERS: JOHN MAYALL WITH ERIC CLAPTON.

The bulk of tonight’s material may indicate that Clapton is here to play the blues, but that does not stop him from treating the audience to an electrifying preview of what will be on the band’s upcoming studio album. As the Johnson cover comes to a close, we hear a quick “thank you” before the band breaks into an extended and funky prelude to the Clapton/Whitlock composition Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad? This type of drum-driven introduction will prove to be commonplace for this song during the tour, but tonight we hear Clapton do something out of the ordinary. He takes on the role of an M.C., hyping the audience with a carnival-style bark, “Get ready to go! Get ready for the show! I’m gonna sing you song. Yeah yeah!” As the band explodes into what will later be considered arguably the best recorded version of this future fan favorite, Clapton’s fingers attack the 16 minute high-octane jam with an energy and fluidity that will rarely be summoned by the guitarist after this particular period of his career.

The rest of the show is bookended by long and spirited renditions of songs from the self-titled album
ERIC CLAPTON; which was released just two months prior to this Philadelphia performance. These versions of Blues Power and Let It Rain are both wonderful and worth mentioning, but it is what the band plays between them that makes this show unique and historic. For their live shows, it is common for the Dominos to instantly follow the Clapton/Leon Russell collaboration, Blues Power, with a slow blues number in the key of ‘C’. They usually play either Stormy Monday or Have You Ever Loved A Woman? (a song that Clapton originally played with Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, but recorded just a seven weeks ago for the LAYLA album) and this night in Philly is no exception. Clapton’s guitar playing on Have You Ever Loved A Woman? is full of vigor and intensity. He plays through his normal pauses and assaults the 12-bar progression with extended stretches of 6-string agility that will one day be more often associated with Stevie Ray Vaughan than Ol’ Slowand.

The “LAYLA sessions” officially wrapped on October 2nd with Clapton and Duane Allman performing a Little Walter Jacobs song titled Mean Old World. Unfortunately the song will not make it on to the album, but it will eventually turn up decades later on various Clapton and Allman compilations. Clearly though, it is still freshly planted in Clapton’s mind, because tonight he breaks out the slide once again; treating the Philly crowd to an extremely rare live performance of the Little Walter standard. As with Rambin’ On My Mind, Clapton dances around the fret-board, bottleneck in hand, with a looseness that is atypical for the British guitar icon; who will eventually develop a habit of playing slide with almost too much precision for some people’s tastes. Once again the Skydog influence boils to the surface, as it does on the following song as well; the first known live performance of Clapton playing the Blind Willie Johnson composition Motherless Children. For you “non-Clapton junkies”, the reason why this is significant is that this song will not surface again in his repertoire until 1974, when a studio version of it is recorded for the album 461 OCEAN BOULEVARD. The song will eventually become a semi-staple of Clapton’s live shows, but for now, we hear a slightly less polished glimpse of what is to come…and it is amazing.

As mentioned earlier and like most of The Dominos’ live performances, the night ends with a lengthy (yet explosive) rendition of Let It Rain and it is a fitting finale to jaw-dropping night of music. For a concert that clocks in at just over 73 minutes, the fact that the band only played 7 songs is quite astounding. Clapton and his band’s ability to keep relatively basic blues and rock conventions interesting and entertaining for such extended periods of time, is both outstanding and commendable.

A week from now, on October 23rd and 24th, Derek & The Dominos will record two of their four sets at the Fillmore East in New York City and selections from those recordings will eventually be released, first as a double-LP titled IN CONCERT in 1973 and then as an extended double-CD collection titled LIVE AT THE FILLMORE in 1994. Nearly half of the songs performed in Philadelphia will not make it to the Fillmore stage, or any other Dominos performance for that matter. They instead will be replaced with more selections from the future Dominos studio album, other Clapton/Whitlock compositions and songs from Clapton’s past career, like Crossroads and Presence Of The Lord; two songs that for some reason will rarely make it back on to any of the band’s future set-lists.

The American tour will end at Suffolk Community College in Seldon New York on Sunday December 6th, 1970. The Dominos’ masterpiece LAYLA AND OTHER ASSORTED LOVE SONGS will be released just 5 days later (on 12/11/70) to mediocre sales and minor critical acclaim; though its title track will go on to be considered one of the greatest rock-guitar anthems of all-time. In spring of 1971, Derek & The Dominos will enter Olympic Studios in London to record their 2nd album, but tensions and stresses caused by substance abuse will lead to their breakup during these sessions and Clapton will go into nearly 3 years of heroin fueled seclusion before recording again. Sadly, Duane Allman will die in a motorcycle accident in Macon Georgia on October 29th, 1971 at the age of 24.

In 2006 and 2007 Clapton will revisit most of The Dominos’ material alongside Allman heir and Dominos namesake
Derek Trucks, but it is in 1970, with Whitlock, Radle and Gordon, that Clapton played with a fire that he arguably will never be able to reproduce. Like all great artists he and his style will evolve throughout the coming years, cementing him as an important figure in not only blues and rock, but in popular music in general. Thankfully we have the recordings, both official and unofficial, to document these periods in time and music and to illustrate the creative evolution of artists like Eric Clapton and so many others.

*If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy:The Real King Of The Blues

Thanks and keep reading American Blues News!!!

Copyright © 2009 - J. Blake. All Rights Reserved

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