Should Hendrix Be Covered?
When I listened to Layla Revisited (Live at Lockn') (16 July 2021; Fantasy Records) I couldn’t help but think of the words of a knowledgeable friend of mine who once said: “don’t try to cover Hendrix!”
The fact is that here the Tedeschi Trucks Band have not only sought to take on ‘a cover of a cover’ of Hendrix’s Little Wing, but also pay tribute to Clapton’s Layla on the same album. One school of thought might say ‘why not? - it is brave, and if anyone can do it, Tedeschi Trucks can’, and I understand that in the context of a live concert it can be a lot of fun to hear a familiar song covered by a band that you love. It is a common event at many gigs. However it is another step entirely to then go ahead and record those classics; Hendrix and Clapton made the definitive versions and any attempt to ‘try to improve upon them’ is simply doomed to fail.
That said, take a listen, and see what you think! The Tedeschi Trucks Band (TTB) recorded this live double album, which also includes one studio track, at Lockn' Festival in Arrington, Virginia, on 24 August, 2019. Fans did not know beforehand that the TTB were going to perform the classic Derek and the Dominos’ album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs in its entirety, and that definitely adds a spark of excitement to the concert. The horn section, in the shape of saxophonist Kebbi Williams, trumpeter Ephraim Owens and trombonist Elizabeth Lea, adds another welcome dimension to the gig - and the band were also joined on stage by singer and guitarist Trey Anastasio (Phish) and close collaborator Doyle Bramhall II. The musicianship, as might be expected, is outstanding.
It is worth highlighting some of the links between TTB and Clapton’s classic album, which famously featured the great Duane Allman. Susan Tedeschi was born on 9 November 1970, the day that Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs was released, while Derek Trucks is the nephew of Butch Trucks, a member of the original Allman Brothers, of which he became a long-time member, as well as being named after that album, and later also toured with Eric Clapton. “By the time that I started playing guitar, the sound of Duane Allman’s slide was almost an obsession,” says Trucks . “His playing on Layla is still one of the high-water marks for me. The spirit, the joy, the recklessness, and the inevitability of it. My dad would play that record for me and my brother to fall asleep to and further sear it into my DNA.”
Many argue that Clapton’s guitar duels with Allman on Layla… are a high point in the history of the six string. Allman collaborated on 11 of the album’s 14 songs with his 1957 Gibson Gold Top, while Derek Truck's '58 Goldtop, which he uses on this live performance, is just one serial number away from Duane's.
One of the standout tracks is certainly the Bessie Smith/Jimmy Cox classic Nobody Knows You When You Are Down And Out, which Trucks played every night on the Clapton tour, and about which he says: “whenever that song came up it would immediately bring me back to that place. Different feelings you get for different reasons. But when you are doing material like this, all of it relates back to that circle.”
Another highlight is Key To The Highway. “When we started playing it, I was thinking Duane and his sound, I think about Greg, and the last time I saw BB sing ‘When I leave this town, I won’t come back no more’ and thinking I believe him. I think he is actually telling us that. There are a lot of different feelings that came up when we were doing Key To The Highway, because it is on the Dominos’ record but it just part of history.”
The album closes with a touching studio version of Thorn Tree In The Garden from Trucks and Tedeschi, which was the one track left out of the live performance. As Trucks says: “There were a few silver linings from the lockdown. Getting to do things like that that you just never get the chance…”
When the live festival concert finished, the band ended with Layla and decided to play the original version to fans as they left the arena. I have expressed my opinion on the Jimi Hendrix cover, but I leave the last word about that with Trucks: “[Little Wing] has been done so many times in so many ways. But the Dominos’ version […] I don’t think I have ever heard anyone cover [it, so] yeah, it does give you a little bit more freedom because that path is not as heavily walked. You feel good about it.” What do you think?