Layla's Appetizer

By Sergio Ariza

It is the 50th anniversary of Eric Clapton's first solo album, which was a fundamental moment in his career for several reasons: firstly because it was the album on which 'Brownie' appeared first, his 56 Stratocaster, with which he can be seen on the cover, and secondly because it was the album that serves as a transition between his past in supergroups like Cream and Blind Faith and his great masterpiece, Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs by Derek & The Dominos, of which this album is something of a precursor.  

Let's put it this way, in the summer of 1969 Clapton had been touring with Blind Faith in the USA and Europe. His original idea for the project he led with Steve Winwood had gone down the drain, Blind Faith had become not ‘the English answer to The Band’ but a supergroup that people went to see to listen to old hits by Cream and Traffic. Due to the fact they had so little material they were forced to play these songs even though Clapton was utterly disinterested in them. Also, on the tour he discovered Delaney & Bonnie and was bewitched by them. He liked to go on stage with the band and play anything, even percussion. His interest in Blind Faith had dissipated and he even suggested that Delaney & Bonnie should be headlining instead of his own band.

At the end of the tour, on August 24th, Clapton and Winwood decided to end Blind Faith and Clapton left with John Lennon and his Plastic Ono Band. But soon after there was a new tour for Delaney & Bonnie and he joined them. There out of the spotlight, he rediscovered the pleasure of playing, away from the stardom. In the band there were Jim Gordon, Carl Radle, Bobby Whitlock, besides the horn section formed by Bobby Keys and Jim Price, Dave Mason from Traffic, and his friend George Harrison also appeared regularly.


His friendship with the Beatle was close and the two guitarists spent a lot of time at Harrison's house playing. It was there that Clapton fell madly in love with his best friend's wife, Pattie Boyd. His passion for Pattie would lead him to record the best album of his career, but that would come later, although on this album there would already be three songs clearly dedicated to Pattie, Easy Now, Don't Know Why and Let It Rain, possibly the three best songs on the album, along with
J.J. Cale's well-known version, After Midnight.

His collaboration with Delaney & Bonnie would be reflected in the live album, On Tour with Eric Clapton, recorded on 7 December 1969 and released in March 1970. It was in that same month that this album was completed, with the entire Delaney & Bonnie band, whose members, Jim Gordon, Carl Radle and Bobby Whitlock, would become, along with Clapton, Derek & The Dominos. But if that band and that album are already pure Clapton, here the influence of Delaney Bramlett still weighs heavily, as he acted as producer and main composer of the music on this album.

The album began to be recorded in November 1969 and is a perfect example of Clapton's new tone, which is thinner and brighter than what fans were used to. His solos became shorter and more concise, seeking to complement the song, rather than dominate it. In the members of Delaney & Bonnie he had found his own particular The Band, something he had been looking for ever since he heard the Canadian band's debut album, Music From Big Pink. The flashy displays of virtuosity were not part of his new musical vision.


The album opened with an instrumental 'jam' called Slunky, lead by Keys' saxophone and then Clapton's guitar. It's an unpromising start followed by an uninspired blues called Bad Boy. His voice doesn't sound convincing and there isn't much room for him to show off on the guitar. It's clearly a major flaw in the sequencing of the album that begins with his two worst songs.

Things get better after such a hopeless start, Lonesome And A Long Way From Home is a gospel song with call and response choruses, the horns play a major role and the guitar is passed through the wah. Next comes the album's biggest hit, the excellent cover of J.J. Cale's After Midnight, the first of the author's covers that Clapton would do throughout his career. Easy Now is one of the most underrated songs of his career, a love song much prettier than others that became much more famous - like Wonderful Tonight -, in which Clapton plays an acoustic steel-string, and one of the only two that he writes alone. His melody is a wonder that could have been made by Alex Chilton's very own Big Star. The first side closed with Blues Power, by Clapton and Leon Russell, which was another song that would become a fixture in his live shows and compilations.

Bottle Of Red Wine,
the second, and last, song written solitary by Clapton, opened the B side with a great example of his new way of playing the guitar. But the best moments, along with Easy Now, of the album came at the end with his passionate pleas for love for Pattie Harrison, I Don't Know Why and Let It Rain. The former was played live with Delaney & Bonnie (you could see him playing a Les Paul from 59 or 60) and was composed by Bramlett with lyrics by Clapton. It is the song in which he sings best on the album, a kind of white soul that would have been better if they had not cut the final solo.


But the real highlight of the album comes at the end, it's Let It Rain, inspired by
Stephen Stills' Questions for Buffalo Springfield, to which Clapton acknowledges his debt by inviting him to record the first solo of the song, in an extraordinary musical bridge. Of course, the nirvana comes with Clapton's final solo, which demonstrates that it's still the same man who inspired that mythical graffiti on a wall in London: "Clapton Is God". Last year Clapton and Stills teamed up with Jakob Dylan to perform a version of Questions for the documentary Echo In The Canyon, and Clapton would once again prove that these chords deeply inspire him, by delivering another masterful solo.

The magic of Let It Rain anticipates the monumental Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs. Clapton had decided to write a letter to Harrison's wife to declare his love but was rejected, so he decided to record and dedicate the entire album to her to win her love. On August 26th 1970, ten days after the release of this album, Clapton met
Duane Allman and saw the Allman Brothers live for the first time, and that same day he asked him to join Derek & The Dominos and Layla would become a kind of paradise for electric guitar lovers...

But before the ‘main course’ came this remarkable appetizer in which the most important British guitarist of all time took his first solo steps, even though they were shared, and inspired, by his friends of Delaney & Bonnie.