50 Years Ago: How Derek and the Dominos Grew Out of George Harrison’s Debut
Harrison had hit it off with drummer Jim Gordon, bassist Carl Radle and keyboardist Bobby Whitlock while sitting in with Delaney & Bonnie during a 1969 tour. He was already friends with Eric Clapton, who collaborated with Harrison on the Beatles' "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and Cream's "Badge."
All four of them were on hand as sessions for All Things Must Pass got underway in May 1970. They appeared together and apart throughout the studio portion of the project – that's Whitlock, for instance, at the pump organ on "My Sweet Lord" – and served as the house band for the album-closing jam sessions.
"I mean, we used to do that ourselves, you know, the Fabs, back in the early days," Harrison told Billboard in 2000. "So you'd have a break, somebody'd go to the toilet, they have a cigarette, and next minute you'd break into a jam session and the engineer taped it on a two-track. When we were mixing the album and getting toward the end of it, I listened to that stuff, and I thought, 'It's got some fire in it,' particularly Eric. He plays some hot stuff on there!"
The first two Derek and the Dominos studio cuts were taped during these initial dates, though both were re-recorded for official release later.
"We made a deal whereby [Harrison] would get [co-producer Phil] Spector to produce a couple of tracks for us in return for having the use of our band for his album," Clapton later remembered in his memoir, Clapton: The Autobiography. "We recorded two songs with him, 'Roll It Over' and 'Tell the Truth,' at Abbey Road Studios, before turning ourselves over to George as his session musicians."
Listen to Derek and the Dominos Jam With George Harrison
All Things Must Pass wasn't the first time these studio vets had worked together – but those were in more controlled environments. The open-ended fission on Harrison's album sessions carried directly over into a stand-alone group that became Derek and the Dominos.
"I'd arrived in the U.K. in 1969 with Delaney & Bonnie's band, which included Carl Radle and Jim Gordon," Whitlock told Richard Havers in 2015. "In the year following our arrival, we recorded nonstop. In early December, there was the Delaney & Bonnie & Friends [On Tour With Eric Clapton] album recorded in London. Eric Clapton and George Harrison played on our tour of the U.K. and Europe, which is how we got to know one another so well. We all played on Eric Clapton's first solo album, then there was All Things Must Pass."
Harrison initiated their involvement, cold calling Clapton during a period when he and Whitlock were holed up at the guitarist's Hurtwood Edge estate writing songs that would eventually form the bedrock of Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.
"Eric picked it up, and he was going, 'Mm-hmm. Yeah. Okay. Let me ask Bobby and see what he thinks,'" Whitlock told Guitar Player in 2020. "He hung up and he says to me, 'That was George.' And I said, 'Harrison?' He says, 'Yeah. He wants us to put together a group and be the core band for his new record."
Still stung from the twin dissolutions of Cream and Blind Faith, Clapton seemed to have stumbled into a new career direction.
"It was the beginning of one of the most extraordinary periods of my life, the memory of which is dominated by one thing — incredible music," Clapton said in his autobiography. "It began with me just talking to these guys about music and getting to know them, and then we just played and played and played. I was in absolute awe of these people, and yet they made me feel that I was on their level. We were kindred spirits, made in the same mold."
All Things Must Pass became a six-times platinum chart-topping smash, spinning off two Top 10 singles – including the No. 1 hit "My Sweet Lord." By then, however, Derek and the Dominos were already on their way.
Listen to Derek and the Dominos' 'Roll It Over' With George Harrison
They rushed into the studio to complete Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, recorded with a late assist from Duane Allman in August and September 1970. Things came together so quickly that Derek and the Dominos' album actually arrived before All Things Must Pass.
"It was a band. It was an equal effort and opportunity band. We all shared equally in everything," Whitlock told Songfacts in 2004. "Eric was a band member. ... He wasn't ready at the time to step out in the forefront without having some fire behind him, something he was real comfortable with. Jim Gordon and Carl Radle and myself made a pretty formidable rhythm section."
All of that began to audibly coalesce during a Harrison-led jam curiously titled "Thanks for the Pepperoni." "Art of Dying" from All Things Must Pass is basically a Derek and the Dominos song. "I Remember Jeep," another free-form musical idea, was named after Clapton's dog.
Harrison also sat in on those early takes of "Tell the Truth" and "Roll It Over," which were released as the group's debut single then retracted. They later appeared on Clapton's career-encompassing 1988 box set Crossroads and 1990's 20th-anniversary reissue of Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.
Unfortunately, Derek and the Dominos didn't immediately have the same chart success as All Things Must Pass; some say because Clapton's name wasn't featured more prominently. Things were different for the group outside of the friendly confines of a Harrison session. They split during a shambolic try at a follow-up.
Layla, however, remained – and, in time, critical assessment caught up with Derek and the Dominos. Their lone studio LP reentered the U.S. chart in 1972, 1974 and 1977, emerging as an acknowledged classic along the way.
"It became a success on its own, not because of promotion and not because of Eric Clapton," Whitlock told Guitar Player. "I remember when we were doing our tour of the United States. We were riding in a station wagon somewhere up in Minnesota, heading to a gig, and 'My Sweet Lord' comes on the radio. At the time, it was the No. 1 record in the country. And there we were, four guys in a car, heading to some little gig somewhere. I mean, we were the guys on a No. 1 record, and nobody even knew who the hell we were!"
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