1970 should be a date highlighted in red by all guitar lovers. That was the day
that two of the best guitarists in history met, Eric Clapton and
Duane Allman, and they ended up playing together in the studio, exchanging
notes, smiles, and tremendous mutual admiration. I have always considered Layla
& Other assorted Love Songs Clapton’s crowning work and a big part of
it was due to the participation of Allman, making this record a paradise for
lovers of guitar rock, with 2 figures at their peak, but beyond being a pyro
technique duel, what they did was to collaborate and lend a mutual helping
hand. And if Clapton is God, then Duane is Jesus, who died for our sins.
It couldn’t have been a more random thing. Tom Dowd was in Miami recording ‘Idlewild South’ by the Allman Brothers when he got a call from Clapton who said he was coming down there to cut a record with his new band. Duane did not hesitate to ask Dowd if he could come by the studio someday. It wasn’t necessary, soon after arriving in Miami, Clapton found out through Dowd that the Allmans were playing a benefit concert in the city. So he jumped at a chance to see them with the smashing excuse “you’re telling me that you know the guy that played the solo in Hey Jude by Wilson Pickett? (Clapton’s ever favourite) I have to see him play!..Let’s go!”. It was that 26th of August we spoke of earlier. After the gig, Duane approached Clapton and asked again if he could come by the studio. Clapton saw the sky open and jumped at it, “come along with us now, and bring your guitar, you gotta play!”
The rest is pure 6-string magic. Duane and Clapton became inseparable and what the eldest Allman got the record to reach unbeatable levels by getting the most out of himself and Clapton as well. And really, apart from Duane, ‘Layla’ has another main player, Pattie Boyd, George Harrison’s wife at the time. Clapton was lost in love with the wife of his best friend, as in the best blues songs, and it affected his way of playing and singing because of it. We’ve never seen Clapton in better form than then, forget about Cream, Bluesbreakers, or Blind Faith, Layla is the defining moment of his career. When he sang ‘Have You Ever Loved a Woman’ or ‘Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad’ he does it with such conviction or more than any other bluesman from the Mississippi Delta.
I don’t have the space here to talk about all the musical magic hidden on this record. TH gear Clapton used on the album is legend, we’re talking about his famous Fender Stratocaster ‘Brownie’ (which even appears on the back cover) and the Fender Champ 5 watt amp. We should point out that the first 3 songs are the only ones without Duane, although in songs like ‘Bell Bottom Blues’ Clapton is enough, showing that guitars cry too. Of course the rest is pure guitar poetry, never have two guitars fused together better, it’s about a long conversation in verse where so much is said, and much more is felt, without the need for words. There is the incredible ‘Anyday’, the mythic ‘Layla’, possibly Clapton’s best song, where Duane, with his ‘slide’ on the legendary 1957 Gibson Les Paul Goldtop, takes by storm the coda that closes the number. ‘Tell the Truth’, a song recorded after Duane arrived, or ‘Why does love got to be so Sad’ the most heavenly moment between two electric guitars ever recorded in a studio (if we don’t take ‘Blue Skies’ between Duane and his mate Dickey Betts into consideration).
During the recording of this album Jimi Hendrix died, the only other guitarist considered a category above them. After hearing the sad news, they decided to record ‘Little Wing’. They never managed to out-do it (you can’t out-do perfection) but from ‘the third rock from the sun’ I’m sure that ‘Wild Blue Angel’ was smiling. There couldn’t have been a better homage from the two best guitars left on Earth (and at their peak) playing their music.