2004 Nigel Williamson




Blues Brother (Blues, Booze And Rivers Of Blood)
(first published in 'Uncut', UK, Take 84, May 2004)

(Excerpt from a 20-page interview with Eric Clapton)

. . . . . meeting Delaney & Bonnie was the opportunity for me to join a group like that. It was a glorious period of my life. And we were making great music. We'd play at the gig, on the bus, back at the hotel. They played all day long because they loved it. Business was not an issue. Making money was not an issue. Loving music and having fun was what it was about. It was unstoppable. They were all from the South and they were all great players and a lot of them were from Tulsa. And they were the guys who became Derek & The Dominos.

How exactly did the Dominos come together?

I was living in Delaney's house in Sherman Oaks. But I didn't really live there. I already had my house in Surrey, and there was a point where I thought I had to go home.

Were you thinking it was time to put your own band together again?

Not really. I'd gone home and then Carl Radle contacted me and said, "We're leaving Delaney. Are you interested in having a band?" And I thought, "Why not?"

So it wasn't a case of you stealing them?

I don't think so, although Delaney might have a different take on that. What they told me was that they'd asked him for a raise and, when he said no, they quit. Carl had become the shop steward and he issued an ultimatum and Delaney called their bluff. I imagine if I'd said I wasn't interested, they'd have gone back to him. But I said I was, and so I inherited Carl, Jim Gordon and Bobby Whitlock. They came over and lived in my house for six months and we evolved the nucleus of Derek & The Dominos, with me trying to live what I imagined the San Francisco bands had been doing, like a musical commune.

How does Duane Allman come into the story?

When we had enough material for about three-quarters of an album we went to Miami to record with Tom Dowd, who I knew from Cream. But there was clearly something missing. Then Tom said the Allman Brothers were playing in Coconut Grove and we should take the night off and go and see them. I'd already heard Duane. I remember hearing "Hey Jude" by Wilson Pickett where the guitarist  breaks loose at the end in a way very few people can. I'd called Ahmet Ertegun and asked who it was. He said it was a guy called "Skydog" Allman. And that's all I knew about him. Then when we went to see them, they were fantastic. They all looked like vikings, and I sat on the grass in front of the stage, mesmerised. After the show, I asked Duane back to the studio to hear what we'd done. I took him straight away. He was tough and exciting and a real larger-than-life character. And I stole him to make the record.

Would it be fair to say he transformed the album?

He took it from being an all-right record to being something completely extraordinary, with the two of us just taking off. I'd say, "Let's do 'Key To The Highway' " and he'd do it in one take. And before we knew it, we had a double album. I tried to get him to leave the Allman Brothers and he dickered with the idea. He did some gigs with the Dominos. Then he said he had to be loyal to his family.

Everybody knows you wrote "Layla" for Patti Boyd, who at the time was still married to George Harrison. But how did the two parts of "Layla" come together?

Jim Gordon was making his own album at the same time. When the band left the studio, he'd sneak back in and use the time to make his own record because we had the studio 24 hours a day. He was poaching and we caught him. But he had this incredible piece of music which was the best rock'n'roll drummer in the world playing this amazing piano theme. I think the deal we cut was we'd let him carry on using our studio time if we could have that tune. The two pieces fitted like they were made for each other. I still perform "Layla" that way. You can't just end it after the first part.

Less happily, it was in Miami, while making that album, that the hard drugs kicked in big time, wasn't it?

It's where the black-out years started, yeah. The record company put us in a hotel not far from the studio, and there was a little nest of dealers in there who supplied us. I remember Ahmet Ertegun coming to see us in the studio, because he'd been alerted by Tom Dowd that we were getting into heavy stuff. He was really upset and crying and saying, "Please don't do this." I think he'd been around a few jazz guys who had kicked the bucket and he could see us going the same way. I said, "Look, we're just having fun. Nobody's shooting anything. We're just playing around."

But it got out of control, didn't it?

We went out on tour and it got out of control. When we came home, we were hardly speaking to each other. When drugs enter the picture, something happens to relationships. They dissolve. Whatever held us together in the first place went.

And so the second Derek & The Dominos album never got completed?

We started making it in London. But the atmosphere was so bad and my instinct in those scenes is just to get out. I never went back to the studio. I don't know what happened to the tapes. I think some of that stuff has come out on compilations. But the spirit was dead. And it was all down to substance abuse.

You ran away from Derek & The Dominos because that scene had been wrecked by heroin. And you sought solace by taking even more heroin. Can you explain that?

It seemed to link up with other milestones in my life, like the death of my grandfather, who brought me up. It's difficult for me to say how these things connect, but that seemed to tie in with my entry into the tunnel.
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