I’ve spoken to many people who consider Layla to be a great song because of Duane Allman, but the band played the song live without Duane on a number of occasions. It’s important to note that even though Duane played a huge part during the recording of the Layla album sessions, he was never a member of Derek and the Dominos. When the band came back from recording Layla in Miami they continued with their UK tour before packing up the gear and heading to America. Now it wasn’t until mid-late November that the band started to play Layla at shows. Looking back it’s hard to see why the band didn’t play Layla as soon as they finished recording the album, but at the time the band were still finding their feet and Layla was far from being the landmark recording that we all see it as today. As the Dominos embarked on their US tour, the chemistry between the members grew and grew as each show went by. By mid-late November Layla found it’s way into the setlist and would remain there for when Duane joined the band at the start of December, however it would be dropped again before the tour wound up on the 6th December in Selden, NY.
The following recordings of Layla are taken from two separate shows played two days apart, the first without Duane and the second with Duane.
Layla: Live at Painters Mill Music Fair, Owings Mills, Maryland. 29th November 1970.
Based on available recordings, this version is by far one of the best versions of Layla the band ever played live. At the time of the show, Derek and the Dominos had been touring the US for over a month as a four piece so naturally the chemistry was as good as it ever was while the band were together. Eric in particular, as you can hear from the start of the recording, takes Duane’s lick and makes it his own. The only noticable difference is the lack of the riff during the chorus sections but the solo is up there with the best Eric ever played.
Layla: Live at Curtis Hixon Hall, Tampa, Florida. 1st December 1970. Featuring Duane Allman.
Recorded in Tampa, Duane’s guitar playing turned Layla into a completely different animal as Eric was able to sit back and play the chords while allowing Duane to solo, and vice-versa. This version of Layla was the first time the band played it live with Duane outside of the studio and compared to the version the band played two days earlier, you can sense Eric and Duane getting to grips with each other. The addition of a second guitar player changes the dymanics of any band significantly. But that said, Duane’s slide playing from the Tampa performance is exquisite and shows you that his presence added more fire to an already on fire band.
One of the reasons I am writing a book on the band is to make people more aware of them as a live unit. Everyone talks about the Layla album but apart from the Fillmore East shows (and live album), Derek and the Dominos are a forgotten live band. My book will change that. A lot of people think that the Dominos couldn’t have succeeded without Duane’s inclusion, yet the recording of Layla with no Duane is proof that they were a well established band and as a four piece they had their own sound. Afterall, Duane was never a full member of Derek and the Dominos. However there’s certainly no arguing that Duane added something else to the mix whenever he played with them, whether it was in the studio or live on stage. The two versions, whilst very different in terms of dynamics, show what kind of a band Derek and the Dominos were.