Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Bell Bottom Blues, Derek and the Dominos (1970)

OK, Eric Clapton, just how many groups was it necessary to play in? No wonder he was a wreck - coping with the dynamics of the six groups with which he was associated between 1963 and 1971 in itself could have fueled his excesses of substance abuse. With everything in a rock musician's life heightened, often to negative effect in someone not well balanced, that was way too much testosterone immersion in too compressed a period of time.

Formed in 1970, disbanded in 1971, Derek and the Dominos followed the Yardbirds, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith and Delaney & Bonnie and Friends as Clapton's last 'supergroup.' With Bobby Whitlock, Carl Radle and Jim Gordon, refugees from the disbanded Delaney & Bonnie, Clapton, seeking a certain anonymity and desiring to recede into the background - impossible for someone of his achievements, who was being touted as God at that point - gave birth to what I believe to be my favorite song of his from that era, Bell Bottom Blues.

A YouTube commenter writes, "Clapton is such a gifted communicator of all of our fears and hopes," and I think that about sums up the power of this song. From Eric's voice and Fender Stratocaster, the naked anguish just pours. I'm sure some will argue, but it is far and away a superior song to the interminable Layla.

Do you want to see me crawl across the floor to you?
Do you want to hear me beg you to take me back?
I'd gladly do it because
I don't want to fade away.
Give me one more day, please.
I don't want to fade away.
In your heart I want to stay.

Man, those were some distraught lyrics. At the time of its release, I knew nothing about Clapton's chaotic, messy life. I didn't know he was lusting after Pattie Boyd Harrison, George's wife, to such a degree he was driving himself mad. I didn't know he had a world-class drug habit and addiction to alcohol. I didn't know how temperamental, hyper-critical of himself and others, and insecure he was until I recently read his autobiography, Clapton. Under the circumstances, it's a wonder he was able to produce the kind of music he did, and frankly, that he's still with us today, happy and healthy.


karmasartre said...

"...some distraught lyrics" indeed, you picked out the best, and the way the guitar drives and supports them is brilliant. Shock: no mention of Duane Allman. Double shock: he is not on the track! You are correct, sir. I have some embarrassing memory of pointing out to someone how I could tell the two (he and Eric) apart on that song... Oh, dear.

wendy said...

You silly. There were 3 Layla album songs that Duane wasn't in the picture for, and BBB was one of them. Just for grins, though, how DID you tell them apart? ;)

The controversy on this song comes in relation to who wrote it. I've heard tell it was Bobby Whitlock, and saw something from somebody who said they've seen his royalty checks, but I don't know how authoritative that was.

Linda G said...

I'm with you, Wendy...this is his best ever. I hadn't thought about it I'll be haunted by it all day.

His autobiography is on my "to read" list.