Tales of Rock – All the Drugs, Murder, Adultery, and Disaster Around Eric Clapton’s Layla

You know “Layla,” the hit single from Derek and the Dominos, but do you know the wild ’70s rock star tales behind its creation? Drug-fueled insanity, hedonism, and death all left their mark on this now-classic song, and you can even say its release marked the end of ’60s idealism. Right at the middle of this musical maelstrom sit two legendary guitar players: Eric Clapton and George Harrison. The crazy truth of the matter is that “Layla” – and the bulk of the material on the lone Derek and the Dominos album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs – was inspired by Clapton’s obsession with Harrison’s wife, Pattie Boyd.

Harrison and Clapton were best friends at the time the rock legend penned the song about unrequited love, and the results were far from what he’d hoped for. While “Layla” has become one of Clapton’s greatest hits, the album didn’t see success until about two years after the band broke up. Derek and the Dominos seemed doomed as well, as each of its members fell on hard times.

From drug abuse to plagiarism to murder, read on to discover the tragic Derek and the Dominos stories associated with “Layla.”

Eric Clapton Formed The Band To Serenade George Harrison’s Wife
Eric Clapton Formed The Band T... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list All the Drugs, Murder, Adultery, and Disaster Around Eric Clapton's Layla

In 1970, Eric Clapton, Duane Allman, Bobby Whitlock, Carl Radle, and Jim Gordon formed the supergroup known as Derek and the Dominos. Despite the formidable talent assembled, the band was seemingly doomed from the start; even Clapton calls them “a make-believe band.”

Clapton went on to confess that his motivation for starting the group was to create a cover for his love songs about Pattie Boyd, George Harrison’s wife. “I had to come out and admit that I was being me. I mean, being Derek was a cover for the fact that I was trying to steal someone else’s wife.”

George Harrison of the Beatles married model Pattie Boyd in 1966. But Harrison was a womanizer, and marriage didn’t seem to curb his wandering eye. He took a trip to India, and when he came home he explained to Boyd that he needed concubines because he’d decided to model himself after the god Krishna. He began a string of affairs, regardless of Boyd’s feelings on this turn in their relationship.

Harrison And Clapton Shared Ro... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list All the Drugs, Murder, Adultery, and Disaster Around Eric Clapton's Layla

Clapton dated Boyd’s sister Paula at one point. Harrison suggested that he and Boyd go out with the couple one evening, and that they could switch partners. Clapton found he couldn’t go through with it and stopped the swap from actually happening.

Another time, one of Clapton’s ex-girlfriends came to stay with Harrison and Boyd post-breakup. Boyd considered the woman a friend, but Harrison had other ideas. He sent his wife to go stay with some friends so he could have a fling with the ex in private. Once he’d had his fun, he phoned Boyd to tell her the girl had gone and she could come home now.

Jim Gordon Might Have Ripped Off That Piano Melody
Jim Gordon Might Have Ripped O... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list All the Drugs, Murder, Adultery, and Disaster Around Eric Clapton's Layla

The famous four-minute piano coda that closes “Layla” was credited to drummer Jim Gordon. It later came to light that Gordon may have swiped the melody from his ex-girlfriend, singer Rita Coolidge. She left him for assaulting her. According to Coolidge, Gordon once “hit [her] so hard that [she] was lifted off the floor and slammed against the wall on the other side of the hallway.”

Coolidge says she was working on a song called “Time” while still living with Gordon. The couple worked on it together and even played it for Clapton at one point, but her portion of the melody was slipped into “Layla” a year later without her permission. When she confronted Robert Stigwood, Clapton’s manager at the time, he blew her off.

Clapton And Harrison Had A Guitar Duel Over Boyd
Clapton And Harrison Had A Gui... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list All the Drugs, Murder, Adultery, and Disaster Around Eric Clapton's Layla

During a party hosted by Robert Stigwood in 1970, Clapton admitted to Harrison that he was in love with his wife. Harrison was furious and demanded Boyd choose then and there; she ended up going home with her husband. Clapton later described himself as “a jealous Lancelot in the Camelot world of The Beatles,” and said one evening he and Harrison actually whipped out their guitars and “dueled” for two hours straight.

But another man vying for his wife’s affection apparently wasn’t a wake-up call for Harrison to treat her better. Boyd later confessed in interviews and in her memoirs that she was deeply depressed in her marriage to Harrison and had considered committing suicide.

After Clapton’s Album Flopped He Went On A 3-Year Heroin Binge
After Clapton’s Album Flopped is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list All the Drugs, Murder, Adultery, and Disaster Around Eric Clapton's Layla

The Derek and the Dominos album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs was released in November of 1970, but this declaration of love didn’t deliver the results Clapton had hoped for. Not only was the album unsuccessful with the public (largely due to the anonymity Clapton insisted on), but it didn’t stir the emotions he’d hoped for with Boyd.

She was touched by the song “Layla,” but remained married to Harrison. According to Boyd, after she refused to run away with Clapton, he produced a bag of heroin and threatened to take it if she didn’t come with him. She still said no, and Clapton sunk into a depression-driven heroin binge that lasted about three years.

In Clapton’s autobiography, he estimated that he spent the current equivalent of about $16,000 a week on heroin, in addition to the copious amounts of cocaine, alcohol, and marijuana he was already regularly using.

Drug Use Tore Derek And The Dominos Apart
Drug Use Tore Derek And The Do is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list All the Drugs, Murder, Adultery, and Disaster Around Eric Clapton's Layla

Derek and the Dominos only released the one album; the group fell apart while attempting to lay down tracks for their second LP. But between the band’s shady origins and its initial commercial failure, it’s no surprise that Derek and the Dominos called it quits. The rampant drug use of its members contributed to the band’s rapid dissolution as well.

“It frightens me to think about it,” Clapton recalled in an interview. “It was cocaine and heroin and it wore the band down and a hostility was released that hadn’t been there before. When drugs or medication enter the picture, something happens to relationships. They just dissolve. Whatever held us together got thrown out and the atmosphere was so bad you could cut it with a knife.”

The dark cloud seemed to linger over the band’s former members once they went their separate ways. The years of substance abuse took their toll, too: in 1980, bassist Carl Radle died from a kidney infection associated with excessive drug and alcohol use. He was 37 years old.

Duane Allman Died In A Motorcycle Accident
Duane Allman Died In A Motorcy is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list All the Drugs, Murder, Adultery, and Disaster Around Eric Clapton's Layla

In 1971, almost a year after the release of Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs release, 24-year-old Duane Allman died in a horrific motorcycle accident. Allman swerved to avoid colliding with a truck, and ended up being thrown from his motorcycle.

Allman’s death became further fuel for Clapton’s depression. In his memoirs, he described Allman as the “musical brother I’d never had but wished I did.”

Harrison’s Affair With Ringo Starr’s Wife Was The Last Straw For Boyd
Harrison's Affair With Rin is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list All the Drugs, Murder, Adultery, and Disaster Around Eric Clapton's Layla

Harrison’s womanizing continued, but it seems the breaking point concerned Maureen Starkey, the wife of Beatles drummer Ringo Starr. Harrison began an affair with her and Boyd had had enough. Not only had she considered Starkey a friend, but he claimed to be in love with her.

Boyd found photographs of the two of them in her home together while she was out of town. Once, she even found them locked in a bedroom together. Harrison finally opened the door, chuckling as he told his enraged wife that Maureen was “just a bit tired so she’s lying down.”

Clapton Finally Got His Dream Girl And Wrecked It All
Clapton Finally Got His Dream is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list All the Drugs, Murder, Adultery, and Disaster Around Eric Clapton's Layla

Clapton finally kicked his heroin addiction, and in 1974 Boyd left Harrison to run off with Clapton. They were married in 1979, and somehow the trio remained friends – the two men even began referring to each other as “husbands-in-law.”

But after all the dreaming, wooing, begging, and drowning in depression that Clapton went through to get Boyd, he still cheated on her. After 14 years together, Clapton got another woman pregnant and seemed to trade in his heroin addiction for alcoholism. Boyd divorced him in 1988.

Jim Gordon Murdered His Mother
Jim Gordon Murdered His Mother is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list All the Drugs, Murder, Adultery, and Disaster Around Eric Clapton's Layla

Derek and the Dominos drummer Jim Gordon spent the 1970s fueled by booze, heroin, and cocaine, and struggling with acute schizophrenia. During this period, he began to hear his mother’s voice, among others. He stopped sleeping and eating properly and couldn’t even play the drums anymore.

Multiple physicians blamed his substance abuse, and he was treated for alcoholism instead of schizophrenia. His paranoia spiraled out of control in June of 1983, when he became convinced that his 71-year old mother was evil. Gordon bludgeoned her to death with a hammer and stabbed her with a butcher knife. He was sentenced 16 years to life in prison and has been denied parole several times.

 

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Tales of Rock – Pattie Boyd

I loved writing this post!

Precious few of us will know what it’s like to hear a hit song on the radio and be able to say, “That’s about me!” If we do, we can only hope it’s not on a Beyonce track called “Uber Driver Smelled Like Piss.”

Even fewer of us will ever know what it’s like to have a former lover pen a top-40 song about our time together. Yet, there are still hundreds, if not thousands, such people walking the earth right now. These are the anonymous men who wish they had a platform to rebut Taylor Swift or Adele, or the unknown woman who tried to tell The Weeknd that he was probably having a stroke. It has to be flattering regardless of how you’re portrayed — whether your track falls into the “Your Body Is A Wonderland” or “You Oughta Know” category, at least you know you made an impression.

But within that select group is an even more elite subset of people who’ve gotten around enough that they became the subject of multiple hit songs, from different artists. This is the story of one such woman who inspired at least three of the most iconic love songs ever and is the subject of at least five songs overall (that we know of!). These tunes combined to sell tens of millions of copies and spawned dozens of covers — she is literally one of the most sung-about humans in the history of the species, and her name is Pattie Boyd.

Let’s start with “Wonderful Tonight” by Eric Clapton, one of the most romantic songs ever.

It appears in shows and movies like Miami Vice, Friends, Captain Phillips, The Story of Us, and countless crappy Idol type shows. Every time it’s in a soundtrack, it’s to signal the deep infatuation between two characters. A more historically accurate use, however, would be signaling the love between a character and someone else’s wife.

See, Clapton wrote the song in the late ’70s for Boyd, his then-girlfriend. Reportedly, he was waiting for her to get dressed one night and instead of complaining that she should have started getting ready 30 minutes ago, he just wrote a classic song.

This was not a new occurrence for her, though, and her romantic history with famous songwriters was a long and tumultuous one. Years earlier, in 1968, George Harrison of the Beatles had written the song “Something” for his then-wife … also Pattie Boyd:

That’s “Something” as in “Something in the way she moves … ” aka, another of the most romantic songs in history. Harrison later changed his story and denied the song was for Boyd, but you would, too, after what happened next.

See, Harrison and Clapton were good friends at the time, which is why it was awkward when Clapton fell madly in love with Harrison’s wife. He even wrote a song for her. No, not “Wonderful Tonight,” this was still years earlier — we’re talking about “Layla,” the epic seven-minute rocker that, thanks to Goodfellas, you can’t hear without picturing dead mobsters in a ditch somewhere.

So, that’s another one of the greatest love songs ever. Upon hearing it, Boyd … didn’t care much for it, apparently, because she didn’t respond to Clapton’s advances, sending him into a four-year heroin binge. Admit it: How many of you out there are now sad that you never got the chance to know this woman?

It was only after that, when her marriage to Harrison had completely fallen apart, that she finally hooked up with Clapton. But wait, there’s more! According to Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones, he and Harrison slept with each other’s wives in the ’70s and Wood wrote the songs “Mystifies Me” …

And “Breathe on me” about Boyd as well.

 

Look, let’s just assume every love song is about Pattie Boyd unless you hear otherwise.

 

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Tales of Rock – Eric Clapton

Universally hailed as one of the greatest guitarists of all time, Eric Clapton spent much of his early career furiously inhaling massive quantities of alcohol and drugs, possibly worried the world’s supply was about to run out. Did it interfere with his music? Yes and no. In his own words:

“I’d wander off the stage and somebody would have to try to persuade me to go back on. There seemed to be a postpsychedelia drunkenness that swept over everybody in the entertainment business during the early 70s. To be on stage, you were almost expected to be drunk. I remember doing one entire show lying down on the stage with the microphone stand lying beside me, and nobody batted an eyelid.”

That’s right: Eric Clapton was just lying down during a rock concert and that was perfectly cool. Encouraged even. The amazing thing is, he probably just killed that set too.

A Typical Day If You Were Eric Clapton’s Personal Assistant

Eric Clapton: Look, I’m going to finish drinking this children’s pool full of rye whiskey, and you’re going to get 80 feet of high strength fishing line, then learn everything you can about the art of puppetry, and meet me at the show in three hours. OK? Break!

You: Man, there has got to be a better use of my Liberal Arts degree.

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day at 8am EST.

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