The Story Behind the Song: “Layla” by Eric Clapton

From the very first driving notes of the intro to the song “Layla,” written by Eric Clapton and Jim Gordon, you know this tune’s gonna rock. Originally released by their group, Derek and the Dominos, in November 1970, the song initially wasn’t very popular. Two versions later it achieved chart success, the first in 1972 and the second 20 years later as an acoustic MTV Unplugged solo performance by Clapton.

As the story goes, the song was initially inspired by a love story that originated in The Story of Layla and Majnun by 12th-century Persian poet, Nizami Ganjavi. The book moved Clapton profoundly, it was the tale of a young man who fell hopelessly in love with a beautiful young girl, then went crazy after discovering that he could not marry her. Clapton felt the angst behind the story, which eerily paralleled his personal situation at that time with his unrequited love of Pattie Boyd, who was his best friend, George Harrison’s, wife.

Its contrasting movements were reportedly composed separately by Clapton and Gordon. The piano part has also been controversially credited (and disputed) to Rita Coolidge, Gordon’s girlfriend at the time. Clapton originally wrote “Layla” as a ballad, with the lyrics describing his unrequited love for Boyd, but the song became a “rocker” when, according to Clapton, Duane Allman composed the song’s signature riff.

Clapton later went on to marry Boyd, once she was divorced from Harrison. Surprisingly, Harrison bore no ill-will towards Clapton, and he even went to their wedding with fellow Beatles Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney.

Clapton has always called Boyd his muse and inspiration for not only “Layla” but also for “Wonderful Tonight”, and has said:

 “’Layla’ is a difficult one, because it’s a difficult song to perform live. You have to have a good complement of musicians to get all of the ingredients going, but when you’ve got that. … It’s difficult to do as a quartet, for instance, because there are some parts you have to play and sing completely opposing lines, which is almost impossible to do. If you’ve got a big band, which I will have on the tour, then it will be easy to do something like ‘Layla’—and I’m very proud of it. I love to hear it. It’s almost like it’s not me. It’s like I’m listening to someone that I really like. Derek and The Dominos was a band I really liked—and it’s almost like I wasn’t in that band. It’s just a band that I’m a fan of. Sometimes, my own music can be like that. When it’s served its purpose to being good music, I don’t associate myself with it anymore. It’s like someone else. It’s easy to do those songs then.”

Pattie Boyd once said, “I think that he was amazingly raw at the time… He’s such an incredible musician that he’s able to put his emotions into music in such a way that the audience can feel it instinctively. It goes right through you.”

In any case, it’s a great song, with a totally romantic story behind it.

Tami Danielson is the main in-house blogger and Director of operations for Pop-Daze. She was raised in California and Florida and currently resides in Oregon. Tami has written for a variety of periodicals and has provided digital marketing services for a number of artists. She can be reached at [email protected].