Revisit Derek and the Dominos ‘Live at The Fillmore East’: October 23 & 24, 1970

This weekend marks the anniversary of some of the greatest music ever performed by Derek and the Dominos, which happened to take place at the iconic Fillmore East in New York City. Although the band does have one studio album to their credit, Live At The FIllmore East may be their crowning achievement in terms of audio recordings.

This is an incredibly easy to listen to album, one that combines original Dominos songs and Eric Clapton tunes with a splash of cover songs mixed throughout. Derek and the Dominos was a band that, essentially, came together during the recording of George Harrison’s first solo album All Things Must Pass. And while their shelf life may have been short, thanks to this album their legacy will live on forever in a very positive way.

The band wastes no time getting into an immediate early groove for the album-opening “Got To Get Better In A Little While.” A song that was planned for the band’s second studio album that never came to fruition, it features Clapton and Bobby Whitlock going riff for riff on guitar and piano, respectively, in a tasteful jam that stretches out to nearly 14 minutes in length. Whitlock adds some nice vocal harmonies as well as the chorus rounds back into place with the music picking up a collective head of steam.

This first track was pulled from the opening night of music on October 23. Here’s a taste of the October 24 version that didn’t make the album cut.

For the next number, this time drummer Jim Gordon and Whitlock kick things off on “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad?” Eventually, Clapton gets his guitar’s wah pedal going in full force and a crisp little jam ensues before the first word is ever sung. This is the first of many songs pulled from the group’s epic Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs album that would be released just weeks later. Co-written by Clapton and Whitlock, who again adds some impeccable backup vocals, it’s another one of the longer tracks on the album thanks to a whirlwind jam that never lets off the gas pedal, ably fueled by Carl Radle on bass. After coming a to head, the band shifts the tone into a much quieter, bluesy one for several minutes before the chorus comes back around one last time. The Fillmore crowd demonstrably shows their appreciation to the Dominos after this one.

This helps set the tone for “Key To The Highway,” a cover of an old blues standard that dates back to the 1940s. Clapton takes center stage and shows why he’s considered one of the great blues players of this generation, delivering one stinging guitar lick after another. Another Layla song, this one made it onto the album by pure happenstance. Allegedly Clapton and Duane Allman, who was prominently involved with the album’s studio recording – playing on 11 of the 14 tracks, heard the song being played in a neighboring studio and decided to play along to it. “Blues Power” slides in perfectly behind this, a song that appears on Clapton’s first solo album that Leon Russell helped write. These last two blues-heavy numbers are both taken from the October 24 recording.

The first of this two-disc releases out first with “Have You Ever Loved A Woman,” another blues cover that found its way onto Layla. This one is even slower and “bluesier,” if that’s possible, with the tempo never going past a slow shuffle. Clapton lets both his vocals and guitar do all the singing on this one while Whitlock adds some delicate piano fills throughout. Then “Bottle Of Red Wine” wraps up the first part of the album, another rollicking, blues-infused song that Clapton navigates with ease, with Whitlock jumping on the organ for assistance now.

The second half of this iconic albums begins with “Tell The Truth,” another Clapton-Whitlock collaboration pulled from Layla. The two essentially share lead vocals on this fun little number that ebbs and flows with emotion and soul. Once the vocals are out of the way, Clapton reverts back to rock legend mode and lays down a tremendous solo, spearheading one of the longer jams of the album. Up next is another sterling cover of a blues standard. This time it’s “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out,” originally written by pianist Jimmie Cox in 1923. Clapton’s bluesy drawl is backed perfectly by Whitlock and Gordon on piano and drums, respectively.

The Dominos then return to their own catalog with “Roll It Over.” While it wasn’t on the original Layla release, it did make its way on to the 40th Anniversary Deluxe reissue. It’s a classic rock number the sees Clapton explore a few different tones in his guitar play during a steadily progressive jam. The Fillmore crowd immediately recognizes the next song as “Presence Of The Lord,” made famous by one of Clapton’s former bands, Traffic. It’s the only Traffic tune on the album, but the Dominos do it justice as a mellow, laid back composed section gives way to a rapid, intense sequence of music before reverting back.

The final three tracks of Derek and the Dominos: Live At The Fillmore may be one of the best three-song sequences of the album, and, naturally it contains a pair of incredible covers. The first of these is Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing.” Whitlock’s organ fills give this cover more than a soulful feel as both he and Clapton take care of the vocals with ease. Not one to be outdone, Clapton then delivers a few bars of a psychedelic guitar solo that serves a truly fitting homage to the great Hendrix who passed away barely a month before this performance in 1970.

This jaw dropping cover is followed by what very well may be the best track on the album, a scintillating and exploratory “Let It Rain.” It’s the last of three singles from Clapton’s solo album and the Dominos stretch this one out and then some. Clapton and Whitlock go tit-for-tat with each screaming out, “Let It Rain” in succession towards the end of the composed section. Afterwards, all hell breaks lose starting with one more mesmerizing run by Clapton on the fretboard as the rhythm section just tries to keep up. Eventually, Clapton switches from wailing guitar mode to a heavy, funked out “wah” effect, taking the jam to another level. This eventually gives way to a Jim Gordon drum solo that goes on for well more than four minutes before the guitar finally reenters the mix. After a few more minutes of some fun Gordon and Clapton call and response interplay, the band explodes back in the chorus emphatically. It’s by far the longest track on the album, and arguably the most enjoyable as the “beautiful” Fillmore crowd (so labeled by Clapton at song’s end) would surely attest.

The album then closes with the last cover song of the evening made famous by another one of Slowhand’s former bands. This time it’s the great Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads,” although, in fitting with the tone of the album, it’s a much slower and soulful take than the version Cream made famous. It allows for one last great Clapton guitar solo which ends the album in grand fashion and serves as the last reminder of one memorable two-night run by Derek and the Dominos at the Fillmore that took place, truly, at the height of their powers.

This album is available to listen in its entirety on Youtube here. Also, be sure to check out the video below of all the great songs and outtakes that didn’t quite make the final cut.

Derek and the Dominos Live at the Fillmore East – New York, NY October 23 & 24

Disc 1

  1. Got To Get Better In A Little While
  2. Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad
  3. Key To The Highway
  4. Blues Power
  5. Have You Ever Loved A Woman
  6. Bottle Of Red Wine

Disc 2

  1. Tell The Truth
  2. Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out
  3. Roll It Over
  4. Presence Of The Lord
  5. Little Wing
  6. Let It Rain
  7. Crossroads

bobby whitlockCarl RadleDerek and the dominosDuane AllmanEric ClaptonFillmore EastJim Gordon