Best Guitar Riffs – The Double-Riff That Sings Layla

17 May

How can we have a Best Guitar Riffs section without the riff that fronted the essential rock “love” song? Derek and the Dominoes conquered the typical love ballad, and transformed the normal adoration tune into a spell-binding passion roller-coaster that portrays Eric Clapton‘s obsession with George Harrison’s wife-at-the-time Pattie Boyd. Everyone knows the basic story.

Clapton and Harrison were good friends. Harrison’s wife Pattie Boyd became Clapton’s obsession. After playing “Layla,” the love-rocker inspired by Boyd, at a party, Clapton confessed his undying love for Harrison’s wife in front of the sitar-wielding Beatle. And then Harrison kicked Clapton’s ass, right? Well, actually, no. Harrison was fine and remained married to Boyd for several more years before she gave in to Clapton’s charm and divorced Harrison for him. And then Harrison kicked Clapton’s ass in a Bruce Springsteen “Jungleland” dystopia where guitars are flashed just like switchblades. Actually, Harrison attended Clapton’s wedding party with Ringo and Paul and wished good fortune to the new couple. Women mattered and didn’t matter at all to these musicians I guess. “Layla” was made because of Boyd, but, did you know that its classic riff and rocking beat was not Clapton’s original intention.

Duane Allman, of the Allman Brothers, was the man you can credit for transforming Clapton’s vision of a ballad to his love into the classic riff we all know and play air guitar to. Let’s talk about the riff composition.

By the way, part two of the eight-minute epic was founded on a separate piano piece that was originally created by Dominoes drummer (yes, drummer) Jim Gordon. Clapton loved it and with Gordon’s blessing they recorded part two with Clapton playing acoustic and slide guitar and Allman playing electric and bottleneck slide.

Okay, on to the riff, or, rather, this:

“Layla” is composed of two riffs. The song can really be on our list twice. Hence why it is such a tremendous guitar piece. The first riff is Clapton’s famous hammer-on, pull-off, power chord epicness which sends crowds into frenzy on first play. He is then joined by an Allman original forming a guitar duet that juxtaposes sweet high notes with the lower-pitch main riff. The riff is commonly listed when top guitar riffs are compiled. On my list it reaches the top five easily. How can it not? It features the work of two guitar gods in their prime and there is nothing better than that.

5 Responses to “Best Guitar Riffs – The Double-Riff That Sings Layla”

  1. Mister STAP January 26, 2012 at 6:31 pm #

    Was looking through your archives and ran into this post. If you haven’t yet, you MUST see the following:

    It’s the story, from the documentary Tom Dowd and the Language of Music, of how Tom Dowd introduced Eric Clapton and Gregg Allman, and then produced Layla. It includes footage of Tom Dowd playing with the master recordings on a sound board, including isolating out just the two guitars.

  2. Matthew Coleman January 26, 2012 at 10:45 pm #

    That is an excellent video. How interesting. Thanks so much for the share!


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