Skip to main content

Putting the Finishing Touches on an Eric Clapton Song, 40 Years Later

Bobby Whitlock (at piano) and Eric Clapton perform Derek and the Dominos'

Bobby Whitlock (at piano) and Eric Clapton perform Derek and the Dominos' (Image credit: YouTube screen grab)

In 1971, hot on the heels of their successful debut album, 1970's Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, Derek and the Dominos returned to the studio to begin recording their followup disc. Sadly, those sessions fell apart—and the short-lived band's second album never materialized.

According to Eric Clapton, the 1971 sessions "broke down halfway through because of the paranoia and tension, and the band just...dissolved." Of course, the unexpected late-1971 death of part-time Domino guitarist Duane Allman certainly didn't help matters.

One particularly strong track from the doomed 1971 sessions, the rollicking, Clapton-penned "Got to Get Better in a Little While," was performed by the band during their 1970 tour and wound up on their live album, In Concert.

The studio version of the song also was released—along with several other orphaned 1971 Dominos recordings—on Clapton's career-spanning 1988 box set, Crossroads. However, the track was annoyingly incomplete. All of Clapton's parts were there, from the vocals to the emotive, wah-drenched guitar; Carl Radle's bass and Jim Gordon's drums were there too. It was, however, missing some vital input from Bobby Whitlock, the band's keyboardist and co-lead vocalist. I mean, a full verse was missing, as well as several all-important choruses. It was so incomplete, it was considered a "jam." You can hear it here:

And now for the interesting part: In 2010—just in time for the deluxe, 40th-anniversary edition of Layla and Other Assorted Love SongsWhitlock was asked to finally complete "Got to Get Better in a Little While" so it could be included on the expanded album.

So that's exactly what Whitlock did—and the results are incredible. Best of all, despite the passing of 39 years, Whitlock still sounds like, well, Whitlock. If someone didn't tell you his vocals were added 39 years later, you'd never know. And then there's the recording's incredibly crisp sound quality, which is actually pretty hard to believe, given its age and circumstances. You can check it out below.

In 2011, the crew asked Whitlock how he approached finishing the song. "With the gusto of 14 hound dogs in heat!" he said. "It is exactly the way I wanted to do it all those years ago. Only now it is even better because I have had 40 years to think about it."

Sure, it's not as historically significant as the time Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr added vocals, guitar, keyboards, bass and drums to two late-Seventies John Lennon demos, thus creating two new Beatles tracks in the mid-Nineties, but it's still noteworthy, especially to Clapton fans who had a difficult time dealing with the incomplete version of the song.

Since we're on the topic of "getting the ol' Dominos back together," check out this emotional April 2000 performance of Derek and the Dominos' "Bell Bottom Blues" by Whitlock and Clapton on Later ... With Jools Holland. The duo wrote the song—one of many incredible tracks from Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs—30 years earlier. Enjoy!

Damian Fanelli

Damian is editor-in-chief of Guitar World magazine. From 1998 to 2014, he was one third of Mister Neutron, an instrumental rock act that toured the universe and elsewhere and released three albums via Austin-based Deep Eddy Records. These days he performs with several New York City-area bands and can often be spotted with one of his many, many, many B-bender-equipped guitars. In past lives he was GW’s managing editor and online managing editor – and he still can’t believe he got to write the liner notes for the latest SRV box set.