‘Mean Old World’ Revisited – Part 1 – 1970 Derek and the Dominos / Eric Clapton & Duane Allman

A few weeks ago, I published a series of blogs (three in total) concerning covers of the song ‘Mean Old World’.  I chose to restrict myself to the year of 1968, during which, at least seven were caught on tape and are now in circulation.

Extending my remit by a couple of more years, I would have been able to include a couple of more versions, including a personal favorite, but seven seemed like enough to do.

But with music (at least for me), too much is never enough, so let’s have another go (or two), shall we?

 

It was in the Fall of 1969 (September / October) that Eric Clapton first worked with the musicians who would become The Dominos, recording a couple of tracks with Delaney & Bonnie and Friends (when the single, ‘Coming Home’ b/w ‘Groupie (Superstar)’ was released, Clapton’s photo and name were equal in size to D & B’s on the picture sleeve)

Clapton did short tours of England, Scandinavia and the U.S. with Delaney & Bonnie and Friends as well as recording his first solo LP with Delaney Bramlett behind the boards and the Friends as his backing band.  The U.S. tour ended in early March of 1970.

Bobby Whitlock made his way to England that spring and began working on new material with Clapton; they then brought Carl Radle and Jim Gordon (who had been touring with Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen) into the fold and they became the house band for George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass” (Whitlock only plays on the jams ‘Out of the Blue’ and ‘Thanks for the Pepperoni’)

They also recorded a single, produced by Phil Spector, which was withdrawn shortly after being released as they felt it was not representative of their sound.

To this end, they booked time at Miami’s Criteria Studios with producer Tom Dowd beginning at the end of August.

The band struggled to get their ideas on tape at first but after seeing the Allman Brothers Band at the Miami Convention Center, Clapton asked Duane Allman to join them in the studio and everything quickly fell into place.   Within approximately eight days of recording they had enough material for a double LP; the earliest released track is dated August twenty-eighth and the last on September tenth, which makes the outtakes of ‘Mean Old World’, recorded on October second something of an outlier.

The band (minus Duane Allman) was in England for seven shows at the end of September, but were back in the States for a few days at the beginning of October.  The overdubs for piano coda on ‘Layla’ were done on October first and on the second, they did a number of takes of Little Walter’s version of ‘Mean Old World’.

Derek and the Dominos

Eric Clapton: guitar & vocal / Duane Allman: guitar /

Bobby Whitlock: piano /

Carl Radle: bass / Jim Gordon: drums

Recorded October 02, 1970

Released on “The Layla Sessions, 20th Anniversary Edition” (Polydor 1990)

Mean Old World – Rehearsals (14:55)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yd_lpNWGbuY

Exclusive to the 20th Anniversary Edition, the rehearsals offer five distinct takes of the songs, unfortunately all as one track, without breaks between the takes.

Take 1 (3:41) – the band applied a unique arrangement, with Gordon really shining, pushing the beat and adding almost martial fills throughout the number.  Whitlock’s piano is also a highlight.  Clapton sings with force and Allman’s bottleneck is pure pleasure, he plays from beginning to end, never faltering or failing to keep it the listener interested.

At the end, Clapton can be heard saying that he has “no guitar in his cans” (headphones) which may have been why he didn’t play.

Take 2 (4:07) – the tempo has been slowed just a little, and Gordon is far less aggressive, slapping the brushes rather than doing drum rolls.  Allman’s bottleneck still delights and Whitlock provides him the perfect support.  The biggest difference here is the extended coda with Whitlock brought up in the mix beneath Allman’s slide, and Clapton adding his guitar from about the 6:47 mark.

Clapton remarks “Too fast.  It’s a shame.” when the take ends.

Take 3 (incomplete) (0:27) – a snippet of the band feeling their way around the new, slower tempo.

Take 4 (incomplete) (1:50) – the band has already started playing when the tape begins to run.  Clapton has softened his vocal to better match the new arrangement.  He also takes the first part of break after the second verse with Allman comes in for the second half.  The number simply ends after the break.

After some studio talk they begin the “fifth” take (slated “Take 1”)

Take 5 (3:42) – Duane kicks it off with a lovely intro; Clapton’s vocal is his most committed so far.  It sounds as if Gordon is just using his sticks on the rims and Whitlock too is way down in the mix.  Allman again takes the first part of the break with Clapton taking the second.

The outro begins with Clapton and Allman trading licks and ends with Allman throwing in some previously unheard fills.  Clapton asks to hear it back after it is over.

 

Derek and the Dominos

Personnel and release information same as above

 Mean Old World (Band Version – Master Take) (3:39)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFxATG7mMUU

Everything now falls into place; taking the best elements of the previous version, Duane opens the number the number with ten seconds of Delta slide before being joined by the rest of the band.  Clapton’s vocal is wonderfully relaxed, the scratch is his throat a reminder that he is done crying and he will know be on his way.

Allman again brings something new, taking the first part of the break followed by a wonderful solo by Clapton with Whitlock sliding in behind them like a hand in a glove.

The outro takes on some of the energy of the earlier, faster takes and Duane reprises the fills first used on the previous take.

A delightful performance, kept in the can for twenty years.

 

Eric Clapton & Duane Allman

Eric Clapton: guitar & vocal / Duane Allman: guitar /

Jim Gordon: bass drum

Recorded October 02, 1970

Originally released on “Duane Allman – An Anthology” (Polydor 1982)

 Mean Old World (Duet Version – Master Take) (3:54)

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r3AOZxvUWPk

The sound of the two guitars weaving in and out of one another and Clapton’s plaintive vocal bring to mind duos such as Blind Willie McTell and Curly Weaver; one can picture them on busy street corner playing for change. With the spare sound, Clapton no longer sounds as if he addressing an errant lover, but is rather preaching to anyone who will listen about the vagaries of love and the wicked ways of the world.

A rare opportunity to hear to amazing musicians playing without accompaniment, providing an intimacy one is rarely granted.

The sessions for “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs” captured lightning in a bottle and Clapton’s work with the band, including the “Live at the Fillmore” set are among his finest achievements.

 

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