Eric Clapton can play the blues as few others can, a talent that both satisfied and tortured him. He believed that you had to suffer in order to be able to play the blues, so he was miserable a lot of the time. He was particularly unhappy when he wrote his famous composition “Layla.”
The real “Layla” was named Patti Boyd, or, more accurately, Patti Boyd Harrison. She was the wife of Beatle George Harrison when Eric Clapton began pursuing her.
Harrison first met her on the set of A Hard Day’s Night in 1964. A stunning 19-year-old blond model, she was only supposed to make a brief appearance in the film and leave; instead, she and George fell in love and eventually married.
George and Eric were close friends. They’d know each other since the days when the Beatles and the Yardbirds (Eric’s group at the time) were becoming popular. As they both became superstars, they hung out together more and more. They even contributed to each other’s recordings. Eric played a magnificent solo on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”; George co-wrote and played on the Cream’s “Badge.” George wrote “Here Comes the Sun” while sitting in Eric’s garden; he wrote “Savoy Truffle” specifically for Eric, who was having dental problems but still couldn’t resist chocolates.
George didn’t realize, however, that over the years Eric had quietly fallen in love with Patti. Eric told Patti (but not George) about his feelings, but she wouldn’t hear anything of it. She remained dedicated to the man who had written “Something” for her.
Already a tortured soul, Clapton was plunged into despair. In an outburst of emotion, he wrote “Layla.” Later, when people asked him who he was singing for, all he would say was, “’Layla’ was about a woman I felt really deeply about and who turned me down, and I had to pour it out in some way.”
You be wondering how “Patti” became “Layla.” The answer: Claption lifted the name “Layla” from a Persian love story called “Layla and Mashoun.” The tale had little similarity to the Eric-Patti-George love triangle. Clapton just liked the title. The song was recorded and released in 1970, but it flopped. The reason: the record was attributed to Derek and the Dominoes: no one knew it was Clapton, so it didn’t get airplay.
Clapton, who had poured his heart and soul into the record, threw in the towel. He gave up music and took up heroin. “I basically stayed in the house with my girlfriend for two and a half years,” he told Rolling Stone magazine, “and we got very strung out. Dying from drugs didn’t seem to me then to be a terrible thing.”
Ironically, during this low point in his life, “Layla” was rereleased and became one of the all-time FM favorites. . .then struck gold as a Top 10 single. In 1974, Clapton kicked the heroin habit and reemerged on the music scene with “I Shot the Sheriff,” his first #1 song.
Patti eventually divorced George and, in a secret ceremony in Tucson, Arizona, in 1979, married Clapton. Patti and Eric later joined George in a recording of the Everly Brothers’ old hit, “Bye, Bye Love.”
Then in 1988, Patti and Eric’s nine-year marriage ended. Patti was granted an uncontested divorce on the grounds of Clapton’s adultery with Italian television personality Lory del Santo, with whom he had a baby boy.
Though the marriage was over, the music lived on. In 1992, Clapton’s acoustic version of “Layla” became a hit, introducing a whole new generation to the song.