Sunday, March 11, 2018

Now Playing: Derek and the Dominos-'Keep On Growing' Live On the Johnny Cash Show 1970

Flickering on the flat screen in the 'rock room' this fine evening is the unique performance and collaboration that took place on the Johnny Cash Show, November 5, 1970, featuring a fantastic musical display by Derek and the Domino's. Available as two video clips that have circulated freely for a few years and now also as two bonus audio tracks that recently came to light on the 40th anniversary of the LP Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs box set. This loose and well played performance is a beautiful byline in the pages of rock history available for your listening pleasure, viewing and enjoyment. The original performance order appears to be 'It's Too Late' (Video), 'Got To Get Better In a Little While', Matchbox (Video) and 'Blues Power'.

Settled in front of a studio audience and backed by a royal blue background crossed by red British bars, the band begins a spacious and clean version of the Chuck Willis penned tune via Buddy Holly, 'It's Too Late'. An uncluttered stage is manned by the core line up of Carl Radle, Bobby Whitlock and Jim Gordon as well as Clapton who is picking through a silver faced Fender Twin. Cash told the crowd they may 'detect some country blues picking' in this next performance, which is more than accurate. Whitlock and Clapton's overlapping and harmonized vocals elicit shades of Clapton favorite, 'The Band' and their vocal approach. One of the only and best visual documents of the Domino's to exist, this video clip spotlights the practiced and virtuosic group, no strangers to big performances, laid back and slightly jouncing like a rustic wooden rocking chair. Clapton looks sharp with soft groovy mullet and slick high collared black dress shirt. Radle and Gordon sit off to the side, a rhythm section padlocked together as tight as any group hailing from Muscle Shoals or Memphis.
Clapton's solo takes two spins around the block on 'Brownie', his beloved Strat with ridden hard Maple fret board, developing a smooth solo containing a glistening chrome finish. Clapton chokes the neck, squeezing sugar sweet drops, clean as spring water, enunciating the dusty blues theme. When the band hunts down the chorus again, Whitlock pops veins replying to Clapton's anguished and recently discovered confident vocals.

Not available on video, but as a bonus audio track on the anniversary edition of Layla, the version of 'Got To Get Better In A Little While' contains all of the sturdy elements that make the Domino's performances of 1970 awe inspiring. A loose and crisp aesthetic covers the truncated version of a song that is normally extended to extravagant lengths in live concert appearances. Whitlock's natural 'knock on wood' piano contrasts with Clapton's tear drop funky guitar attack. This version is concise and wrapped in a tight little package, expanding enough to let E.C. unravel the knots of the solo segment while gently tickling the underside of the tracks melody. This song sits in contrast to the preceding 'It's Too Late', in theme, but not in instrumental prowess, the song allows the Cash audience to witness the diversity of influence contained within the group.
A special rock anomaly and highlight of the entire performance follows next when rockabilly legend Carl Perkins joins the band as well as Johnny Cash on acoustic guitar for a striking and sparky version of Perkins 'Matchbox'. Before they begin, on the existing video Cash compliments the band on their influence and interpretation of 'country blues' and prepares to join the band for the tune. A priceless and rare moment is witnessing these three legends of music standing together as an imposing front line of guitars, prepping to fire off this rock classic. A chunky, funky ass shaking rendition follows with all three principals singing together on the introductory verses, before sharing lines for the following lyrics. Grins and sly looks of satisfaction are traded between the musicians, captured for posterity on this priceless video footage.

Perkins takes the first solo, a clinic in rock riffing, building and sliding down the fretboard like an amusement park escape. All Clapton can do is shake his head and loos on with a Christmas morning child's expression. Clapton then takes the second solo with Perkins looking on, Clapton shows a professional restraint while still hitting all of the correct buttons. He quotes Berry, Perkin's, Holly and numerous other avenues of rock influence in a short 12 second solo that receives great applause and drives the song to extravagant heights. Whoohoo!----greatness.

The last song from the Domino's appearance on the Johnny Cash Show is flexing and bulging version of 'Blues Power', the perfect addition to a short set that shines the light through their variegated and impressive arsenal of influence; encompassing blues, country, R and B, improvisation and prime musicianship. Cash exclaims to the studio audience that if the producers will let them Eric has agreed to do one more song. 'Blues Power' breaks through the wall in an aggressive fashion, the Domino's shaking and initiating themselves into a boiling tincture. This version competes admirably with the multiple live versions that circulate. Again, the band is as loose as a bad wheel, playing with confidence and attitude in front of their childhood idols. Clapton takes two biting solos, Radle digs bass trenches underneath Clapton's fluttering blues fly-by's. The jam leaves the studio taking on a life of its own just before concluding suddenly, reigned in by the confines of a performance for a television show.
The brief but deep four song performance of Derek and the Domino's on the Johnny Cash show, not only immortalizes their only television appearance, it grasps the moment with a couple of rock legends joining in on the festivities. The ability to view this formative moment in Clapton's career with some of the finest musicians of the time is reason enough to check it out. The two circulating videos are available to view officially on DVD releases and as of 2011 the remaining tracks have found their way out of the vaults.

'It's Too Late'-Johnny Cash Show

Got To Get Better In A Little While-Johnny Cash Show

Matchbox-Johnny Cash Show

Blues Power-Johnny Cash Show

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