Phish Halloween 2013: The Case for _Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs_

Joe Lopergalo on October 11, 2013

Our Phish Halloween series continues with another cover possibility for the Atlantic City run later this month. This time, we’ll take a look at Derek and the Dominos’ Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. Be sure to check out the previous installments where we discussed Bob Seger’s Nine Tonight and Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life.

Given that Phish has already utilized my second all-time favorite album as a musical mask (The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street), it would only be fair of them to play me my number one album of the twentieth century. This is where Eric Clapton’s stunning 1970 musical masterpiece Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs comes into play. It is hard to think of a more exciting musical undertaking by a band that is so steeped in improvisation and 70’s blues-rock.

Derek and the Dominos may have been a one-time deal, but that one album exploded Clapton into superstardom and solidified his stature as the original guitar god (as if Cream wasn’t enough to get him there). The combination of the monster chords and rapid-fire blues riffs of Clapton along with the southern-fried soul of legendary slide-guitarist Duane Allman makes for a one-time opus that is one of the greatest in musical history.

Indeed, the dueling guitar virtuosity on the album is what would pose perhaps the biggest challenge to a band like Phish who have but one guitarist. However, Trey has had a very collaborative year (He recently joined Furthur on stage for the second half of their Workingman’s Dead performance at the inaugural Lockn’ Festival) and has already mentioned an aspiration for a Halloween collaboration when he reached out to Peter Gabriel about a possible performance of Genesis’ 1974 classic The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. So it’s important to note that guest appearances are not yet off the table. In fact, the one occasion in 1998 where Phish did bust out the tour de force that is “Layla,” they brought out blues guitarist Seth Yacovone to help with the intertwining instruments.

With the exception of a second guitar player, Layla’s personnel could easily be interpreted by a quartet like Phish: Mike Gordon as Carl Radle, Page McConnell as the renowned Bobby Whitlock and Jon Fishman as Jim Gordon. Trey is honestly the only one who would have to pick up any extra slack created by having a single six-string, and he is certainly no stranger to filling up empty space.

Of course, having only one guitarist in the band could potentially make way for much more bass and keyboard interaction on what is an extremely guitar-oriented blues-rock album. A major reason I would pick Layla as a great musical mask is because of how open the songs on the album are. There is so much jamming on this studio record that it leaves plenty of room for interpretation. However, the album has very little interplay between other instruments besides the guitars. While there are some beautifully crafted bass lines and keyboard parts, there is so much room left for Page and Mike to do what they do best. Songs like the bouncy “Keep on Growing” or the sweetly Latin-tinged “I am Yours” would allow for Phish’s rhythm section to explore some fun new grooves, while songs like “Bell Bottom Blues” (which Trey has played with TAB several times in the past) or “Have You Ever Loved a Woman” would allow Trey to show off some of his well-honed blues chops.

Why They Might Do It: It is obviously an album of interest to the band, as they have wandered into Dominos territory in the past. While Phish has been teasing Zeppelin songs a lot this year, it would be a lot harder for the group to pull off anything involving Robert Plant’s howling shrieks. However, Clapton’s vocal range is totally accessible for any of the foursome to pull off. And let’s be honest, who wouldn’t be one-hundred-percent immersed in a completely type-two “Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?” jam?

Why They Probably Won’t Do It: While no horn section or percussionists would really be needed, an extra guitar player (and a slide player at that) would be a major necessity during certain segments. While Trey can undoubtedly handle a slide, he has only been known to break one out on rare occasion. As much as I’d sell my soul to see it performed by Phish, there isn’t a huge amount of musical variance on the largely blues-based Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, and Phish is a band that has always embraced change and variety.

Listen to Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs via Spotify: