Eric Clapton is known for one of rock’s most riveting guitar licks from the intro of his song 1972 hit song “Layla.” The song has an impressive pedigree. It was written with by Clapton along with his bandmate Jim Gordon of Derek and The Dominoes. The famous piano solo was written and played by Gordon’s then-girlfriend Rita Coolidge and Clapton has given credit to his other bandmate, Duane Allman, for writing the song’s famous opening riff.
Despite the song’s impressive authorship, its inspiration also involves some famous names in rock history – Patti Boyd and George Harrison. Patti Boyd was a famous model from London who appeared on the cover of “Vogue” magazine and was cast in The Beatle’s movie “A Hard Day’s Night” in 1964. Boyd met Beatle George Harrison while filming and the two started dating. They married in 1966. Harrison wrote the Beatle’s hit song “Something” about Boyd and it was released on the “Abbey Road” album in 1969.
Eventually, Boyd found herself isolated during her marriage and became close with her husband’s best friend, Eric Clapton. As Harrison was working in the studio or studying constantly, Boyd spent more time with Clapton. One day, Boyd received an anonymous love letter and she showed it to Harrison, joking that she too had a fan. She forgot about the letter until one night, at a party, Clapton professed his love to her. Clapton also confessed his feelings to Harrison and asked Boyd to choose. She chose Harrison.
During this time, Clapton played a song he had written for Boyd which she called “staggeringly beautiful.” Both Boyd and Clapton had read a 12-century Persian epic poem by Niẓāmi Ganjavi. Recommended to them by a mutual friend, the poem is about the unrequited love of Layla and Majnun. The story moved Clapton because Majnun eventually goes insane because he cannot marry Layla. Clapton wrote the song because Boyd was his “Layla.” Boyd was still married to Harrison and remained conflicted about this gesture from Clapton. Again, he asked her to choose.
Boyd again chose her marriage to Harrison and Clapton fell deep into his heroin addiction. He struggled for the next four years to get clean. With the Beatles breakup in 1970 and Harrison’s draw to Indian spirituality, Boyd and Harrison drifted apart and then, faced more marital issues when it was discovered Harrison had an affair with Ringo Starr’s wife Maureen. Harrison and Boyd split.
After this, Clapton got clean and pursued Boyd. They started dating in 1974 and were married in 1979. Clapton also wrote “Wonderful Tonight” about Boyd in 1977. Though Clapton finally married his “Layla,” the two divorced in 1979 when it was discovered he had an affair with another woman who was pregnant with his child.