In autumn 1970, Phil Gernhard booked what would be one of the Tampa Bay area’s most historic concerts. Nobody knew it at the time.
“Phil called me at home one night,” Ronny Elliott recalled, “and said, ‘What do you think about doing Eric Clapton?’ I had pretty much lost my enthusiasm for all the things we’d done so badly on so many shows, but I said, ‘Yeah, that’s great. Let’s do it.’
“He said, ‘Well, there’s a hitch. He’s put together a new band that they’re calling Derek and the Dominos—apparently he’s Derek, but we can’t use his name. The only way we can say “Eric Clapton” in radio spots, ads, and billboards is to list him as a member of this band, Derek and the Dominos. Everything has to be alphabetical. There can’t be a picture of him, just the band.’”
The Dominos album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs would arrive in November, but if the show (Curtis Hixon had an open date December 1) was going to happen, it had to be booked immediately.
Gernhard booked the show. “Nothing was on the radio yet,” said Elliott. “What the hell are we gonna do? It was touchy.” Initial ticket sales, not surprisingly, were sluggish.
Meanwhile, one of Ronny’s musician buddies was Berry Oakley, bassist for the Florida-based Allman Brothers Band, who hadn’t quite hit it big yet—at that moment in time, they were touring behind their second album, Idlewild South.
On the afternoon of November 28, the Allman band played an outdoor show at Florida Presbyterian College in St. Petersburg. Elliott had heard that Duane Allman—the band’s brilliant, incendiary slide guitarist—was featured on nearly every track of the soon-to-be-released Derek and the Dominos album, offering fiery counterpoint to Clapton’s passionate leadwork. Clapton had seen Allman live in Miami, during a break in recording sessions, and, awed, invited him into the studio to play with the Dominos.
Elliott told Oakley that the Dominos’ tour would be stopping there in a few days. Oakley, in turn, told Allman, who made plans to stay in the Tampa Bay area for a while, as the Allman Brothers Band’s tour was taking a break until December 4.
“I didn’t see Barry or any of the band after that, but the next week, when Derek and the Dominos came strolling in, there was Duane with Eric,” Elliott said.
“In the meantime, we had a terrible scene. Some little jackass with an attache case and a British accent came in yelling and screaming and flailing his arms about, saying, ‘That’s it! Nobody’s playing! We’re going home!’”
In an attempt to be helpful, the Curtis Hixon staff—well aware of the show’s pokey ticket sales, and unbeknownst to Gernhard or Elliott – had changed the marquee out front to read “ERIC CLAPTON.”
The little man, who was obviously someone important, was hysterical and ready to pull the plug. “After a lot of arguing and begging and pleading, he said all right, okay, and the show went on.”
Gernhard was nowhere to be found during all the afternoon drama. He did, however, make it to Curtis Hixon that night to witness the first of only two concerts that Duane Allman would play as a member of Derek and the Dominos (he jumped on the band bus and went onstage with Clapton and company in Syracuse the following night) before rejoining the Allman Brothers Band in Columbia, South Carolina.
In less than a month, Derek and the Dominos would cease to exist. In less than a year, Duane Allman would be dead (Clapton described him “the musical brother I’d never had but wished I did”).
Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs was an unmitigated flop upon its release, but over time it came to be considered the high-water mark of Clapton’s recorded output. A lot of the credit was due Duane Allman, who, critics believed, drove and challenged the British guitar god to new heights of greatness.
Of the two Dominos shows that included Allman, only Tampa was recorded – albeit by an audience member on a hissy cassette tape. Still, because of its historical relevance, it is one of the most cherished bootleg recordings in existence.
This story appears in Phil Gernhard Record Man (University Press of Florida, 2018).