Bell Bottoms are pants that are very tight in the top but flare out at the bottom. They were popular in the '60s.
Derek and the Dominos formed after Eric Clapton, Bobby Whitlock, Carl Radle and Jim Gordon worked on George Harrison's solo album, All Things Must Pass. They went to England and played a bunch of small clubs all over Europe, with Clapton and Whitlock writing songs along the way. The band was in France when the inspiration for this song hit. Says Whitlock: "Eric met this girl, she was like a Persian princess or something, and she wore bell bottoms. She was all hung up on him - he gave her a slide that Duane (Allman) had given him and he wrapped it in leather and she wore it around her neck. She didn't speak a word of English and they had to date through an interpreter. That relationship did not last but a week. He started the song over there, then when we got back to England, we finished it up in his TV room in Hurtwood Edge."
This was released as the B-side of "Layla
." The song "Layla" is about Clapton's love for Pattie Harrison, who at the time was married to George Harrison. The entire album is about unrequited love, but this song is not about Pattie.
This is the only studio album Derek and the Dominos recorded. They attempted another, but the sessions imploded over what Whitlock describes as "Ego Problems."
Whitlock did not get a songwriting credit for this, but has no hard feelings: "That's part of the ego thing. Had I been credited on 'Bell Bottom Blues,' that would have meant I had more songs on the Layla album than Eric. At that time he had a massive ego trip going. In 2000, Eric played with me on a show. We did 'Bell Bottom Blues' and a couple of other songs. We actually played with all the other bands that night; Giants is the DVD that's out of that show. I didn't say anything to anyone about me having written 'Bell Bottom Blues,' I think it's just something everybody knows. They did an interview at the piano and Jools Holland said, "How did you and Eric come about writing 'Bell Bottom Blues?' In front of like 50 million people, I told the story. I said, 'The rest of it, you'll have to ask Eric,' and the camera pans over to Eric and he's shaking his head like I'm absolutely right. Eric wasn't looking after his business back then. He had management to do that. He was playing. It was no business stuff - nobody was into publishing or that whole thing. It was more of an ego trip with that thing."
The entire album was recorded in 10 days. They recorded this early in the sessions, a week before "Layla." There were some very talented people in the studio that made it work. Says Whitlock, "When you let a horse run a race, it will run its finest race on its own. When you get some musicians and you get some creative people, you give them the opportunity to do what they're supposed to do, and they'll do just that. Given the right circumstances, they'll perform at their peak. They'll draw from the source. These songs don't come out of your head. They're not something you sit down and figure out. They're things that flow through you - we were just instruments, just like the instruments in our laps. We were provided an opportunity to lock ourselves away and let the creative principle of the universe flow through us."
Clapton recorded most of this while lying on the floor and strung out on drugs. The band did a lot of drugs at this time, but Clapton feels it did not hurt the recording process.
Frandsen De Schonberg is the French artist who painted the picture used for the album cover. The band was staying with his son, Emile, when Clapton met the bell bottom princess.
Hal David wrote a different song with the same title in the '50s. He would later team up with Burt Bacharach and write many famous songs, including "Walk On By" and "Do You Know The Way To San Jose?"
Clapton performed an acoustic version of this on his 2001 Reptile tour.
Along with his wife Kim Carmel, Bobby Whitlock recorded a new version of this for their album Other Assorted Love Songs
. For more on Derek and the Dominos, check out our Bobby Whitlock interview