Thorn Tree in the Garden

Album: Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs (1971)
  • Eric Clapton was already a legendary guitarist when this was released, but in this group, he was simply another member and did his best to remain anonymous. The other members were outstanding session musicians. The band formed after working on George Harrison's album All Things Must Pass.
  • This was written by Bobby Whitlock, who also sang lead. He wrote many songs on the album and although he is know for his keyboard work, he played a variety of instruments with the group. He recorded with Delaney And Bonnie before forming Derek and the Dominos with Clapton, Jim Gordon and Carl Radle. Duane Allman also came to the sessions and played on some of the songs, including this one.
  • Whitlock: "I was living at The Plantation in the valley - you remember the shootout at The Plantation in the Leon Russell song. I was living there with Indian Head Davis and Chuck Blackwell and Jimmy Constantine - there were about 13 of us in this house in Sherman Oaks in the valley. I had a little dog and a little cat. One guy told me to get rid of my dog and cat because there wasn't room. I took my cat out to Delaney's house in Hawthorn, and when I got back my little dog was gone. This one guy in the house had taken my dog and done away with it. That was my only friend - this was the first time I had been anywhere outside of Macon, Georgia or the Memphis area. All of this was new to me, and I have an animal thing. I wanted to punch him out, and I thought, 'No, you can't do that,' so I went to my bedroom and sat down. I was thinking about a snake in the grass and some other ideas and I thought, 'He's the thorn tree in my garden.' I had this beautiful garden built in my consciousness where I was safe and secure with my little dog and my cat, and there's this thorn tree - that would be the guy who had my little dog put away. I wrote the song and it just came out of me. I hadn't even put it on paper, and I went out of my bedroom and knocked on his door. I said, 'Come here, I want to play you something.' We sat down at the table in the kitchen and I played him that song. He said, 'Wow, Bobby, that's beautiful.' I said, 'You're the thorn tree. There's going to come a day when I have the opportunity to record this song, and the whole world will know about it. You'll know what you did to me for the rest of your life.' I didn't realize it was going to go on the end of one of the biggest-selling records of all time. That was the furthest thing from my mind."
  • Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs is a double album. It was already mixed when they went back to tag the piano part on the end of the song "Layla." As they were listening back, the producer, Tom Dowd, realized they had room for one more song. Clapton suggested this, so they recorded it and used it as the last song on the album.
  • Whitlock told Songfacts: "Eric and Duane and Jim and Carl and myself all got around one microphone. Tom Dowd came out and placed us just so; everybody was a certain distance in and out, and we did it just like that. I was sitting on a bar stool - Eric was to my left, Duane was directly across from me, Carl was to my right and Jim was between Duane and Eric with a little bell. Carl was playing a pedal bass, Duane was on dobro and Eric was playing acoustic guitar with a pick next to me. I was picking with my fingers."
  • Before he died of Leukemia, Tom Dowd did an interview in Producer magazine where he called this "The Perfect Stereo Recording."
  • The theme of the album is unrequited love. Says Whitlock, "It's all about love anyway. There is no love of this and not that. There's no measure of it. Whether it's a dog, your mother, dad, brother, sister, your companion, your horse or your neighbor, it is that one thing. It doesn't have a distinction. There's no barrier, it's just one thing that encompasses everything if you stop and think about it."
  • In 2002, Whitlock and his wife Kim played acoustic versions of this and other songs from the album at shows in the Northeast United States. They got a great response and realized there was a demand for these songs, since they hadn't been played in about 30 years. They formed The Domino Label and released a live album from one of these shows called Other Assorted Love Songs. (For more on Derek and the Dominos, check out our Bobby Whitlock interview.)
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Comments: 3

  • Chris L from Denver, CoWow. I was under the impression that Clapton wrote this, and it was about George Harrison's wife (who he ended up marrying). I must've been thinking about another song. Either way, it's one of the most beautiful songs of all time!
  • Lalah from Wasilla, AkI always connected with this song and knew it had to be about a pain greater than a love gone bad. I thought it was Eric singing too and would feel the tears well up when he'd cry "maybe some day soon, somewhere" because his grief was raw; pleading in my ears. To know that the act of someone killing his dog inspired it makes this song more precious to me. I'm glad that Tom and Eric put it right after the energy of Layla fades out. It's the perfect ending to one of the greatest albums ever created. Bobby, I hope that guy feels two inches tall whenever he hears this and I pray that you found a way to forgive him, thorns and all.
  • Spencer from Rhode Islandthis is a beautiful song, and matched with the end of Layla, a perfect way to end an incredible album.
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