Birth of the Blues #11 - Eric Clapton (part #2)

Humble student
Joined: 06/12/05
Posts: 1,579
Humble student
Joined: 06/12/05
Posts: 1,579
05/29/2008 1:12 am
Birth of the Blues #11
Eric Clapton – Part #2
By Hunter60

When Clapton first left the Bluesbreakers, his intention was to form his own “blues trio” but with the jazz chops and inventive and improvisational skills of Jack Bruce (of Bond’s Band) and Ginger Baker (of Manfred Mann), Cream became something much different and much more than Clapton had originally intended.”We were just three musicians who got together and had to come up with a repertoire,” Clapton said in an interview in the mid-ninties. He continued “I was throwing in Skip James and Robert Johnson songs, Jack was composing and Ginger was composing, and so this melting pot came together that was completely hybrid. When we played in front of an audience, we began to realize that they actually wanted to go off somewhere, and that we had the power to take them there”.

Although Cream was powerhouse in the studio, it was their live performances that cemented their reputation in the rock pantheon. Once on stage almost anything could happen from lengthy improvisational jams to utter chaos but always interesting. Clapton was striding high at the time with solid technique and an innate “blues” sense about his playing, but Clapton himself admits that it was Baker and Bruce’s jazz backgrounds and sense of daring that made the Cream sound as it came to be known. Cream only survived in its original form for three years, it left a legacy that is still being felt in performances from bands as varied as The Allman Brothers to Phish.

Clapton and Baker formed Blind Faith with Steve Winwood and Ric Grech almost by accident on the heels of the collapse of Cream in 1968. Originally Clapton and his manager had indicated that Clapton was in the studio on a solo project and that Winwood would play on a track or two. However the press and fans alike were well aware that Baker had joined up with Clapton on this project along with Winwood and eventually the record companies and press agents pressed for a tour and an album. Blind Faith was born. The band seemed to keep the underlying principles of Cream in place with lengthy, wandering solos but it was an easier, less powerful sound, yet musically, equally inspired. On the one album that Blind Faith put out, side two had two tracks, one lasting a total of fifteen minutes. However, the disc did produce two classic tracks; Winwoods “Can’t find my way home” and Clapton’s “Presence of the Lord”. The band debuted before 100,000 fans at London’s Hyde Park on June 7, 1969 and then proceeded to launch into their only U.S. tour before their album had been released.

What led to the demise of Blind Faith was Claptons growing admiration for their opening act on their U.S. tour, Delaney and Bonnie. In his autobiography, Clapton said that he felt it difficult to go on after Delaneny and Bonnie as he felt “they were miles ahead of us as musicians”. Clapton began to appear on stage and in the recording studio with Delaney and Bonnie and spending less time with Blind Faith. Eventually Blind Faith dissolved. During this lull, Delaney began to work on convincing Clapton to record a solo album and more importantly, that he needed to start singing his own songs.

In 1970, backed by Delaney and Bonnies band, he released “Eric Clapton” marking the start of his solo work that with the exception a brief detour with Derek and the Dominos, he continues. The debut album contained the hit “After Midnight” which revealed that Clapton had taken Delaney’s instruction and had taken up the mantle of singing all of the tracks on the disc. Two other stand out tracks from the initial solo release included “(Living on) Blues Power” and “Let it Rain”.

Also in 1970, Clapton formed Derek and the Dominos with former Delaney and Bonnie sidemen, Bobby Whitlock, Carl Radle and Jim Gordon. Again, much like Blind Faith, Derek and the Dominos released one album but that album contained what is often referred to as one of the finest rock love songs “Layla”, which was a heartfelt song written to Patti Boyd, the wife of Claptons friend and former Beatle, George Harrison. Mounting personal problems including the then unrequited love of Patti Boyd and an increasing heroin addiction, drove Clapton to retire from music for three years. After finally beating his heroin addiction, he was lured back to performing by long time friend, The Who’s Pete Townsend. Upon his return, Clapton went on to release several discs in the Seventies, including”461 Ocean Boulevard” “E.C. was here” and one of the highlights of his rather impressive catalogue “Slowhand” in 1978. Although since his return to performing, Clapton was never really out of the spotlight, “Slowhand” brought him back to the charts, registering a #3 spot in 1978. The album reveals that Clapton had grown as a songwriter and had learned that he could still wow an audience even when slowing things down a bit. “Cocaine”, “Lay Down Sally”, “The Core” and the oddly beautiful and weirdly simple “Wonderful Tonight” round out this stellar release.

The Eighties were a rather strange and dark time for Clapton personally and one of a sort of formulaic sense to his music. He divorced from Patti Boyd (whom he had married in 1979) who Clapton considered to be his greatest muse and his all too public battle with alcoholism seemed to be a weight on Clapton. He was releasing hit albums, still managing to perform, although there are many recollections of less than stellar performances, it was clear from many of the discs that he was simply going through the motions. Without dissecting his entire catalogue, even a cursory look will reveal the same. Although discs like “Behind the Sun” and “August” contained some solid playing, Clapton was not breaking any new ground. There were multiple compilations released along with a few live performance recordings, it was all starting to sound the same. Clapton had wandered away from what made him the guitar-god of the Sixties and early Seventies, not writing as many songs and tending to rely on borrowing from J.J.Cale and covers of others tracks.

As the Eighties came to a close Clapton faced a few moments that profoundly affected him; the first being the loss of Stevie Ray Vaughn. Clapton along with Jimmie Vaughn, Robert Cray and Buddy Guy shared the stage with Stevie at what turned out to be his last concert. At the Alpine Valley Music Theatre in Wisconsin, the four guitarists took the stage for a jam as the last song of the night. When it was over, Stevie was prepared to take a car back to Chicago but when a seat opened on one of the helicopters, Vaughn asked Clapton if he would mind letting him have his seat and Clapton agreed. Moments after takeoff, the helicopter pilot became disorientated in the mist and crashed into the mountainside killing all on board.

A year later, his 4 year old son Connor fell to his death from the 53rd floor of a Manhattan apartment building. Although in his autobiography, Clapton details the events of the day of Connors death, he does not reveal much of his personal dealings with the grief that closed in on his life during that time. In January 1992, Clapton, with the help of songwriter Will Jennings, was writing songs for the film “Rush”. He asked Jennings to help him pen the ballad for his son. Jennings begged off initially saying that the song was clearly so deeply personal that Clapton should write the song himself. But Clapton insisted and between the two, they wrote “Tears In Heaven” for Connor. The song went on to win Song Of The Year, Record Of The Year and Male Pop Vocal Performance in 1993. He included the song on his “Unplugged” disc but retired the song along with “My Fathers Eyes” from performance in 2004.

“I don’t feel the loss anymore, which is so much a part of the performing of these songs. I really have to connect with the feelings that were there when I wrote them. They’re kinda gone now and I really don’t want them to come back, particularly. My life is different now”, Clapton mused when asked about the songs.

Over the course of a few years Clapton had seen the divorce from Boyd, the death of his son, the loss of his mother and grandparents and relapse and recovery from alcoholism which would seem to be more than enough to turn most inside. It would not have been unexpected to see Clapton disappear from public life and yet he stayed where he felt at home; deep in the music that had been a part of his life from almost the very start.

Interestingly, he returned to the blues, back to the music that had so captivated him as a young man and inspired him as a journeyman guitarist. Never that far away as evidenced from his music throughout his career, it had clearly been in the backseat. However, his release “Unplugged” in September 1992 was a clear signpost that Clapton had rediscovered his roots. Armed only with his acoustic guitar and a small combo behind him, the disc was well received and a true testament to what mattered most to him. His releases since “Unplugged” have been heavily blues based. “From the Cradle,” “Me and Mr. Johnson,” and “Riding with the King” to his creation of the Crossroads Blues Festivals, showed evidence that Clapton has returned home.

When you look closely at Clapton’s career, it is as if it can be carved into neat quarters: blues novate, rock innovator, fallen and risen superstar and guardian and grand old man of the British blues tradition.
“ For me, it's about the music. I'm just the messenger, and I hope to do it as long as I live.” He’s done the blues well and it looks like they have returned the favor.
[FONT=Tahoma]"All I can do is be me ... whoever that is". Bob Dylan [/FONT]
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