Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Eric Clapton




"Music will always find its way to us, with or without business, politics, religion, or any other bullshit attached. Music survives everything, and like God, it is always present. It needs no help, and suffers no hindrance. It has always found me, and with God’s blessing and permission, it always will" - Eric Clapton

461 Ocean Boulevard (1974)


Motherless Children/Give Me Strength/Willie & The Hand Jive/Get Ready/I Shot The Sheriff/I Can't Hold Out/Please Be With Me/Let It Grow/Steady Rollin' Man/Mainline Florida   

Yes, all of Eric Clapton's solo albums in the seventies were laid-back, but this is probably the most laid-back of all of them, and possibly the most appealing of all his albums. He had not recorded for nearly three years, going through a "drugs hell" period and sitting around, Elvis-style, watching TV. He then got his act together and started going back to his blues roots in his listening habits. People expecting "God"-like guitar solos, however, were to be disappointed.

Its influences are the blues, of course, but also country rock, r'n'b, soul and, notably, reggae, which was still not too popular with the rock fraternity at the time, although Bob Marley's Catch A Fire, from the previous year, had helped to change that. Clapton's voice is laconic and understated throughout, as is the backing and overall, it is a most relaxing album. As beautifully low key as a sunny afternoon in the house on the cover. Incidentally, though, I always felt the cover should have been taken on a sunny day, as opposed to the milky white sky it had.

                      
The rousing (comparatively) blues of Motherless Children kicks the album off, while Give Me Strength is a reflective, quiet slice of country-ish blues. The fifties shuffler Willie & The Hand Jive is as close to lively as Clapton gets on the album and Get Ready is an intoxicating, grinding piece of soul/rock, with slight reggae influences in the guitars, that almost "skank" at times. Clapton and the backing vocalist are in perfect sync throughout the track. I Shot The Sherriff covers Bob Marley's iconic reggae track quite convincingly, with Clapton and his band getting the bass, organ, guitar and drums right, which white artists often fail to do when playing reggae, like Led Zeppelin on D'Yer Mak'er, notoriously.

I Can't Hold Out is a sublime piece of gentle blues rock, with an addictive keyboard riff underpinning it. It is quite soulful too, and exemplifies a real change from the rock of his Derek & The Dominoes material from a few years earlier. The drum rhythm is almost funky at times. Please Be With Me is a beautiful, gentle acoustic number. Let It Grow continues in the same vein, a bucolic, almost folk-rock number that is nothing like any of his previous material. It ends with some evocative guitar from Clapton, but it is still pretty understated.

Steady Rollin' Man has Eric bluesily rocking on a grinding, shuffling serving of blues rock, that was of the style that would come to typify Clapton's work over the subsequent three or four decades. It is a great track, though, one of my favourites from the album. Mainline Florida closes the original album with another mid-tempo chugging rock number, full of atmosphere and understated riffs and vocals. Finally some guitar kicks in, but then it finishes, unsurprisingly. The whole album has been appealingly understated. You can just let it wash over you on a Sunday afternoon, as I am doing right now.














There's One In Every Crowd (1975)


We've Been Told (Jesus Is Coming Soon)/Swing Low Sweet Chariot/Little Rachel/Don't Blame Me/The Sky Is Crying/Singin' The Blues/Better Make It Through Today/Pretty Blue Eyes/High/Opposites       

Hastily recorded and released after the success of 461 Ocean Boulevard, which was his first album for four years, this one did not quite hit the spot in the way its predecessor had done. It is similarly laid-back in its sleepy tones, not many searing blues cuts to be found. There is gospel, folk, low-key reggae and the occasional blues, but overall it is a pretty understated album.
                                                
We've Been Told (Jesus Is Coming Soon) is a somnolent, relaxing gospel song, with Clapton's gentle vocal recalling quite a bit of the previous album. It has an infectious, shuffling beat to it though. Swing Low Sweet Chariot is also a spiritual, given an appealing reggae makeover. It was a hit single, and deservedly so as it is lively and enjoyable. Little Rachel has a bluesy backing to it and another decidedly drowsy vocal. When the drums kick in it develops a bit of a bluesy thump, it has to be said, however. Don't Blame Me was written as an "answer" song to Bob Marley's I Shot The Sheriff, which Clapton covered on the previous album. It has a convincing slow skank and Clapton's Marley impersonation is actually not as embarrassing as one might expect it to be.

Elmore JamesThe Sky Is Crying is the album's most authentic blues, with some copper-bottomed slide guitar. Singin' The Blues has that upbeat, Mainline Florida-style groove that Clapton would utilise a lot in the mid-late seventies, particularly on Slowhand. Lots of backing vocals and funky-ish guitar. Better Make It Through Today is a slow-tempo, almost comatose number enhanced by some excellent mid-song guitar. Pretty Blue Eyes is an acoustic-driven country blues that ends up with a choral mid-song bit, somewhat incongruously.

High is another shuffling typical mid-seventies Clapton track. Again, I have to say it does have some killer guitar near the end. Opposites ends this perfectly pleasant, but remarkable album with a perfectly pleasant, unremarkable track.

Sound-wise, the best version is to be found on the Give Me Strength: 74-75 box set recordings.















No Reason To Cry (1976)


Beautiful Thing/Carnival/Sign Language/County Jail Blues/All Our Past Times/Hello Old Friend/Double Trouble/Innocent Times/Hungry/Black Summer Rain/Last Night
                              
This is slightly different to Eric Clapton's other mid-seventies offerings in that although it is till made up of laid-back, bluesy folky rock, it is performed at The Band's studio with various members of The Band contributing throughout, thus making it sound very much like a Band album with Clapton guesting. You hear Robbie Robertson's guitar as much as Clapton's on Sign Language and that trademark Band organ is around a lot.

Beautiful Thing is slow tempo and melodious in a Band sort of way. Carnival is a slightly incongruous mock-Caribbean upbeat rock number. It is lively enough, despite Clapton's naturally sleepy voice. The afore-mentioned Sign Language is a duet with Bob Dylan and sounds very much like it ought to be on Desire. It has a real vibe of that album about it. Dylan's vocal makes it very much a Dylan song. County Jail Blues is a muscular blues more typical of Clapton, but still very Band-esque in places, particularly the organ break. All Our Past Times is an Eagles-ish slow country ballad.

 

The second half of the album is far more typical Clapton. Hello Old Friend is the most well-known of the songs on the album. It has a shuffling, melodic beat to it and another quiet, laconic vocal. This is the most easily identifiable song in the pop/rock style Clapton made his own in the mid-seventies. Double Trouble is a pretty convincing blues, with some  quality guitar from Clapton.  The gospelly Innocent Times is actually sung by Marcy Levy, who co-wrote the song with Clapton. Her vocals also dominate the next track, the bluesy, shuffling Hungry.

Black Summer Rain is a very 461 Ocean Boulevard-style number. Sleepy blues rock. Last Night is a solid blues to finish off what is a listenable album, but one that, for some reason, I do not return to very often.



Slowhand (1977)


Cocaine/Wonderful Tonight/Lay Down Sally/Next Time You See Her/We're All The Way/The Core/May You Never/Mean Old Frisco/Peaches And Diesel          

While 1974’s 461 Ocean Boulevard had been petty successful across the board, it was the album, from 1977, that was Eric Clapton’s big “AOR’ hit album. Yes, the bluesy influences would always be there to a certain extent but this was far more of a radio-friendly, American laid-back rock aimed at thirty-somethings and above, all of whom are still with Clapton to this day, selling out his Royal Albert Hall gigs year after year. Given the album was named after Clapton’s guitar playing-derived nickname, one may have expected it to be full of classic guitar licks. It is not, however. It is a very low-key, laid-back album in many ways. Many of the leading guitar parts were also, apparently, played by George Terry from Clapton’s band, as opposed to old “Slowhand” himself, which was strange. It is also probably worth considering that this very "middle-of-the-road" was released at the height of punk, when one would have thought there was not much of an appetite for this sort of thing. Clearly there was, and always had been.

While I have to admit I prefer a bluesier Clapton ( as many people do), I cannot listen to this album and not derive some sort of enjoyment from it. For many, of course, this is Eric Clapton at his best.

It kicks off with the bluesy rock power of Cocaine, one of the most authentic Clapton tracks on here. Wonderful Tonight is what it is - schmaltzy, over-played on the mainstream radio but at the same time impossibly appealing. I always enjoy it, even though I have heard it so many times.

Lay Down Sally is a fetching piece of upbeat country rock, as indeed is the soulful shuffle of Next Time You See Her, which does have some great guitar on it. We're All The Way is so laid-back it is almost comatose, however. It has a lovely, deep bass intro and a nonchalant, tranquil vocal from Clapton and some nice backing vocals from Yvonne Elliman (or maybe Marcy Levy, I am not sure). Marcy Levy certainly takes semi-lead vocals on the rocky, extended workout that is The Core. This track features some of the best guitar on the album. It is the one track that really gives us some essential Clapton. (or was it Terry?). Either way, it is packed full of musical brilliance across the board - great saxophone and organ parts as well as guitar. It rocks, big time. Clearly the standout for me, but I suspect not for many.


May You Never is a nice, steady, melodic slice of country-ish rock with another lazily effective Clapton vocal and a strong hook. Mean Old Frisco has always been one of my favourites - big, potent and bluesy. This is what Clapton does best, let’s be honest, not Wonderful Tonight. This is proper Eric Clapton. Peaches And Diesel is a effortless and enjoyable instrumental to finish the album off.

I have never been too happy with the various remasterings of this album over the years, finding it always a bit muffled and low, volume-wise. However, listening to the 35h Anniversary one again now it sounds fine - a nice full bass and a bit of necessary punch. Maybe I am just using a better system now. The live stuff that comes with the 35th Anniversary “deluxe edition” is excellent and well worth having.














Backless (1978)


Walk Out in The Rain/Watch Out For Lucy/I'll Make Love To You Anytime/Roll It/Tell Me That You Love Me/If I Don't Be There By Morning/Early In The Morning/Promises/Golden Ring/Tulsa Time
                   
After the incredibly successful Slowhand from 1977, Eric Clapton attempted to repeat the laid-back, slightly folky, slightly bluesy rock vibe on this album. Although it was more of the same, it hasn't had its predecessor's long-lasting appeal, and has become a somewhat forgotten piece of work. It is actually a lot bluesier and rockier than Slowhand. It is not a bad album, to be honest. Personally, I much prefer it to Slowhand, and indeed to 461 Ocean Boulevard, There's One In Every Crowd and No Reason To Cry.

After working with Bob Dylan on 1976's No Reason To Cry, Clapton joined up with him once more for a couple of tracks. The opener, Walk Out In The Rain is one of them, although this time it is not a duet, with Clapton handling the vocals. Watch Out For Lucy is a jaunty, upbeat piece of bluesy country rock. It would all go down very well these days, but one tends to forget that this was 1978, and punk was all around. Stuff like this would not have been well received by anyone other than Clapton's sixties fans who were now getting into dinosaur age. It is a pleasant enough song now, with a Band-like Americana feel to it. Back then, when I was listening to The Clash, The Jam and The Ramones, I would not have listened to this in a million years, despite having been into Clapton a few years earlier. In November 1978, when this came out , All Mod Cons and Give 'Em Enough Rope were released. The cover picture of a bearded Clapton playing guitar in a cosy room was hardly de rigeur for the times, either. Personally, I dd not need this sort of thing in 1978. I enjoy it far more now, listened to out of chronological context. In 1978 it was culturally irrelevant. It was, unsurprisingly, far more successful in the less cutting edge US than in the UK.

 

I'll Make Love To You Anytime is a seductive slice of swamp, laid-back blues with a feel of Dire Straits' yet to come material about it. It features some excellent, infectious guitar. Roll It has a loose  ambience to it, with some seriously impressive slide guitar with Marcy Levy on lead vocals again, although there are not many of them, just some improvisations. Tell Me That You Love Me is an appealing number similar to some of the Slowhand material. If I Don't Be There By Morning, the other Dylan song, is one of the rockiest things Clapton had done for a good while, full of chunky riffs and roadhouse rock piano.

Early In The Morning is a superb, eight minute piece of Clapton blues. Killer guitar and harmonica and questionable lyrics about girls coming of age. Great stuff. Promises was a minor hit single and is very much in the laid-back, acoustic Slowhand mode. Golden Ring ploughs a similar furrow. Tulsa Time is back to blues rock with a lively closer. As I said, it was an album that was out of time, but is not at all bad, taken in isolation.





Journeyman (1989)


Pretending/Anything For Your Love/Bad Love/Running On Faith/Hard Times/Hound Dog/No Alibis/Run So Far/Old Love/Breaking Point/Lead Me On/Before You Accuse Me        

After spending most of the eighties courting the AOR market, albeit successfully, Eric Clapton tried, with this album, to launch himself as a credible, hard-hitting mainstream rocker. It was not a bad effort either, despite the eighties synthesisers still floating around in the background. A lot of the blues had gone, however. It is far more "AOR rock" than "blues rock" and Clapton gained a new audience of late thirties/forty somethings who regularly sold out his Royal Albert Hall concerts.
                    
Pretending is a muscular, guitar and organ-driven opener, full of backing vocals and a strong vocal from Clapton himself. His vocals are more attacking and forceful than they have been in the past. Anything For Your Love is a melodic, standard piece of rock of its time. Bad Love is probably the most well-known track on the album. It has a synth beginning worthy of eighties-era Fleetwood Mac, but then Clapton's guitar kicks in but then it is back to that easy, driving feeling. Just before the chorus it has shades of Layla. Clapton contributes a searing solo in the middle too. Running On Faith is a sort of Wonderful Tonight remake, that ends with lots of gospel backing vocals.

 

Hard Times is one of the album's concessions to the blues. It is a laid-back, sleepy blues with some sumptuous saxophone in the middle. Elvis's Hound Dog is covered convincingly, with a committed, rasping Clapton vocal. No Alibis, it has to be said, is a classic slice of late eighties stadium-style, big production rock. It is the most representative of its time, but I still like it. Run So Far is a Paul McCartney-ish tuneful number, all very harmless, though.

Old Love is a slick piece of adult rock. Clapton's voice is particularly soulful on here. Breaking Point is in the same vein, but more pulsating and solid. Lead Me On is a tender love song, with female backing vocals to the fore and Clapton giving us his Wonderful Tonight voice once more. Before You Accuse Me is a fine, rocking blues cover to finish on. The only real piece of rousing blues rock on the album.

This was a better album than much of his eighties offerings, but I still prefer his bluesier material.





Riding With The King (2000)


Riding With The King/Ten Long Years/Key To The Highway/Marry You/Three O'Clock Blues/Help The Poor/I Wanna Be/Worried Life Blues/Days Of Old/When My Heart Beats like A Hammer/Hold On, I'm Comin'/Come Rain Or Come Shine   

This is a long-awaited collaboration between the the 74 year-old King and 55 year-old Clapton. In many ways it is more of a King album than it is a Clapton one, his presence is so strong and dominant and Clapton's respect is such that he almost takes too much of a back seat at times. No matter really, because King's contribution is so good, both on guitar and with his gruff, bluesy vocal. The sound quality is excellent too.
                        
Riding With The King is a copper-bottomed blues rock corker with both legendary guitarist giving it all they've got, both musically and vocally. Wonderful stuff. Ten Long Years is a thumping, classic blues. Key To The Highway, covered many times by Clapton and also by The Rolling Stones in the early days features Clapton quite a bit, although King more than plays his part, taking two verses as well. Marry You is a very Clapton-sounding mid-pace rock number. It is solid. muscular and full-on, however, nothing laid-back here. Very enjoyable.

 

Three O'Clock Blues is one of those typical, walking-pace but powerful blues rock numbers, dripping with killer guitar and "three o'clock in the morning..." sleepy vocals. The guitar on it is simply superb. Pure virtuosity. From King, I think. Help The Poor has a deliciously rhythmic opening that settles into a soulful shuffler of a track. There is something about it that sounds Van Morrison-esque.

I Wanna Be rocks rhythmically, riffily and convincingly, with King's vocals a bit like those he contributed to U2's When Love Comes To TownWorried Life Blues, also covered by The Animals in the sixties, is a typical acoustic and thumping single drum blues with a "lordy, lordy, lord..." lyric and a scratchy sound. Days Of Old lifts the pace up considerably with an all-out piece of lively blues boogie. Both guitarists give it everything, as do the enthusiastic backing singers.

When My Heart Beats Like A Hammer is a slow, dignified, piano and drum-driven blues with another gruffly glorious vocal from King. The pair's cover of Sam & Dave's Hold On, I'm Comin' is impressive, building up slowly before they come in on the vocal duetting. The guitar interplay at the end is stunning. Come Rain Or Shine is a laid-back crooning-style number to finish on with some good vocals once again. This really has been a most enjoyable album from two artists at the top of their game. You get the impression they both really enjoyed it. So did I.




Clapton (2010)


Travelin' Alone/Rockin' Chair/River Runs Deep/Judgement Day/How Deep Is The Ocean/My Very Good Friend The Milkman/Can't Hold Out Much Longer/That's No Way To Get Along/Everything Will Be Alright/Diamonds Made From Rain/When Somebody Thinks You're Wonderful/Hard Times Blues/Run Back To Your Side/Autumn Leaves           

Eric Clapton attracted a reasonable amount of flak for this album, as indeed he does whenever he releases one in recent years. It was said to be too sleepy, too slow, too "old" , too unadventurous. Maybe, but there is an honest appeal to it. He doesn't need to court the charts, or popular opinion. If he wants to do a relaxed, nostalgic album suitable for a man approaching his seventies, then he will. Good luck to him. It is a simple but mightily impressive record of largely covers, but nobody knows how to cover this material better than Clapton. He is laying back and enjoying what he is playing, just like Van Morrison also does. Fair play to both of them. Sure, you know what you're going to get, but if you like it, where is the problem?
                                  
Travelin' Alone is an excellent, slow-burning bluesy opener, with some great guitar and overall bluesy feel. Rockin' Chair is a laid-back, jazzy blues. It is full of authentic atmosphere. River Runs Deep is a top notch piece of Clapton laid-back blues. It sounds a lot like Mark Knopfler's post-2000 output. The relaxing, traditional, jazzy blues feel continues on the enjoyable Judgement DayHow Deep Is The Ocean is beautiful - melodic, well-sung and infectiously sleepy. The musicianship, it must also be said, is superb throughout this album, as is the sound quality.

 

My Very Good Friend The Milkman sees Clapton going all 1930's with some jazzy backing. Paul McCartney has also covered this and the music sounds like the stuff The Bryan Ferry Orchestra is offering up these days. I can't help but like it. It has a great piano/brass interplay part where Clapton introduces the musicians. Can't Hold Out Much Longer is a proper blues. Quite what anyone would want to complain about here is beyond me. This is a lot more of a bluesy album than was popularly thought upon release. The shuffling, New Orleans-style blues of That's No Way To Get Along harks back to those mid-seventies Clapton albums like 461 Ocean Boulevard. It has some sumptuous, infectious guitar bits underpinning it. Good stuff. Check out that piano/bass/guitar bit at the end. Gorgeous.

Everything Will Be Alright has a real bassy thump to it and a bit of a pop/rock feel too. It cooks at a level heat very successfully. I suppose many will find this sort of material boring, but if they do, what are they doing listening to it in the first place? Clapton has been like this for decades. Diamonds Made From Rain is a pretty "easy listening" it has to be said, but none the less attractive for it. When Somebody Thinks You're Wonderful is back to the 1930s again for some more singalong, crooning jazz. It still manages to get some excellent guitar into it though.

Hard Times Blues is an acoustic and mandolin-driven blues, with that 1920s/30s depression era feel to it. Run Back To Your Side is a stonking, slide-guitar blues. Autumn Leaves is so Chris Rea it almost is him. For me, this has been an excellent album, with a mix of several styles and not deserving of criticism from people who liked what Clapton did with Cream. I liked that era too, but I also like this.





I Still Do (2016)


Alabama Woman Blues/Can't Let You Do It/I Will Be There/Spiral/Catch The Blues/Cypress Grove/Little Man, You've Had A Busy Day/Stones In My Passway/I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine/I'll Be Alright/Somebody's Knockin'/I'll Be Seein' You  
      
You know, it is getting a bit tiresome hearing all the "Clapton used to be "God", where are all the guitar solos? etc etc etc...". After many albums like this one over recent years, you would think by now that people would have got the picture by now that low-key, comfortable, laid-back blues-influenced material is what Eric Clapton wants to do these days. If you like it, as I do, you will enjoy albums like this. If you don't then carry on listening to Cream, Derek & The Dominoes, The Yardbirds and John Mayall's Blues Breakers. Personally, I enjoy listening to both.

As with albums from Van Morrison, Elton John, Bryan Ferry, Mark Knopfler and the like, you know what you're going to get from an Eric Clapton album now. The musicianship is excellent, as is the sound quality. The delivery is affectionate to the material and you feel Clapton is enjoying himself. These are honest albums. I they don't pull up too many trees I am actually not too bothered. I don't expect a man in his seventies to suddenly find a new muse.
                
The album is the usual mix of covers of blues standards, some originals and JJ Cale songs that sound like blues standards, a Dylan cover (I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine) and one slightly cringeworthy song performed with his young son in mind. There are enough crawling blues numbers on here to satisfy me, as these are my preference, Alabama Woman Blues confidently winds its way along, just as it should do. This is no different to the blues stuff The Yardbirds did in their early days, so nobody should have a problem with this. Yes, of course, Clapton and his band can trot this out in their sleep, but why not, it is instinctively brilliant. More power to them. JJ Cale's Can't Let You Do It ups the pace with a bit of Cajun-style accordion in the background. Again, it is all about the effortless interplay between Clapton and his band.

I Will Be There apparently features Ed Sheeran, credited as "Angelo Mysterioso" but it sounds more like Tracy Chapman to me! Either way, it is a fetching, melodic number. Spiral sees the blues return with a slow burning, muscular blues. If you like Clapton playing the blues, you can't go far wrong with this. The same applies to another Clapton-penned blues, the excellent, Chris Rea-esque Catch The BluesCypress Grove has a flame that burns pretty convincingly, for me, anyway. If you find this stuff sleep-inducing, as many seem to do, then just stick with Clapton sixties/early seventies material. It's easy to do, people do it all the time with Rod Stewart.





3 comments:

  1. I think Let it Rain is the best thing he ever did. At least in the seventies. Then strangely enough my other favorite ones from the 70s were some of the ones that are kind of dippy and mellow but for some reason I like them because they're catchy or something. Especially Promises and Let it Grow. Of course after Midnight's pretty good too. But I'll take Cream any day.

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  2. Btw, I'm the same guy who you were talking to the other day about Bruce Springsteen but I don't know why my username comes up as something else over here. I don't really know how to work these blogs too good. I'll figure it out.

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  3. Yes, I had guessed that you were Kingclover from your musical taste and general style of writing. These blogs have their idiosyncracies and frustrations - it took me ages to get Aphoristic's site to display me as The Punk Panther.

    Regarding Clapton, while I'm a fan, I'm not a hard-core fan. Yes, I like Cream too, although they had their dodgy sixties indulgent moments that I have expressed in my reviews of their work.

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