Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Eric Clapton: 1964-1970

After watching Lili Zanuck's Showtime documentary, "Eric Clapton: Life In 12 Bars," the one thing that struck me more than anything was Clapton's output from 1964-1970 versus his output from 1971-2017. This isn't really a new discussion, as the same type of talk has taken place regarding many artists, including Elton John, Rod Stewart and Neil Young, for starters. But what fascinates me more about Clapton is that, during those seven years, he was part of what are arguably some of the most important records in music and none of them are his proper.

He can be heard on two Yardbirds records, John Mayall's Blues Breakers, three Cream records, not to mention various live recordings, Blind Faith, and of course, Derek & The Dominoes. He began as a side man and peaked as a featured player. And though he had the most success, including his only Grammys, as a leader, the music released in the 45 years after "Layla," that is actually worthy of comparison to his first 7 years, would arguably not fill up a two-record set.

There have been moments of live genius. The guitar solo from a NYC performance of "I Shot The Sheriff" in 2004, remains one of the most intense live moments I have ever witnessed. His "Crossroads" benefit concerts always produced a few YouTube-able moments. But when we talk about his best solo records, his debut from 1970, or  what? "Slowhand?" "Journeyman?" "Unplugged?" What is really there but 40 minutes of playing it safe?

45 years is a long stretch of time to not even come close to why you are called "God."


richeye said...

A-fucking-men! Thank you, Sal!

Anonymous said...

Yes, 45 years is an extremely long time. At least he has somewhat consistently put out music over that time period as compared to Jimmy Page, who has basically wasted his post Zeppelin solo opportunity. Randy

Sal Nunziato said...

Yes Randy, but at least what Jimmy Page HAS released was mediocre.


Martin John Butler said...

I didn't buy any Clapton record since Blind Faith, bought only the Unplugged video, mostly to show students. It's understandable that as artists age, they rarely live up to their earlier works, it's human nature. That said, some artists keep growing, David Bowie is an example. The last Rolling Stones album I bought was Some Girls, and in all honesty, with Ron Wood, they got a little lighter in general. Clapton's brilliance early on was amazing, but Hendrix was more original, and as guitar playing advanced, Clapton continued staying with basic blues scales. Granted, he played them beautifully, but it did get boring after a while. Layla being his one true triumph I think, and that was with an assist from Duane Allman and Jim Gordon. Forty years of the same old same old kind of wears on you.

buzzbabyjesus said...

Heroin was probably a poor career choice.

Shriner said...

Admittedly, I never "got" Clapton's post 70's output, either. I think the only 70's album I really liked was "461 Ocean Boulevard".

I think the *idea* of Clapton is actually better than the reality.

For me, he works better (for a long time) as a "Guest musician" than anything else. It's hard to say that -- 40 years later -- he would have been better working as a member of a *band* than a solo artist, but maybe that's the case for him?

Scott Krantz said...

I think his soloing on Don't think Twice at Bobfest might have been his greatest

mauijim said...

My gang always put him down after Layla, saying he should have stayed on smack rather than releasing dribble like Theres One...
however with age comes knowledge and Spotify tells me Better Make it thru Today is one of my most played songs.
I play 461 much more than Layla today. I think it is his greatest work bar none.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Shriner, Clapton was never cut out to be a leader of a band. I suspect he would have been perfectly happy recording albums with whatever group Delaney & Bonnie had around, except that didn't last much longer, either. It's kind of painful for me because I always took Clapton in those pre-70's Clapton v. Hendrix debates.

Noam Sane said...

One of the last things I put together before my medically-induced retirement from a lifetime of Guitar Wankery was a 2-hour Yardbirds/Cream show. I had to learn a bunch of his solos from that period, and it was eye-opening. They were blues-rooted of course but weirdly skewed, like the solos themselves were on acid. Odd bends and strange approaches that ones fingers would not naturally gravitate to. He really was a genius in those years, he broke and re-wrote Berry's rules of guitar soloing and he made all of our ears prick up - they still do, listen to his break in "I'm So Glad" again sometime, which skirts cliche by sheer force of will - hinting at the familiar even as it flowers into the undeniably psychedelic.

Then, the creative retreat into a JJCale-induced coma.

Every time I hear about another Clapton collection, I expect the title to be "40 Years of Boredom." But for a few years there he burned like magnesium.

Sal Nunziato said...

I don't even hate Clapton's solo work. "Change The World" is a great pop/R&B tune, but it's not why Eric Clapton is Eric Clapton. Neither is "Slowhand," but "The Core" has a pretty cool riff. For a guy "not cut out to be a band leader," 90% of his career has been just that, and most of that 90% is kind of lousy.

gms168 said...

I do not agree....there is a gem on every record he has produced. I can't imagine a world without my copy of 461 or slowhand or another ticket. From the cradle is as good a blues record recorded by anyone out of England in the last 30 years. Give EC a break.The Winwood and Cream reunions are amazing recordings.

Anonymous said...

Almost dying from heroin and booze scared the shit out of EC and took his grit away. He just never had that fire in his belly again.

It’s a shame because he could have created decades more of magic.

Captain Al

Charlie Carr said...

I know of no artists whose commercial output has been on a steady stream of upward transcendence - each release more imaginative, more technically proficient, more emotionally moving than the last. I am open to feedback, correction and general bitchslapping. Does it help to remember that it was us, not him, who used the appellation ‘God’? Can he be accused of coasting? If that floats your boat - go for it. You gotta pedal pretty hard and pretty fast to be able to coast.
(I am in total agreement with Anonymous, above - imagine for a minute a sane and sober Bird or Hendrix!)

Sal Nunziato said...

@Charlie Carr

You know, I didn't write this post as click bait. I am also not an elderly man, fighting off senility, ranting about The Beatles or Michael Jackson. I'd like to think I know a little something about music and Eric Clapton. I am almost thinking there is a joke here, but I will trust my instincts and assume you are serious.

"A steady stream of upward transcendence-each release more imaginative, more technically proficient, more emotionally moving than the last?"

Are we still talking about Eric Clapton? What am I missing?

"Back Home"
"Old Sock"
"I Still Do"

That's just since 1998.

While there may be signs of guitar brilliance on "From The Cradle" and "Me & Mr. Johnson," these five records above are filled with half-baked covers and slight originals that make Christopher Cross sound like Iggy & The Stooges.

I am not in any way saying that a man in his 70's should still be playing with the ferocity as a man in his 20's. I'm just calling it as I hear it. And I absolutely do not hear "upward transcendence."

And again, this wasn't supposed to be a takedown of Mr. Clapton, so much as an observation after watching a very long and depressing documentary that couldn't help but show just how bad things got after 1971.

From The Onion:

DULUTH, GA—Debuting yet another arrangement of the classic song Wednesday night, singer-guitarist Eric Clapton reportedly treated a sold-out crowd at the Gwinnett Center to an even slower, somehow mellower acoustic version of his original 1971 hit “Layla.” “When he played those first 45-second-long notes of the opening riff, that was when everyone recognized it as ‘Layla’ and just went nuts,” concertgoer Leslie Friedrich said of the 87-minute rendition, which according to listeners featured three eight-minute choruses and a half-hour jazzy piano interlude before concluding with a lengthy fadeout. “I heard those brushed drums and glacial tempo and my jaw dropped. I was like, ‘Wow, he actually managed to come up with a more lethargic and neutered acoustic jazz-blues version of “Layla” than ever before! How did he pull it off?’” Sources confirmed Clapton followed “Layla” up with a vigorous, electric double-time version of “Tears In Heaven.”

With respect.

Ken D said...

Perhaps the first time Christopher Cross and Iggy Pop have been mentioned in the same sentence. Not easy to do.

Anonymous said...

While not quite what he was 20 years ago Richard Thompson has maintained an extremely high quality to a 50 plus year long career. So a musical career of the highest quality can be maintained.

EC dropped the ball but not all of the contenders will fall to the wayside.

Captain Al

FD13NYC said...

I too saw the documentary as well, and thought it was rather sad. I agree that that first 6 years were career shaping for him, and I've been sort of a fan for many years, but yes the drugs and alcohol did him in. For the next 30-40 years he coasted. But I must say that the Layla album is pretty much filled with strong, gut wrenching, heartbreaking songs.

I'm glad he's cleaned up and is opening rehab centers. Now he should just rest and take it easy.

Charlie Carr said...

@ Sal Nunziato
Good call with your instincts. Maybe I should have seen the documentary before jumping in. I don’t own any of those five titles above and if I heard them, I certainly don’t remember them. I do own and immensely enjoy the two blues cover releases (also above). I guess my post was a knee-jerk reaction to ‘kind of lousy’.
Again, my opening statement holds.
And i guess the three-legged ‘Clapton is God, Clapton’s not God(?), Clapton’s alwful (or lazy, or undisciplined)’ just doesn’t hold up - for me.
Respect too!

Charlie Messing said...

Sal, I'm with you. He knocked me out in the Yardbirds, and with Mayall too. I think he took 100 different bluesmen and adapted their riffs. In almost every case I prefer the original. I give him points for "Tears in Heaven" cause he made a fine tune out of an abyss of misery. A friend of mine saw the Dominos at the Fillmore East and fell asleep. His blues album "From the Cradle" I heard once - too neat and polished. I did once have the rare first Dominos single, and that one was great on both sides - but I needed money and it sold for a bundle online. Every Clapton album I've had, I've traded away. I am bereft of all but a Yardbirds CD.

Anonymous said...

Hello, please remain seated,

It’s an interesting, but frustrating, thing to ponder: why has such a gifted instrumentalist held back so often in the studio. His singing improved greatly over the years, but he often chose to underplay significantly on vinyl. Jeez, juxtapose There’s One in Every Crowd with the live album, EC Was Here. Same time frame (74/75) but very different approaches to his art. No Reason to Cry was a missed opportunity to shine with stellar players (enough with the pinched harmonics already! Play a fricking note for god’s sake).

I kind of lost track (interest) with Mr. Clapton after Reptile. River of Tears off of Pilgrim was the last song that moved me but even there the live versions put the studio version to shame. Artists!


neal t said...

Not only did quality output slow after 1970 so did the documentary. Surprised they didn't do any Delany and Bonnie stuff. Agree in general with your theory as I do in most rock artist but also agree that 461 Ocean Blvd is a classic album for him or any act. Not much knew there, but those Crossroads boxes he released in the CD goldrush days were cool and influential. I think his double live release from late 70's one of the greatest live releases out there.

Heather Taylor said...

Without reading any comments, I've always felt that EC was at his best when surrounded by others totally confident in their own abilities, allowing Clap to do what he could, even when not confident. Listen to B&D&F, with Bobby Whitlock on keys and vocals and others and you'll hear EC being the great collectivist - truly his best music. I'm not the only one to note that Layla was "his" greatest - because it was Bobby, Duane and Eric, along with Carl and Jim in the rhythm section, all locking, pushing everyone to his fullest - not dialing it in, not singing about stuff that wasn't real but truly purging, being cathartic, truly making ART - is what Layla was - the only thing EC has come close to recreating, sadly, was "Tears in Heaven" because he captured his true essence through his instrument and voice. Clapton is one of the most influential musicians on my own guitar playing; that said, "Layla" is untouchable, for so many reasons, for so many musicians, including Clapton.

buzzbabyjesus said...

My original comment was going to be:

The only Eric Clapton albums worth listening to are "The History Of Eric Clapton" (1972), and "461 ocean Blvd".

But I punted because I didn't want to be the first to drop an unwelcome snark bomb in a sea of EC acolytes.

I always thought of Derek & The Dominoes as a group, not a solo outing.

Anonymous said...

Hello, please remain seated,

Appropos of my earlier post, I listened to Reptile on the way to work today. It's better than I remembered it, more assertive playing than I initially recalled.

Also,let me re-iterate what otehrs have already pointed out: the 461 album has held up really well.


dogbreath said...

One of my friends calls him Eric Clapped-out which I think is a tad unkind but I can also see what he means. Since the 60/70s high points I've put it down to the "what has he got left to prove" syndrome and yet another case of resting on his laurels & going through the contractual obligation motions. I love his stuff up through the 70s but even though I'm still blown away by string bending at shows (all Greatest Hits Live concerts) I know it's not been the same for over three decades of recorded output. And now age may be putting paid to the playing too.

cmealha said...

Even Einstein's output diminished after his mid-20's

Anonymous said...

Letter to the London magazine NME in about 1978. ' How dare you call Eric Clapton 'God'. that is blasphemy! Eric Clapton is not God. JIMI HENDRIX IS GOD!!!'
To be fair to Eric, I doubt he ever wanted to be called God. Must be like an albatross around his neck. So, who is God now? Joe Bonamassa?