Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Derek Claptoe's Other Assorted Love Songs

I've recently been listening to a recording sent to me by a reader of this blog. It's from an outdoor, rain-drenched, two-hour concert by Eric Clapton and his band in Germany from this past summer. It's an amazing performance, with "Slowhand" recalling his glory days with Derek and The Dominos. The set list is filled with blues classics, sprinkled with assorted material from throughout his career. There were also quite a few connections with the Fabs, which I will discuss later.

Clapton's association with the Beatles is well known. If it wasn't for his own stellar career, he might also be considered a "Fifth Beatle." He's one of only a handful of musicians to share the stage with all four solo Beatles (Elton John and drummer Jim Keltner are the only others I can think of.) He maintained a close friendship with George even after Clapton married his ex-wife, Patti.

Before starting this blog, I dug out Marc Roberty's Clapton book, The Complete Recording Sessions, 1963-1995. It was interesting to look at Eric's career from a Beatle-eyed view.

According to a 1977 interview, George said he met Eric once in the mid-1960s while the Yardbirds were on the same bill. Their friendship, however, didn't really start until a few years later. The first recorded collaboration was when Clapton played on a Harrison-produced track for the soundtrack of Wonderwall, near the end of 1967/early 1968, then played with both George and Ringo in June, 1968, for an Apple album by Jackie Lomax. In September, Harrison invited Clapton to play on one his songs, "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", which George felt was being ignored by the other Fabs. (On the White Album poster, Clapton was listed as "Eddie Clayton", which was also the name of Ringo's first skiffle outfit) . George returned the favor by co-writing and recording "Badge", with Clapton and Cream (with a bit of lyrical help from Ringo). Around the time of the White Album sessions, Eric bought George an electric Les Paul guitar, so that Harrison would once again focus on his guitar playing, after a period of getting obsessed with learning how to play the sitar.

The next few years had a flurry of Fab-related Clapton activities. John soon hijacked Eric for The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus. This was followed by live and studio work with John & Yoko, George, and Ringo. The debut Phil Spector-produced Derek & The Dominos single, featuring Harrison, was recorded during the 1970 All Things Must Pass sessions. During this period, Clapton also played with Harrison on the following projects, occasionally joined by Ringo: Apple recording artists Billy Preston and Doris Troy, Delaney and Bonnie (live), Rick Gretch, Ashton Gardner & Dyke, and Bobby Whitlock.

This Fab association continued, at a more leisurely pace, throughout the years.

Clapton played on Ringo's albums Rotogravure and Old Wave, and they appeared together at The Last Waltz finale.

Eric played on George Harrison and Cloud Nine, and toured Japan with George in 1991 (although a one-off gig by Harrison in London featured Eric's band without Mr. Slowhand himself ) They both appeared together again at 1992's "Bob-Fest", where they were two of the five lead vocalists on the Grammy-nominated "My Back Pages". Harrison's "Cheer Down" first appeared on the (mostly) Clapton soundtrack for Lethal Weapon 2.

Eric's Journeyman sessions featured George on two unreleased (at the time) Harrison songs: "Run So Far", as well as the outtake "That Kind Of Woman". The latter track was eventually released on the Nobody's Child benefit album. (A Ringo live track also appeared on the CD version). Eric and George played on a Jim Capaldi session as well.

George and Ringo appeared with Clapton on Carl Perkins' cable TV special A Rockabilly Session. Clapton and McCartney both played at Live Aid (but on different continents), and Knebworth 1990 (separately), but finally appeared together at The Prince's Trust benefit concert in 1986. Clapton joined George and Ringo at The Prince's Trust concert the following year. Clapton appeared with McCartney again at the Concert for Montserrat in 1997, and the finale of the post-9/11 Concert For New York City. Eric then brought things full circle by organizing The Concert For George, with guests Paul and Ringo, along with Harrison's widow and son. (Eric also appeared with Julian Lennon in the Chuck Berry documentary, Hail! Hail! Rock 'N' Roll.)

Of course things have gotten even more "intimate" over the years. According to legend, as George was getting more and more involved with religion and meditation, Patti tried to get him jealous by flirting with Clapton. Eric, in turn, fell head over heals for her, and turned his unrequited love into his 1970 masterpiece, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. (Surprisingly, the album was not a big success either critically nor commercially at the time. A disc jockey started playing the title track a couple of years later, and it finally became a hit. ) Clapton said he tried to ease his pain by taking heroin. Patti is also the subject of Eric's hit song "Wonderful Tonight", as well as George's most covered composition, "Something".

Eventually, Patti left George for Eric. Harrison said he was glad that she was with Eric rather than some jerk. In 1974, George covered The Everly's "Bye Bye Love", with rewritten lyrics about the union of his ex-wife and one of his best friends. (See Humorously Harrison listed Patti and Eric on the inner sleeve as being on the track. Against all odds, George and Eric remained friends throughout the years. George, Paul, and Ringo all attended Eric and Patti's wedding in 1979. Their marraige lasted ten years.

Last year Patti and Eric published their autobiographies. This year both paperback editions were released on the same day (What a coincidence !)

The last time I saw Clapton in concert a few years back, on his "farewell" tour, Billy Preston was on keyboards. On the current tour, Eric enlisted Willie Weeks on bass (from George's 1974 tour) and Abe Laboriel, Jr. on drums (from Paul's current band).

Listening to the August 15 Clapton show, it was interesting to listen to the songs selected in light of both books.

Clapton played five tracks from the Layla album. The opening song was "Tell The Truth", which could be seen as a commentary on his and Patti's dueling autobiographies. Later on, Eric dug out "Why Does Love Have To Be So Sad", and his cover of "Nobody Knows You" .

Clapton also sang Harrison's "Isn't It A Pity", which Eric originally played on in 1970. It features the following lines, "Isn't it a shame, how we break each other's hearts, and cause each other pain", which could be seen as his reflection on his years with Patti. (He was an alcoholic throughout their marriage)

Most of the show, however, featured Clapton blistering through old blues classics, which, of course, define Eric as much as his own songs. Both "Motherless Child" and "Motherless Children" were performed. Clapton has mother issues to rival John Lennon's. Clapton was brought up by his grandmother (which was a common practice in those days), as his mother was young and unmarried. He did not know his "older sister" was actually his mother, and ended up unintentionally developing a bit of a crush on the woman who gave birth to him.

The last four songs of the main set could be seen as a comment on his years with Patti. First up was a cover of Bo Diddley's "Before You Accuse Me" (which was already part of the setlist before Diddley's recent death). This song points out that the person criticizing him has plenty of faults as well. This was followed by his sentimental tribute to Patti, "Wonderful Tonight". The lyrics comment on how she has to drive him home, as he is in no shape to do it himself. This was immediately followed by the anguished cries of "Layla". The regular set ends with "Cocaine", which "Slowhand" now sees as an anti-drug song, but it was doubtful that he was thinking that way when he recorded it.

Even without the Fab references, the concert was great. Clapton sounds incredibly inspired, with plenty of blistering guitar solos, excellent singing, and a superb selection of material. Maybe he was rejuvenated by his recent reunions with Cream and Steve Winwood. It's wonderful that another of the old guard is still giving vital performances, and playing to his strengths. It's been frustrating being a fan of "Slowhand", since he often sacrificed great music for much more commercial efforts. Of course, it's difficult to blame him. He was allegedly disturbed when he heard that Van Morrison was dropped from Warner Brothers, and did not want to suffer the same fate. (Van claims he left). These other types of albums gave Eric a much broader audience, and lots more commercial success. He probably also brought his newer audience members back to the blues. Clapton is still in touch with his roots, and is playing with an obvious love of the music that originally inspired him.

And did I mention that he still plays a mean guitar ?

Here's hoping he releases a CD and/or DVD of this recent tour.

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