Eric Clapton

Greatly Appreciated

Eric Clapton  (born 30 March 1945), is an English rock and blues guitarist, singer and songwriter.  He is the only three-time inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame:  once as a solo artist and separately as a member of the Yardbirds and Cream.  Clapton has been referred to as one of the most important and influential guitarists of all time.  Clapton ranked second in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” and fourth in Gibson’s “Top 50 Guitarists of All Time”.  He was also named number five in Time magazine’s list of “The 10 Best Electric Guitar Players” in 2009.  (More from Wikipedia)



Eric Clapton was a member of both Cream and Blind Faith, and he has been in several other rock bands as well over the years, mostly though not entirely before he began his solo career in 1970.  Eric Clapton is the only three-time inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame:  as a solo artist, as a member of the Yardbirds, and as a member of Cream


The Yardbirds was one of my very favorite British Invasion bands.  Casual rock music fans might know the band as successively including within its ranks three of the greatest rock guitarists of all time:  Eric ClaptonJeff Beck, and Jimmy Page.  That is, after Eric Clapton left the Yardbirds, he suggested Jimmy Page as his replacement; but Page was highly successful as a session guitarist in this period and instead recommended Jeff Beck, who played his first gig with the band just two days after Clapton left.  Jimmy Page later joined the Yardbirds after Jeff Beck moved on. 


The core of the Yardbirds though is Paul Samwell-Smith (bass guitar and producer), Keith Relf (vocalist and harmonica), Chris Dreja (bass and rhythm guitar), and Jim McCarty (drums); together with original lead guitarist Anthony “Top” Topham, the band originally assembled in May 1963 under the name the Blue Sounds before settling on the Yardbirds, a slang term for hobos waiting around for a freight train, and also a nickname for legendary jazz musician Charlie Parker.  In September 1963the Yardbirds took over as the house band for the Crawdaddy Club in Richmond, succeeding the Rolling Stones


As with many of the British Invasion bands, the Yardbirds initially played American R&B and blues songs rather than their own compositions.  As reported in Wikipedia, during their days at the Crawdaddy Club:  “They drew their repertoire from the Chicago blues of Howlin’ WolfMuddy WatersBo DiddleySonny Boy Williamson II, and Elmore James, including ‘Smokestack Lightning’, ‘Good Morning Little School Girl’, ‘Boom Boom’, ‘I Wish You Would’, ‘Rollin’ and Tumblin’’, and ‘I’m a Man’.”  In fact, Eric Clapton left the Yardbirds in March 1965 as a protest when the band finally got a hit single with a song that did not come from this milieu, “For Your Love” (written by Graham Gouldman, later a member of 10cc). 


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The frequent hit songs by the Yardbirds – “I’m a Man”, “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago”, For Your Love, “Heart Full of Soul”, “Shapes of Things”, “Over Under Sideways Down”, etc. – hit my eardrums with at least as powerful an impact as the greatest Rolling Stones songs, like “Brown Sugar”, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, “Paint it Black”, Get off of My CloudSympathy for the Devil, “Street Fighting Man”, etc.  To me though, these songs sound every bit as fresh to me today, probably because they haven’t been played to death on oldies’ radio as much as anything else.  


It wasn't just the hits though; their album tracks also sound terrific, but it is as a live band that the Yardbirds truly cook.  On my first Yardbirds album, The Yardbirds’ Greatest Hits, one live track was included, a scorching cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning”; as much as I loved the hit songs that made up most of the tracks, it quickly became one of my favorite songs on the album.  Smokestack Lightning was taken from the band’s first (British) album, Five Live Yardbirds, described by Allmusic as “the first important – indeed, essential – live album to come out of the 1960’s British rock & roll boom.”  And how many rock bands have the guts to put out a concert album as their debut release?  Five Live Yardbirds wasn’t released in the U.S. until a CD finally came out in the 1980’s, although one side of Having a Rave up with the Yardbirds was composed of four songs from the album.  


The muddy sound on many of the Yardbirds songs over the years has been greatly improved as better master tapes have surfaced; Allmusic notes the Repertoire Records releases of the 1990’s as showing significant improvement.  Cheap compilation albums with names like Eric Clapton and the Yardbirds and Jeff Beck and the Yardbirds usually feature assortments of uneven performances, and they also have not helped the Yardbirds’ reputation since the 1960’s.  But for those in the know, and if you find the right albums, rock music doesn’t get much better than this. 


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Eric Clapton joined John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers after leaving the Yardbirds in order to concentrate on the blues; he was in the band from April to August 1965, and from November 1965 to July 1966.  John Mayall’s band was a revolving door of famous British musicians; but even more remarkably, bandmembers who left John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers often helped form other rock bands.  Examples include Jack Bruce, later a member of Cream with Clapton.  Shortly after Eric Clapton left for good, John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers consisted of John Mayall plus three of the founding members of Fleetwood Mac:  Peter GreenJohn McVie, and Mick Fleetwood.  Others include Mick Taylor, the first new musician to join the Rolling Stones since their classic line-up was formed; Jon Mark and Johnny Almond, who later formed Mark-Almond, among other musical accomplishments (not to be confused with Marc Almond of Soft Cell); top English drummer Aynsley Dunbar; and Andy Fraser, a founding member of Free


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To some extent at least, the formation of Cream grew out of an English all-star band called the Powerhouse that was assembled solely to provide music for a 1966 compilation album called What’s Shakin’ that announced the arrival of Elektra Records in Great Britain.  Bandmembers included Eric Clapton (guitar); Jack Bruce (bass guitar) and Paul Jones (harmonica) from Manfred Mann; Stevie Winwood (lead vocals) and Pete York (drums) from the Spencer Davis Group; and Ben Palmer (piano), who had briefly been in a band with Clapton in 1965.  Ginger Baker was originally slated to be the drummer for the group but was unavailable.  This remarkable line-up included two members of Cream (and almost all three), plus two future members of Blind Faith (Clapton and Winwood).  What’s more, Cream later recorded two of the only three songs ever made by this assemblage, Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads” and an instrumental called “Steppin’ Out” that Eric Clapton had previously performed while in John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers.  The artist on these two songs was listed as Eric Clapton & the Powerhouse.  The third song, “I Want to Know” was credited to MacLeod, an evident reference to Paul Jones’ wife Sheila MacLeodTen Years After included “I Want to Know” on their first album, Ten Years After that was released in late 1967.   


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In 1966Eric Clapton met Ginger Baker; both men felt a little stifled in their band environment – John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers and the Graham Bond Organisation, respectively – and Baker asked Clapton to join a band that he was putting together.  Clapton agreed, but only if Jack Bruce was also included as the lead vocalist and bass guitarist; Clapton later said that Baker almost wrecked his car when he heard that.  Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker were notorious for their volatility while in the Graham Bond Organisation together, including on-stage fights and sabotage of the other’s instruments.  The two put aside their differences for the sake of the new band, but this probably sowed the seeds for Cream’s dissolution in barely two years’ time. 


The band’s debut album, the fittingly titled Fresh Cream featured a mixture of traditional blues songs as well as band originals.  For a band that became renowned for their instrumental solos, the two opening tracks (both written or co-written by Jack Bruce), “I Feel Free” and “N.S.U.” were less than 3 minutes each.  I Feel Free was co-written with Pete Brown, who became an important songwriting partner with the Cream bandmembers; he and Bruce were the songwriters on their hit “White Room” plus four songs on Disraeli Gears that included “Sunshine of Your Love” (which was co-written with Eric Clapton).  The blues songs include Skip James’ “I’m So Glad”, “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” (originally written and recorded by Hambone Willie Newbern, with the first famous recording being by Muddy Waters), and the stomping “Spoonful” (written by Willie Dixon).  


As was often true throughout the British Invasion, the British and American releases of Fresh Cream were different.  I Feel Free is not on the U.K. version even though it was the band’s first single in Britain, while Spoonful is omitted from the original American release – happily it is included on my copy, since it is one of my favorite Cream tracks.  Spoonful is also a standout, extended live track on Wheels of Fire.  


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Disraeli Gears marked the arrival of the man who became essentially a fourth bandmember in CreamFelix Pappalardi.  He was the record producer on this album and the next two, and Pappalardi plays many different instruments (often uncredited), particularly on Wheels of Fire.  With his wife Gail Collins PappalardiFelix Pappalardi also wrote two songs on this album, Strange Brew and “World of Pain”.  


With this album, Cream introduced psychedelia into their mixture of styles and influences.  Besides their hit Sunshine of Your Love, outstanding songs on the album include “Strange Brew”, “Tales of Brave Ulysses” and “Swalbr” – the curious title of the last song comes from the initials for “She Walks Like A Bearded Rainbow” (or “She Was Like A Bearded Rainbow”). 


Writing for AllmusicStephen Thomas Erlewine calls Disraeli Gears “a very British album”, and never more so than on the closing track “Mother’s Lament”, showing that Cream was also attracted to traditional songs other than the blues.  For a change, no attempt was made to market a different album in the U.S. from the one that was released in England, and Americans responded by driving the album to #4 on the Billboard album charts, even better than the #5 showing that Disraeli Gears reached in the U.K. 


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The first “posthumous” album by CreamLive Cream (later called Live Cream, Vol. 1) had just 5 tracks, mostly drawn from the songs on Fresh Cream; another live album was a natural due to the critical and public acclaim for Wheels of Fire (the first double-album to go platinum), where one of the two albums was recorded live.  Bruce Eder calls Live Cream “their most consistently brilliant album for sheer musicianship”. 


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Cream officially broke up in July 1968, though the band performed in England as late as NovemberCream’s final album, Goodbye was drawn primarily from concert recordings at The Forum in Los Angeles on October 19, 1968, but it also included a studio version of one of Cream’s finest performances, “Badge” (co-written by Eric Clapton and George Harrison).  


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Blind Faith formed shortly after the break-up of Cream.  Eric Clapton had been trying to bring Stevie Winwood into Cream to act as a sort of buffer between Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker – actually that probably wouldn’t have worked out, since I heard that Baker and Winwood didn’t get along in Blind Faith.  As with the formation of Cream itself, Eric Clapton and Stevie Winwood were frustrated with their present bands.  Cream had better amplifiers toward the end, and Jack Bruce was pushing the volume up during concerts, so Ginger Baker was having difficulty getting his drums heard above the roar.  Eric Clapton said that he stopped playing during a Cream concert once, and neither Jack Bruce nor Ginger Baker even noticed; he also characterized later Cream performances as the bandmembers showing off. 


In the same time period, Stevie Winwood was feeling hamstrung in the Spencer Davis Group, where he had been their lead singer for years.  He had wanted to introduce a more experimental, jazz-inflected sound into the band; eventually he left the group and formed his own band called Traffic in 1967


When Traffic broke up temporarily in 1969Stevie Winwood began jamming with Eric Clapton; they had played together previously in the Powerhouse.  Ginger Baker sat in one time in 1969, and he was a natural as the band’s drummer.  Clapton was reluctant to team up with Baker again so soon after Cream broke up, but Winwood convinced him that they would never find a more talented drummer than Baker.  The three invited Rick Grech (also known as Ric Grech) to join the group; he was the bass guitarist in Family and left that band mid-tour to join Blind Faith.  


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The striking photograph on the British cover of the group’s sole album, Blind Faith shows a young topless girl holding a shiny metal winged object that reminds me of a hood ornament.  The cover shot was created by photographer Bob Seidemann, a good friend and former flatmate of Eric Clapton who had also photographed Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead The image was titled “Blind Faith” by Seidemann, and that became the name of the band Blind Faith as well. 


There was a great deal of buzz associated with the Blind Faith album (mainly due to its Cream connections, at least in the U.S.), but there is every indication that it was rushed to the market.  There are only six songs on the album, one of them a Buddy Holly song, “Well All Right”; one of the tracks, “Do What You Like” is a 15-minute jam.  Still, the quartet created a great album by any measure:  “Sea of Joy” and “Presence of the Lord” are classic rock songs without question, and the two opening tracks, “Had to Cry Today” and “Can’t Find My Way Home” are every bit as good.  Eventually I will have to pick up the 2001 deluxe edition, which includes 9 bonus tracks.  


Despite the fact that one-half of Blind Faith was previously two-thirds of Cream, their album seemed dominated instead by Stevie Winwood; besides handling lead vocalist duties, Winwood wrote half of the songs, with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker each contributing one. 


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Whereas rock music critique was previously about what was good and what was bad, the Blind Faith album was released (in August 1969) at a time when opinions began to be divided about rock music as a whole, and beyond mere aesthetic considerations – whether the idea of rock as an industry could be a good thing regardless of what the music itself was like.  As an example, there were three different reviews of Blind Faith in Rolling Stone that month.  Here is how Bruce Eder opens his article on Blind Faith for Allmusic:  “Blind Faith was either one of the great successes of the late ’60s, a culmination of the decade’s efforts by three legendary musicians – or it was a disaster of monumental proportions, and a symbol of everything that had gone wrong with the business of rock at the close of the decade.  In actual fact, Blind Faith was probably both.”  In any case, Blind Faith didn’t stay together but seven months. 


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Shortly afterward, Eric Clapton began playing as a sideman with a completely different group, Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, a rock/soul collaboration of Delaney Bramlett and his wife Bonnie Bramlett with a whole parade of musicians:  Besides ClaptonWikipedia lists Duane AllmanGregg AllmanGeorge HarrisonLeon RussellBobby WhitlockDave MasonRita Coolidge, and King Curtis.  In his 2007 autobiography, Clapton: The AutobiographyEric Clapton claimed that Delaney & Bonnie and Friends was the first white group to sign with Stax Records.  Delaney & Bonnie and Friends was the opening act for Blind Faith at many of their concert appearances; about this, Eric Clapton stated:  “For me, going on [with Blind Faith] after Delaney & Bonnie was really, really tough, because I thought they were miles better than us.”  The group recorded a total of six albums between 1969 and 1971, though none were big sellers. 


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Eric Clapton continued to keep a relatively low profile in order to counter the star worship that he was attracting.  In 1970Eric Clapton assembled another band consisting of the rhythm section from Delaney & Bonnie and Friends – Bobby Whitlock (keyboardist and vocals), Carl Radle (bass) and Jim Gordon (drums) – plus Dave Mason on guitar.  This quintet backed George Harrison on his monumental solo album, All Things Must Pass


Eric Clapton was then interested in turning them into a proper band; he first suggested the name Eric Clapton and Friends, but that seemed too much like Delaney & Bonnie and Friends to suit others in the group.  There are several stories as to how they took the name Derek and the Dominos, but “Derek” seems clearly derived from “Eric”, and Fats Domino might have inspired the band name.  As it happened, Dave Mason was present only at their first concert in June 1970, before they even took that name. 


Like Blind FaithDerek and the Dominos only released one studio album, Layla and Other Love Songs (1970), though it was a double album.  A few days into the sessions for the album, Eric Clapton first heard Duane Allman play with the Allman Brothers Band at an outdoor concert in Miami.  Eric Clapton and Duane Allman had an all-night jam session soon after that; Allman was invited to join Derek and the Dominos as a fifth member, but he declined in order to remain loyal to his band.  However, Duane Allman played slide guitar on all but 3 of the 14 songs on the album.  My brother Tom Winfree is a huge Duane fan; he says that most people are hearing Duane Allman on this album when they think they are hearing Eric Clapton – those opening notes on “Layla”, for instance, are from Duane.  As reported in Wikipedia:  “Many critics would later notice that [Eric] Clapton played best when in a band composed of dual guitars; working with another guitarist kept him from getting ‘sloppy and lazy and this was undeniably the case with Duane Allman’.”  


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The Derek and the Dominos album includes of course their massive hit Layla, but the album was not a big seller right away – in fact, Layla and Other Love Songs didn’t make the record charts in England until 2011 (for one week).  However, Layla was included on an album called The History of Eric Clapton and was released by Atlantic Records as a single in 1972; the song then made the Top Ten in both the U.S. and the U.K..  (By this point, Derek and the Dominos had broken up during the recording sessions for their second album).  Layla was a hit again in 1982; and after Eric Clapton reworked the song into a ballad for his MTV Unplugged sessions in 1992 – preserved on the album Unplugged – the song made #12 on the Billboard charts. 


As the years have gone by, appreciation of Layla and Other Love Songs – which wasn’t even a critical favorite at the time – has grown, and the album makes several best-album lists.  VH1 named it #89, and Rolling Stone has it at #115.  


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The short life of Derek and the Dominos was beset with tragedy – Jimi Hendrix died just eight days after the band laid down one of his songs for the album, “Little Wing”, and one year later, their near-bandmate Duane Allman was also gone.  Eric Clapton was settling into heroin addiction while the band was on tour, and he sank into despair when this band too broke up. 


After appearing only at the Concert for Bangladesh that George Harrison organized in 1972Pete Townshend of the Who brought together an allstar line-up for a 1973 concert intended to bring Eric Clapton out of hiding and to help him kick his habit.  Known as the Rainbow Concert, musicians on hand include Rick Grech and Stevie Winwood from Blind FaithJim Capaldi (who had co-founded Traffic with Winwood), Anthony “Reebop” Kwaku Baah (a percussionist from Ghana who played with Traffic and also the German band Can), Ron Wood (then in Faces), and drummer Jimmy Karstein (who was on hand for the final album by Buffalo Springfield). 


As documented on the album Eric Clapton’s Rainbow Concert, the performance does not rank among Eric Clapton’s best.  However, the album can certainly be appreciated as the re-emergence of one of the great guitar gods from a demon that had already claimed many of the best rock musicians.  From this point on, Eric Clapton’s colorful career has been primarily as a solo artist, beginning with the 1974 album 461 Ocean Boulevard; his debut solo album was Eric Clapton (1970).          


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Meanwhile, Ginger Baker was putting together a supergroup and a double album of his own.  Ginger Baker’s Air Force – described in Wikipedia as a rock-jazz fusion band – was organized from the ashes of Blind Faith and featured the other three musicians in the band besides Eric Clapton


(May 2014)  
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Items:    Eric Clapton 
Last edited: April 8, 2021