Eric Clapton is a great artist to have as the Friday Feature on ‘XRT because his work has so many sides (no pun intended) and has spanned so many decades. There’s the young blues-rock guitar god of the mid-sixties who was one of several artists of the time, American but also especially British, who’s music helped to direct young rock fans attention toward blues, for which I will always be grateful. There’s the solo artist that emerged in the seventies and continues to have a fondness for pop ballads. There’s the modern day, blues guitar-playing artist that can fill a stadium. And there’s the man who is one of the world’s great fans of other guitarists, both blues and others, who has put together the remarkable festival-like events that have benefited his Crossroads residential drug treatment center in Antigua.
My personal favorites from the early Clapton era are from the less than three years he spent with Cream. My favorite Cream album is Disraeli Gears with songs like “Sunshine of Your Love,” Tales of Brave Ulysses,” “Swlabr,” “Outside Woman Blues,” and, especially, “Strange Brew.” The story goes that early in their friendship when Buddy Guy told Eric that his favorite Cream song was, “Strange Brew,” Eric said to Buddy, “You should like that one, I stole the licks from you.”
The early seventies saw Eric become involved in American blues-rock bands. He made great music with Delaney and Bonnie and Friends and then with Derek and the Dominoes, a band that added Duane Allman on slide guitar on some tracks on their one and only studio album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs , including the amazing title track, a love song to his friend George Harrison’s wife, “Layla.”
The next area of interest for Eric Clapton is the one that began in the early seventies also and, to some degree, continues to this day; Eric’s love of the pop ballad. This side of Eric’s career is the one with the most songs that interest me the least. This is the area where you find Eric’s biggest hits, but my favorites are his interpretation of the understated blues songs like Elmore James’ “I Can’t Hold Out” from the 461 Ocean Boulevard album or “The Sky is Crying” from the album, There’s One in Every Crowd.
But the best Eric Clapton is when he’s playing with another guitarist that he admires, when the spotlight isn’t directly on him but is shared with someone else. I was lucky enough to see Eric when he was at the old Buddy Guy’s Legends. He moved through a set of songs with amazing precision but without a smile until he invited Lonnie Brooks to join him. Playing with Lonnie had Eric beaming with an ear-to-ear smile. This is why you want to do what you can to see Clapton perform at the Crossroads shows with people like Jeff Beck and Buddy Guy.