The Songs of Eric Clapton
House of Blues
Back in days of yore, Eric Clapton was god. This might come as a shock to those of you who are only familiar with him via Babyface collaborations and movie soundtracks, but back a decade or two, Clapton defined rock and blues guitar. As a wee lad, he got his start playing rock and roll in the Yardbirds, then jumped ship to join John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. It was here he proved that pale white English boys could play the blues. From there it was on to Cream, Derek and the Dominos, and solo work. Throughout it all, Clapton was able to summon raw power and stinging guitar finesse from the blues, and even in his darkest (creative) hours — the “Lay Down Sally” days to the present, he still can burn when he tackles a 12-bar blues pattern. Check out his From the Cradle album- it lays waste to the majority of blues pickers today, and certainly is more entertaining than this collection.
This record is co-titled “This ain’t no tribute.” Aptly put, that. The twelve cuts here are not blues songs that Clapton wrote — probably because he hasn’t written any, instead relying on his own reworking of standards such as “Crossroads” and “Tore Down.” The 12 songs here are modern blues artists doing versions of some of Slowhand’s better known tunes. As a rule, it doesn’t work.
“Wonderful Tonight” isn’t a blues song, but nobody told Otis Clay that. Nor Carl Weathersby with “Lay Down Sally.” Part of the problem, and this is a problem with most blues out today — the backing bands all sound the same. Generic bar-band boogie with the same guitar and drum sound from record to record, artist to artist. Makes you wonder if it’s all made in the same studio somewhere in Chicago on a machine.
However, there are moments on this disc that rise above the rest. Honeyboy Edwards and James Cotton slay on “Crossroads,” in a version more faithful to the Robert Johnson original than Clapton’s Cream version. Ann Peebles’ remarkable voice transforms the schlockfest of “Tears in Heaven” into something almost listenable –almost. Koko Taylor belts out “Blues Power” like she’s running from a bail bondsman, and actually makes a cover that beats the stagnant flow of the original. Eric Gales and Derek Trucks provide a faithful copy of “Layla” — the electric Dominos version, not the slower version from Clapton unplugged. Guitarist Trucks, newest member of the Allman Brothers and nephew of Allman’s drummer Butch Trucks most likely felt right at home on this classic tune from the collaboration between Clapton and Duane Allman, but really, does the world need another version of this song?
All in all, the best tribute to Clapton the bluesman — and there is ample reason to pay such a tribute — it to listen to the man himself. Because at one point, God played the blues.
House of Blues Records, 2001 Butterfield Road, Suite 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515