Category Archives: Eric Clapton

Eric Clapton Discography

This misguided miscreants who graffitoed “Clapton Is God” had got it wrong; God was God because he had created Clapton. Clapton, for his own part, had to be content with merely being the greatest living guitarist of his time. Yes, you could argue for Jimi Hendrix (although his time was too brief) or Frank Zappa (if you just like annoying people with your contrarian opinions), but artistically and commercially, collectively, Clapton is the man.

His early work with the Yardbirds and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers earned him a reputation as a gifted young blues guitarist, but both of those jobs paled in comparison to what he achieved with Cream. With Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce, Clapton was arguably half of the world’s greatest trio as its guitar-playing demigod. He breathed life into the blues for a generation of rock fans and proved to be both an interesting songwriter (“Tales of Brave Ulysses”) and a decent singer (“Strange Brew,” “Badge”). After a few years as perhaps the greatest rock band of its time, Cream curdled and Clapton bounced between Blind Faith, Delaney & Bonnie Bramlett (with whom he recorded his first solo album) and Derek & The Dominoes.

The Seventies were an up-and-down decade for Clapton. A heroin addiction in the early going was the bottom, while commercially successful albums like 461 Ocean Boulevard (1974), Slowhand (1977) and Backless (1978) were the tops. In the Eighties, Clapton established his own Duck Records subsidiary with Warner Bros./Reprise and continued to release gold-selling albums that mixed modernized blues with Top 40 pop songs. By the Nineties, Clapton was both an international star and a spokesperson for the blues. Since then, he has continued to release new solo albums and share the limelight with B.B. King, J.J. Cale and the late Robert Johnson.

Now in its sixth decade, the career of Eric Clapton has been the epitome of steady and classy. When he does finally retire, he will leave behind the greatest recorded legacy of popular guitar music in history. No one has done more to preserve the legacy of the blues, or likely has inspired more young boys and girls to pick up a guitar, than Clapton. Not everything he has done is brilliant, but it has been a career brilliantly done from the very beginning until now.

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The Mothers of Invention: We’re Only In It For The Money (1968)

A brilliant lampoon of psychedelic pop, We’re Only In It For The Money creates a collage of strange conversations, social criticism, and pop music far too catchy to carry such a heavy message. Best to take a big gulp of air before it starts, because the album’s sensory overload won’t present an opportunity until it’s all over. Frank the cranky genius skewers everything from flower power to conservative America: no one is spared, including The Mothers. That many of the songs work as self-standing pieces is amazing: “Absolutely Free,” “Flower Punk,” “Mother People,” “Bow Tie Daddy” and “Let’s Make The Water Turn Black” have all been separated from this egg without ill effect. It’s all part of a larger theme however, punctuated by internal musings, lapses into dementia, and reprises of earlier material. Some of the pieces are instrumental experiments in noise (“Nasal Retentive Calliope Music,” “The Chrome Plated Megaphone of Destiny”) that make Todd Rundgren’s studio noodling seem tame by comparison. It’s brazen stuff, all of it, but the standoffish arrangements belie a musical sophistication few were prepared for in 1968. That the album charted as well as it did still amazes me, though the novelty factor must have been huge. In a sense the closest parallel might be the albums of Firesign Theatre, which share the same rambling social commentary and spelunkering into the deepest recesses of strangeness. As a direct response to contemporary music, We’re Only In It For The Money isn’t for everyone. Who cares if The Mothers flip the finger to Jimi Hendrix and the Haight-Ashbury scene, you may wonder. But it’s more than that; this is an open challenge to musicians, an opportunity to push music kicking and screaming out of its comfort zone. Extreme? Of course. But Zappa did nothing by halves, and the world is a whole lot better for it.

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Blind Faith (1969)

Kronomyth 1.0: TREAM TEAM. For years, I saw this album as something of a disappointment. It sounded like Led Zeppelin with a timid folk singer. In truth, Blind Faith sounds a lot like Cream and Traffic, with one caveat: if these songs had been recorded by Cream or Traffic (in its Barleycorn incarnation), they would have sounded better. I like this album but have always felt it was an overrated asterisk. The opening “Had To Cry Today” lays it on the line; Winwood wrote it, but Jack Bruce should be singing it. Conversely, “Can’t Find My Way Home” would have worked better on Barleycorn with Chris Wood (though Baker does an admirable job of playing the drums on a song that doesn’t require them). The main pleasure I get from this record is hearing Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood play on music that matters. “Presence of the Lord,” “Sea of Joy,” “Had To Cry Today” and “Can’t Find My Way Home” belong with the best songs of Winwood and Clapton. Of course, Clapton fans will find as much (or more) to get excited about in Derek & The Dominoes. Blind Faith has been reissued about a billion times, usually with the controversial model cover, honored with a Mobile Fidelity remaster, expanded with a couple of post-session recordings (“Exchange and Mart,” “Spending All My Days”) and given a double-disc Deluxe Edition treatment that includes an electric version of “Can’t Find My Way Home,” two versions of Sam Myers’ “Sleeping In The Ground” and a bunch of instrumental jams (most of them recorded before Grech joined) that aren’t likely to increase your faith one iota. Given the dearth of classic Cream and Traffic recordings, you can’t turn a blind eye to Blind Faith, but I’d leave the Deluxe Edition to the deluded and settle on one of the single-disc remasters.

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Eric Clapton (1970)

Kronomyth 1.0: TALES OF BRAVE MEDIOCRATES. If I tell you that Eric Clapton’s first solo album is a disappointment, remember that much was expected of the man in 1970. He was the pre-eminent guitarist of the times, the hero of several supergroups (Cream, Blind Faith and, soon, Derek and the Dominos), not to mention his session work with The Beatles. Yet there was the sense that Clapton was shrinking from his own stardom, much as Paul McCartney had done after the breakup of The Beatles. Clapton’s decision to tour with Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett was a curious choice given his previously high profile, and his newfound interest in groups like The Band seemed worlds away from the center stage of Cream. In nearly every way, Eric Clapton is an extension of his engagement with the Bramletts, featuring the same players with Bonnie cowriting most of the material and Delaney producing and arranging it. With time, it became clear that many of the interests explored on Eric Clapton (J.J. Cale, soul, a facility for catchy pop songs) genuinely reflect the man, but at the time it seemed unnaturally modest and deliberately circumspect compared to the grand scale of Disraeli Gears and Wheels of Fire. That’s not to say the album was a complete disappointment; it did produce three legitimate singles (including the classic “Let It Rain” and “After Midnight”), and stands head and shoulders above the half-finished McCartney. Yet the fact remains that Clapton generated more energy and intensity with the blues in a power trio setting than he does with an eight-piece group behind him. Eric Clapton marks the beginning of a new chapter, and while many people breathlessly awaited the sequel to Cream (and found it in Derek), a new story was being written that would eventually render those works fantastic footnotes.

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Eric Clapton: “After Midnight” (1970)

Kronomyth 1.1: AT MIDNIGHT, IN THE MONTH OF JUNE, I STAND BENEATH THE MYSTIC MOON. The single from the new Eric Clapton album had all the energy of a revival meeting. And, in a sense, it was a miracle Clapton ever recorded it. John Cale was an unknown songwriter from Oklahoma, introduced to Delaney Bramlett through Leon Russell, who in turn played some of Cale’s songs for Clapton including “After Midnight.” Cale didn’t even realize that Clapton had recorded his song until he heard it on his car radio. The B side is one of the better tracks on Calpton’s first, a Beatlesque pop song with some pervy lyrics (“Don’t let my love flow out of you, Please remember that I want you to come too”). Guess the censors were sleeping on that one.

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Derek and The Dominos: Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs (1970)

Kronomyth 1.0: CREAMELOT. And so it came to pass, so soon after the passing of Jimi Hendrix, that two of the greatest living guitarists, Eric Clapton and George Harrison, would release their greatest works, All Things Must Pass and Layla. In a strange coincidence, both albums featured the same core players—Carl Radle, Bobby Whitlock, Jim Gordon. In an even stranger coincidence, Clapton’s album was (secretly) dedicated to Harrison’s wife, the former (and future) Pattie Boyd. With romance, intrigue and a beknighted Beatle in the mix, Layla had all the making of Arthurian legend; and if neither All Things or Layla turned out to be the holy grail, they are nonetheless among the sacred relics of rock and roll. Layla, written with Bobby Whitlock, is a loose concept album that, at first indirectly via the Derek moniker, deals directly with Clapton’s infatuation with his famous friend’s wife. For the only time in his career, Clapton actually surpasses his work with Cream. “Layla” and “Bell Bottom Blues” are brilliant from beginning to end. “I Looked Away,” “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad,” “Anyday” and “Tell The Truth” belong with his better ideas over a long career. Sharing vocals with Bobby Whitlock and trading licks with Duane Allman, Clapton still manages to step forward more on this effort than his debut record with Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett (which also featured Radle, Whitlock and Gordon). The similarities to George are sometimes uncanny (e.g., “I Am Yours”), although the tribute to Hendrix (“Little Wing”) simply seems canned next to the original. In between are a few blues covers that feel more like outtakes, some of them (e.g., “Have You Ever Loved A Woman”) selected as coded messages for Clapton’s feelings. Audiences initially didn’t know who Derek and The Dominos were, but they soon connected the dots, and Clapton’s “secret” love song may be the one most readily identified with him when all is said and done. Layla has since been issued in an expanded 20th anniversary edition featuring the original jams between Clapton and Allman, and an even more widely expanded 40th anniversary edition that includes alternate takes, released as The Layla Sessions.

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[Review] Stephen Stills (1970)

stephen stills album coverI haven’t listened to every solo CS&N record, but this is the best of the lot so far. It opens with the most popular of the solo bits, “Love The One You’re With.” In the middle, Stills holds his own with guests Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton on guitar and Booker T. Jones on organ. It closes on a Beatle-y treat with Ringo Starr on drums. An auspicious start indeed. Solo releases from Graham Nash and David Crosby followed, each helping to bring into sharper relief the different musical personalities of CS&N’s members. Stills took most of the trio’s musical chops with him; he could have made a fine living playing keyboards and guitar and never opening his mouth. “Do For The Others” makes plain what a shame that would have been. The songs here range from thoughtful, acoustic bits sans support to electric blues-rock numbers with rock royalty. Those two sides of Stills won’t surprise anyone. Stills with strings (“We Are Not Helpless”) and Spector-al pop (“To A Flame”) might, but they’re also two of the more interesting avenues on here. Like Clapton’s coming out party, which also featured Rita Coolidge on backing vocals and Bill Halverson behind the boards, this debut had been a long time coming: Buffalo Springfield, the Bloomfield/Kooper session, CS&N. It’s tempting to speculate on whether some of these songs had been rolling around in Stills’ head for a while. “Black Queen,” rendered here in a fiery live acoustic version credited tongue-in-cheek to Jose Cuervo Gold Label tequila, was first recorded in a 1968 demo session unearthed 40 years later. Several of these tracks have since been folded into the extended CS&N canon (“Love The One You’re With” was featured on 4 Way Street), and no harm done if you want to cross that Street and come directly here, since it has the most to offer of the early CS&N solo albums (Young, of course, being another story entirely).

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George Harrison: All Things Must Pass (1970)

all things must pass album coverThe Rolling Stone Record Guide of 1980 called this a “grand gesture,” and one was needed after the letdown of The Beatles’ breakup. None of the Fab Four had sketched out a roadmap for the future, McCartney opting to recycle ditties from the past, and All Things Must Pass became something of a beacon. Great works from John, Paul, even Ringo would follow, but it took George to call their bluff. Spread out across three albums (now two discs), All Things Must Pass confirmed what many already knew: George was a good songwriter just waiting for a patch of sun to call his own. No longer overshadowed by John and Paul, the quiet Beatle has a lot to say about the breakup, God, and (on the album of jams) his own guitar heroes. Phil Spector sometimes suffocates good ideas under too much varnish (“Wah-Wah,” “Awaiting On You All”), but more often elevates these acoustic songs into powerful statements (“My Sweet Lord,” “Beware of Darkness,” “Isn’t It A Pity”). With Bob Dylan contributing half of “I’d Have You Anytime” and “If Not For You” (given a more earnest reading on his own New Morning), it’s perhaps no surprise that All Things Must Pass sounds like a son of the Nashville skyline, all cool country charm when the mood strikes. You can imagine “Let It Down,” “Behind That Locked Door” and “All Things Must Pass” sharing a train ride with “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You.” Maybe it’s the pedal steel guitar or the fertile arrangements, maybe it’s the easy way these songs just roll along with an offhand genius. And then there’s the joy apparent on All Things Must Pass. It’s at the heart of songs like “What Is Life,” “My Sweet Lord” and “Awaiting On You All,” a sort of revival-meeting energy that sweeps you up. Toss in some songs that recall the solo work of John (“Beware of Darkness” in its demo version) and Paul (compare “Art of Dying” to “Mrs. Vanderbilt”) plus a few nods to The Beatles (“I Dig Love,” the second version of “Isn’t It A Pity”) and you may have the most substantive solo musical statement in all of Beatledom. The album of instrumental jams, while often overlooked, show Harrison, Eric Clapton and Dave Mason blowing off some steam in various settings. Of course, Jimi Hendrix left vaults full of stuff like this behind, so they’re best seen as a bonus disc of curiosities rather than a balanced contribution.

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Stephen Stills 2 (1971)

The critical consensus is that the five records that Stills released on Atlantic (six if you count Stills Live) represent his best work. No argument there. Where I tend to part ways with critics is in the put-down of Stills 2 as inferior to the works before (Stephen Stills) and after (Manassas). It is not the beneficiary of stockpiled songs; only “Change Partners” and “Know You Got To Run” are leftovers, to my knowledge anyway. Second albums are often disappointing for this reason. But Stills 2 doesn’t back down from the challenge; it charges into the breach with a dozen new songs that offer something for everyone: ravers (“Relaxing Town”), CSN-styled harmonies (“Singin’ Call”), the blues (“Open Secret”), guitar duels (“Fishes And Scorpions”) and a smartly arranged return to the old buffalo hunting grounds on “Bluebird Revisited.” Honestly, I think these songs stack up fine against the material on the double-album Manassas and rise above Down The Road. As with his first record, Stills invites some of the world’s best guitarists (Eric Clapton, Jerry Garcia and a young Nils Lofgren) and more than holds his own in their esteemed company. While the first album had a genuine hit to rally around, Stills 2 has more surprises in store: the retro raver “Marianne” (it’s a shame Stephen Stills and Steve Miller didn’t play together), the funked-up blues of “Nothin’ To Do But Today,” the sweet southern sound of “Sugar Babe.” Unfortunately, it was “Change Partners” that was tapped as the first single, and listeners may have compared it to “Love The One You’re With” and extrapolated the album’s quality from that single data point, which would be a mistake. On Stills 2, I hear Stephen Stills growing more comfortable as a singer, songwriter and arranger. I know, I did pick on Stills for his lackluster performance on 4-Way Street but, as Stills 2 shows, he’s still a significant talent when fully engaged.

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At His Best (1972)

Kronomyth 1.5: BLINDEREKLAPTON

It wasn’t long before Polydor’s efforts to skim every inch of profit off Cream reached ridiculous proportions: a series of four double elpees, one dedicated to the music of Cream and three to the solo efforts of its three members. In an admirable move of economy, Polydor used the artwork for the Cream compilation (Heavy Cream) as the template for the other three sets, so that if you laid the albums of Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker atop one another, the Heavy Cream cover was reproduced. Of course, these optical tricks may have been designed to take attention away from the fact that neither Baker, Bruce nor Clapton had released enough solo music since Cream to justify the double elpeeing. In Clapton’s case, At His Best covers the first Blind Faith album, the first Derek and the Dominos album and his first solo album. That’s a four-elpee body of work divided in half, which still leaves you with about an album of non-hits that could have missed the cut without anyone griping (okay, so I might have griped a little if “Easy Now” were missing). Nothing essential is absent from At His Best except maybe for Blind Faith’s “Had To Cry Today,” nothing undeserving of its place here except the instrumental “Slunky” and the unremarkable “Lonesome And A Long Way From Home.” In retrospect, Polydor would have served listeners better by combining the three solo double elpees into a single triple elpee with one album each from Baker, Bruce and Clapton, but I’m pretty sure you’d need to calculate the cosine of something to figure it all out.

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Eric Clapton’s Rainbow Concert (1973)

Kronomyth 2.0: THE RAINBOW CONNECTION. You know the story, so I’ll spare you the gory details. Suffice it to say that Clapton finally came out to play, and Townshend comes out smelling like a rose. The original Rainbow concerts consisted of two shows (both on January 13, 1973), billed as Eric Clapton and The Palpitations, and you could rightfully expect some with the likes of Clapton, Townshend, Steve Winwood, Ron Wood and supporting members of Blind Faith and Traffic sharing the same stage. Despite conditions that were ripe for failure (Clapton’s heroin habit, a scant ten days of rehearsal), the concerts were an unqualified success and showed that Clapton had lost little of his edge and ability. The resulting elpee, unfortunately, was a heavily abridged version of the concerts reduced to six tracks including one by Traffic (“Pearly Queen”) and a little-known Derek & the Dominos b-side, “Roll It Over.” If you bought that elpee, you got rolled indeed. The 14-track remaster is an act of atonement that draws from both shows to present something much closer to the actual concert experience, in chronological order with only two tracks missing (“Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad,” “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out”). If you see the original elpee in a used record store somewhere, punch it for me. Then go buy this expanded remaster, because there’s a shortage of miracles in the world and this is surely 1 of them; 2 bad it took 22 years to roll around. I’d rank this as the most essential of Clapton’s live records, and then I’d tell you confidentially that live records aren’t really made to be listened to over and over; they’re reference documents, like a thesaurus. As you slough through some of Clapton’s mediocre studio albums and wonder why people bothered showing up at all, return to the Rainbow and your faith in the man’s star presence will be renewed.

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Eric Clapton: “I Shot The Sheriff” (1974)

Kronomyth 3.1: MARLEY’S GHOST. Eric Clapton’s cover of Bob Marley’s “I Shot The Sheriff” shot to number one with a bullet. It wasn’t even Clapton’s idea to cover the song originally, but he does a remarkable job with it. Recorded with his mostly Tulsan backing band (George Terry was originally from Florida, Yvonne Elliman from Hawaii), the song has a distinctively compressed sound that almost defies categorization, since it’s neither reggae nor rock and almost anticipates disco. The single version is about a minute shorter than the original elpee version (the ending, for instance, simply fades out on the single). The B side, “Give Me Strength,” is identical to the original album version though, it would seem, a little too identical to a song written some thirty-odd years earlier (see DYK below). Featuring Clapton on dobro, the song sounds more like Bob Dylan and the Band than anything from No Reason To Cry. Possibly because of potential copyright issues, “Give Me Strength” was replaced on later issues of 461 Ocean Boulevard and eventually appended at the end of the CD versions as the last track.

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There’s One In Every Crowd (1975)

there's one in every crowd album coverKronomyth 4.0: IT’S WHAT JAMAICA LIFE. The followup to 461 Ocean Boulevard was recorded in Miami and Jamaica with the same lineup and had a minor hit with the slightly reggaefied version of “Swing Low Sweet Chariot.” The album is pretty much a split between cover versions (a mix of reggae and blues) and originals, featuring the Tulsa sound on the blues selections and favoring George Harrison on the pop selections. As many have mused, it’s an underrated album, lacking a standout single but containing much good music, from a fiery version of “Singin’ The Blues” to the (all things must) Pass-able pop of “Pretty Blue Eyes” and “High.” It’s not a perfect record, of course; Clapton albums rarely are. “The Sky Is Crying” could have been given a more passionate reading, for example, and the sequel to “I Shot The Sheriff” (“Don’t Blame Me”) seems unnecessary. Generally, though, it’s a solid album, not so far removed from the mix of originals and covers that made Layla such a success, albeit on a less grand scale. Clapton had assembled a fine backing band behind him, and the vocal support of Yvonne Elliman and Marcy Levy helps immensely in making the man’s voice palatable to the ears over an entire album. If you enjoyed the last few Clapton studio records (and most people did), There’s One In Every Crowd is one to add to your collection. The reggae numbers are really a red herring; what’s here is more rooted in the Tulsa blues and The Beatles’ solo music than Bob Marley or Byron Lee.

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Eric Clapton: E.C. Was Here (1975)

e.c. was here album coverKronomyth 5.0: THE MAYALL MAN DELIVERS. The graffitoed walls that read “Clapton Is God” are surely singing somewhere, blissfully ignorant of their profanity. After the successful comeback of 461 Ocean Boulevard, Clapton and his crew took a trip in the Wayback Machine to dig up the ghost of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers (“Have You Ever Loved A Woman,” “Rambling On My Mind”) and breathe life into the blanched Blind Faith (“Presence of the Lord,” “Can’t Find My Way Home”). Nearly everyone has commented that this live compilation (culled from shows on both coasts and the UK) is both an unexpected assortment and a welcome return to Clapton’s blues-rock beginnings. After a self-imposed, drug-addled exile, Clapton wouldn’t turn his back on music or the blues again. E.C. Was Here is a tour de force, led by the brilliant guitar playing of Clapton and George Terry. After hearing the hot licks on “Drifting Blues” and “Have You Ever Loved A Woman,” you’ll be tempted to run to the hardware store and buy a can of spray paint yourself. Organist Dick Sims is also terrific on this album. The rhythm section of Carl Radle (the lone holdover from the days of Derek) and Jamie Oldaker is rock solid, and Yvonne Elliman does well in the thankless task of sweetening Eric’s voice to approximate Steve Winwood. (Marcy Levy, we’re told, plays tambourine.) Other than the tasteless album artwork (the back cover is even worse), the only complaint I can lodge against E.C. Was Here is that there isn’t more of it. The band is one of Clapton’s best, and their performances of “Let It Rain,” “Badge,” “Layla” and “I Shot The Sheriff” should have been preserved for the listening enjoyment of later generations (#thinkofthechildren). A quick glance at the track listing is likely to illicit a shoulder shrug, but don’t let your shoulders lead you. Follow your heart; you’ll find plenty of it on this album.

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No Reason To Cry (1976)

Kronomyth 6.0: ERIC AND BOB IN THE BAND’S BASEMENT

On the eve of the American bicentennial, Eric Clapton found himself in The Band’s Shangri-La studio as their American dream was unraveling and Bob Dylan was living in a tent in their garden. While the original intent may have been to tap into The Band’s Americana mystique, what ended up on No Reason To Cry is more of a mistake: tracks written with The Band that lack their folk-wise energy (“Beautiful Thing,” “All Our Past Times”), an ill-conceived duet with the mysterious bard (“Sign Language”) and a trio of tracks at the end that look to launch Marcy Levy’s solo career at Clapton’s expense. His previous two studio efforts, recorded with the same core Tulsa group, had succeeded by focusing on Clapton’s strengths (the blues, Beatlesque pop) and casting his otherwise weak voice in the favorable light of reggae. No Reason To Cry finds Clapton out of his element too often, especially on the sprawling “Carnival.” The album contains a few good songs, none better than “Hello Old Friend,” which taps into the same George Harrison-styled pop music that had given Clapton come of his greatest success, yet overall it remains his weakest entry from the 70s. Although he had kicked his heroin habit, Clapton was still drinking and looking too thin. At around the same time as the album’s release, the guitar god found himself in hot water when he criticized “wogs” (you’ll just have to look it up) during a concert in Birmingham, England and lent his support to the nationalist Enoch Powell, who was then running for prime minister. Old story, that, which only proves that music, alcohol and politics are poor bedfellows. The presence of The Band, Bob Dylan, Ronnie Wood and Billy Preston is bound to intrigue, but recalling the star-studded casts on some of those George Harrison and Ringo Starr stinkfests should temper that interest some.

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