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Eric Clapton
Robert Johnson And Me


He’s been worshiped as a god, had years of substance and drink abuse problems, recorded some of the most recognisable songs in the rock and pop canon and has now become almost obsessive with keeping his work pure. Welcome to the peculiar world of Eric Clapton

Having started his career jamming on the building blocks of his blues influences with John Mayall and the Yardbirds, before negotiating two classic rock super-group’s in Cream and Blind Faith, casually tossing off legendary riffs along the way (Badge, White Room, Layla etc.), Eric Clapton has gradually ever since been mellowing out and harking back to his roots, latterly working with many blues greats – and of course recording with BB King – to such an extent that he has now worked his way right back to the source so to speak. Robert Johnson, the great well-spring (or at least one of the mythical few) from which more or less everything we now take for granted first bubbled up

To say Eric Clapton's recent material is stripped back however would be an understatement of mammoth proportions, the man referred to variously amongst the faithful as E.C. Slowhand, God or to pub quiz know-it-all’s as Ricky Clapp (what his Grandparents, who he lived with whilst growing up, called him) however is unrepentant.
“Well, I think, today, I would regard myself as a musician who plays the Blues. It was something I aspired to for at least two thirds of my career and at some point, I just thought, well, now I'm actually playing with the people that I've admired and I'm able to converse with them in their language and it's become my language too, so I kind of feel like I've arrived at somewhere where I can just relax and not really worry about who I am. This is what I do. Playing the blues really is my first calling as a musician, it's what I do without having to think about it.”

Eric Clapton & Pete Townshend Naturally enough, performers, who haven’t completely burned out, and have been bashing away at this rock and roll lark for some time will occasionally, and understandably, lose their way or indeed, as in this case, simply want to hark back to the records that inspired them to perform in the first place – see also Bill Wyman’s worthy, but mostly dull, Rhythm Kings project. But unless they are bringing something new, insightful, or previously missed, to the project (as Clapton, Bruce and Baker consistently insisted was the case in Cream) then the question has to be asked ‘what’s the point?’ Surely the John Mayall style reverential re-workings would be better left for impromptu jams with friends and family – because in all honesty there’s nothing on recent recordings like Me And Mr Johnson that you couldn’t hear at any number of good blues nights around the country any night of the week, and if anything Clapton’s own theories on playing live prove the point, that it’s only ever in the ‘sitting around with your mates’ part of the equation that things really work for him nowadays.

“At some point the audience is a necessary part of the equation,” he admits.“[but] we always say in amongst ourselves, the musicians that is, that our favourite part is rehearsals, 'cause we haven't got anybody to please. You know? We do whatever we like, and if we're halfway through a song we just stop if we want. There's a point where the audience comes in, and it all gets edgy and nervy and not as enjoyable. I mean, they gotta be there, obviously. Otherwise we wouldn't be musicians in the first place, but what happens then is never as good as you want it to be, it's like the Holy Grail. That’s the thing about the majority of concerts, I don't remember being there because I was so nervous about getting it right. Now the rehearsals were fantastic, and I can remember all of them, but then you can't just have rehearsals without a tour.”

No you can’t, especially if you want to flog a few records, but there’s nothing to stop a performer of Clapton’s pedigree saying, sod it, I’ve had enough I only want to play for fun (he can’t be short of dosh), especially if the live experience is now such a trial. There is absolutely no doubting the fact that Eric Clapton has had just as many dreadful calamities in his life as wonderful breaks, and people often find solace clutching at the past rather than facing the future.
Lets hope the Cream reformation shows at the Albert Hall next month (May 2, 3, 5 and 6) aren't yet another retrogressive step for Clapton and help lead him back to the present and beyond because on his current course he is in very grave danger of losing himself entirely.

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