Article 3

Rock On

Slowhand Blues 2 (Clapton, the later days)

continued from last week

(Published in Times of India Pune, on 23rd June, 2001)

Clapton’s musical career was clearly floundering in the seventies. His heroin and alcohol addiction had reduced him to being a glorified sideman to mediocre artistes. And if it wasn’t for Pete Townsend, of the Who, who recommended a controversial but effective electro-acupuncture treatment, which fully rehabilitated Eric, we would probably not have had the pleasure to hear all the glorious music that was to follow!

Clapton’s reemergence was to herald a new direction in his music, a new found interest in his vocal abilities. Much to the disgust of his adoring guitar loving fans, Clapton started concentrating on his singing and song writing abilities. Gone were those long winding, self-indulgent guitar solos and loud distorted bursts of speed. In fact, here was a mature confident artiste who believed in understatement and was not afraid of silence as an effective medium of expression. Personally I thought that it was sometimes a bit too much and missed the energy of his earlier days. Yet he came up with such beautiful compositions that they always caught my attention.

In the early days, Clapton’s vocal abilities were nothing to write home about. In fact, it is said that he insisted on Jack Bruce doing most of the vocals during "Cream" as he never felt that he was good enough! His earlier bands always had strong vocalists with Blind Faith having the fabulous Stevie Winwood. I have a live version of "The Presence of the Lord", where Clapton has attempted to sing his very own composition and it is an absolute disaster! In the later days, there seemed to be a marked improvement especially with the success of J.J. Cale's "After Midnight" and his own "Layla". Clapton’s confidence levels in his vocal abilities must have surely risen with the success of these hits and there seemed to be no looking back. I have always felt that he has greatly been influenced by the singing of Ray Charles, the versatile American Blues and R&B star. In fact, there was an album in the eighties where he so closely resembled the great master that I rechecked the CD cover!

461 Ocean Boulevard was the name of the album that signaled Clapton’s re-entry into Rock/Pop stardom. Besides some great songs, this album also introduced the music of Bob Marley to the western world, through the song "I shot the sheriff". I don’t think there was a single band in India who did not do that song in the seventies and yet it is rumored that Clapton almost dropped the song from the album as he felt that justice had not been done to it! Of course Marley went on to be a celebrated world-renowned musician and spokesman for his people and continues to exert enormous influence, many years after his untimely death.

Clapton always introduced the music of great, often neglected composers to the commercial world and in the early days, he covered the songbooks of so many talented black American blues men. Thanks to him, some of them finally got the attention and the income befitting their talent! The American Blues tradition was the biggest benefactor of Clapton’s obsession for the Blues, something that continues even today. It was just last year that he made his Grammy winning collaboration 'Riding With the King' with the great American Blues guitarist and singer, B.B. King.

Clapton is presently on a World tour promoting his new album "Reptile" and his influence on the music world continues unabated. In fact, the recent announcement of his desire to "slow down" resulted in an uproar and a denial had to be issued! It looks like the music-loving world will not leave Clapton alone. I know I certainly never will and as a tribute to this great guitarist/composer/singer, I will be singing three of my favorite Clapton songs at my concert at the "Jazz by the Bay" in Mumbai, tonight. See you there!

Rock on,

Nandu Bhende











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