Eric Clapton turns 76 today.
And it’s good to see Clapton’s whole career getting the long look it deserves from the Long Look industry.
Because he’s been one of the essentials for nearly six decades – a career getting up there into BB King or Les Paul level duration. He started out as a blues legend in his late teens, did some of the best music of any kind in the late sixties and early seventies, became a poster guy for the dissipation of stardom in the seventies and early eighties…
…and then it got intense.
For my money, here are a few of his best. my fave from the “Cream” years (from Cream’s 2005 reunion:
Has anyone ever written about trying to steal someone else’s wife as Clapton did about trying to heist Patti Boyd from George Harrison?
From his relatively fallow, drunk-all-the-time period (in this case, with original backup singer Marcy Levy back from forty years ago)?
And for my money, my favorite Clapton song ever. Most people go straight to “Layla”, but I keep going down the track list from that same album, and arrive here:
Keyboard player and co-lead singer Bobby Whitlock said about the recording of Keep on Growing:
The sessions started out with the four of us. Eric, Carl, Jim and me. Derek and the three Dominos.
When we started the recording process we treated it the same way that we treated our live performances. No different. We always started out where ever we were with a jam or two. No matter if it was Royal Albert Hall or the Speakeasy. In the studio nothing changed in that department. We jammed before “I Looked Away”, then into the song. Then we jammed before and into “Bell Bottom Blues”.
The third song was about to go down, so we did our usual jam and it was astounding! It had a groove like never before. Then suddenly Eric said, “Let me put another guitar on it!”
He did as I was standing in the doorway of the control room and looking at him through the glass about eight feet away from me. The song ended and he said again, “Let me put another one on.” He played the second over-dub without listening to the first one. When that was finished he said, “Let’s do another.” He put the third guitar part on without listening to the other two over-dubs while he was recording. When that one was finished he said, “Just one more.” Eric heard only the original guitar while he was doing the over-dubs. He could hear what he had already done in his head. When he was finished he got up and walked in and said, “Let’s hear what they all sound like together.”
It was amazing what we heard back. All of the guitars blended together as if they had been worked out long before the session. It was incredible standing there watching and listening to Eric the master at work.
I felt like a fly on the wall. I thought that was akin to watching Rembrandt at work. What a very special moment for me. And now you all! When we had finished listening to it Tom said that it was going to the can because we didn’t have room on this record for an instrumental. I said to them, “Give me twenty minutes!” I took a yellow note pad and a pencil out into the foyer of Criteria and my relatively short life fell out of me, words and melody and all, so fast that I could hardly get them down on the paper.
When I was finished I went back into the studio where Eric and Tom had been waiting in the control room for me to finish. The mike was there waiting for me, so I walked up to it and started to sing the song. I got half way through the first verse when I stopped it and said to Eric, “Hey man come on out here and let’s do our Sam and Dave thing to it.” Eric came out and we did it first run through.
First take! That was it! And the song “Keep On Growing” had been born.
I mean, if this song had spawned from weeks worth of “Bohemian Rhapsody” or “Born to Run” or “Be My Baby”-style studiomongering, I wouldn’t have liked it any less. Learning that part of the story after all these years?
Happy birthday, Eric Clapton.