Category Archives: Eric Clapton

Rocks In The Attic #615: Eric Clapton – ‘Unplugged’ (1992)

RITA#615In 1992, mild-mannered Somerset accountant Russell Chives was asked to perform his Eric Clapton impression for a group of friends at a dinner party in West London. He reluctantly pulled out his acoustic guitar and gave them a rendition of Wonderful Tonight, which everybody enjoyed through the fog of red wine.

Among the guests that night was MTV executive Chad Frame who saw something in Chives. Eric Clapton, a recovering alcoholic, had died the previous year; his passing overshadowed by the death of Queen’s Freddie Mercury and subsequently reported on page 7 of the tabloids (it’s true, nobody knows you when you’re down and out). Frame thought Chives’ impression of Clapton was good enough to show to the station and asked if he’d be interested in coming in for an audition.

Chives arrived at Frame’s London office and was greeted by a room full of executives. After he ran through his Clapton impression, Frame pitched the room his idea. He wanted to launch a range of albums featuring the work of deceased musicians performed by sound-alikes. The first release: a blues album featuring Russell Chives as Eric Clapton. If this proved successful the plan was to launch auditions to find performers for a synth album of Liberace songs, and a reggae album of Roy Orbison’s hits.

On 16th January 1992, Chives arrived at Bray Studios in Windsor to perform the album to a select group of accountant friends. In order to cover any mistakes that he might make, Chives was backed by a team of accomplished musicians – including guitarist Andy Fairweather Low and oddball percussionist Ray Cooper.  The group strolled through a lengthy set, featuring blues staples and a handful of Clapton originals. The audience was respectful and even applauded with pity when Chives attempted a version on Clapton’s Layla but got the tempo completely wrong.

The album eventually saw the light of day in August 1992. The five months between recording and release had been a heart-wrenching time for Chad Frame. In order to cut costs, he made the mistake of ordering the album cover to be pressed at a printing plant in Bosnia, where a brutal civil war was starting to emerge. As a result, there were many quality control oversights.

Chives’ one original song on the album – a biting critique of West Country racism (“Would you know my name, if I saw you in Devon?”) – was incorrectly listed as Tears In Heaven, but worst of all Chives’ name was left off the cover altogether. The record was supposed to be credited to ‘Russell Chives as Eric Clapton’ but printing plant employees misread Chives’ name as a Serbian insult, understanding it to be a practical joke from their Croatian colleagues.

The resulting double-album went on to sell 26 million copies worldwide and won three Grammy awards. MTV aired a film of the performance which resonated with a yuppie audience largely ignorant of Clapton’s recent death and who couldn’t quite remember if he had always dressed like an accountant from Somerset.

At the behest of a cocaine-fuelled Chad Frame, Russell Chives changed his name officially to Eric Clapton and signed a twelve-album deal with Reprise Records. His mediocre output from 1994 onwards is now viewed by historians to be the lasting cultural legacy of the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.

Hit: Tears In Heaven

Hidden Gem: Old Love

RITA#615a.jpg

Rocks In The Attic #242: Derek & The Dominos – ‘Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs’ (1970)

RITA#242I understand The Yardbirds. I understand John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. I understand Cream. I (almost) understand Blind Faith. But I have trouble understanding Derek & The Dominos. It’s not that I think it’s a bad record, it’s just that it doesn’t really appeal to me like those other projects / records.

Layla is a different beast altogether – without a doubt it’s one of the best rock records committed to vinyl. But maybe that’s why I have a problem with the rest of the record. Compared to the frantic bombast of Layla, the rest of the album is bordering on easy-listening. It’s about as far as from Cream as you could get. I read an interview with Clapton the other day, and the interviewer brought up the subject of Layla. Clapton said he always has problems listening to it because it sounds so different to his usual self. He’s right – it’s probably the best thing, and most outlandish thing he’s ever done – but it also sounds like nothing else on this record.

Clapton and the band (Bobby Whitlock on keyboards and vocals, Jim Gordon on drums, Carl Radle on bass, and Duane Allman on lead and slide) even bother to record a turgid cover of Little Wing, one of my favourite Hendrix songs.

Robert Christgau rates this as the third greatest album of the 1970s. I just don’t see it.

Long and boring.

Hit: Layla

Hidden Gem: Tell The Truth

Rocks In The Attic #166: Eric Clapton – ‘Eric Clapton’ (1970)

Calling this album Eric Clapton’s debut is a bit of a misnomer. This is man who has been through The Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith, and Delaney And Bonnie And Friends before getting around to releasing a solo album. Not surprisingly, given that pedigree, it’s a pretty robust offering – miles away from the highs he would hit on later solo albums, but still a decent rock and roll record.

The band that backs Clapton on this album is essentially Delaney And Bonnie And Friends, key members of which he would also recruit to form Derek & The Dominos. That record – Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs – is really where Clapton’s solo career really gets going, despite the anonymity of the ‘group’ name. Layla remains one of the finest rock songs committed to vinyl – and there’s not really anything as cutting as that on Eric Clapton, even though it was only recorded six months prior to the Dominos record.

I’ve only seen Clapton play live once, and he remains one of my biggest disappointments. It might have been that we had bad seats, up in the rafters; or that he hardly played any of his hits, save for Layla and Cocaine, leaning on a set-list geared more towards his own enjoyment rather than the paying audience; but he just didn’t cut it. Since I saw him that time, I have read his autobiography, and I guess I’m just happy I got to see him at all, given how he squandered most of his life (and talent) to drugs and alcohol.

Hit: After Midnight

Hidden Gem: Slunky

Rocks In The Attic #84: Led Zeppelin – ‘Led Zeppelin’ (1969)

Rocks In The Attic #84: Led Zeppelin - ‘Led Zeppelin’ (1969)Although this is only (only!) the 84th entry in the Rocks In The Attic blog, this is actually the 100th disc I’ve reviewed, taking into account all the double- and triple-albums that I’ve wrote about so far.

A few weeks ago I covered the Truth album by Jeff Beck – released prior to this debut by Led Zeppelin, and an album Jimmy Page must have had at the front of his mind when planning and arranging this.

This was a very cheap album to make. Zeppelin’s manager Peter Grant paid for the 36 hours of studio time himself, and then sold the tapes to Atlantic Records. A studio cost of just £1,782 led to the record grossing more than £3.5 million. Not a bad return for a record company.

If I had to choose one album over the other, I’d go with Zeppelin’s debut, only because the songs fit together that little bit better. Led Zeppelin and Truth are very similar though. They even share a cover – You Shook Me – but the majority of the songs could be interchangeable. Both albums have soulful vocals, by Robert Plant and Rod Stewart respectively. The guitar work on each album (both players are ex-Yardbirds) is of a higher quality than most players at the time (and more in line with the likes of Hendrix and Clapton); and the bass is top-notch (by John Paul Jones on Led Zeppelin, and future Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood on Truth).

The real point of differentiation is the percussion. There’s nothing wrong with the drums, by Mick Waller, on Jeff Beck’s album. They keep time, as they should. But they’re not a patch on Bonzo’s debut. The opening track on Led ZeppelinGood Times Bad Times – could almost be renamed How To Play Drums by John Henry Bonham. You can ignore everything else about that song and just concentrate on the drums – they are the very definition of a perfect drum track.

Hit: Dazed And Confused

Hidden Gem: Black Mountain Side

Rocks In The Attic #62: Tina Turner – ‘Foreign Affair’ (1989)

Another record in my collection that seems to have always been there, but I can’t remember ever receiving it as a gift from anyone.  And I definitely wouldn’t have bought it. I might hang on to it though, just in case I ever get asked to DJ at somebody’s wedding – The Best would go down as well at the drunken end of a wedding reception as it would have in 1989.

Tina Turner is one of those people who doesn’t look anything like their younger self. When you see video or photos of her singing with Ike Turner, she looks nothing like the solo version of Tina Turner. It’s probably the hair, which she rocks out in every photo on this album sleeve. Al Pacino is another one – I just don’t see the connection between the young Michael Corleone and the man who won an Oscar playing a blind man.

This album was made in 1989 but it sounds very dated, like it was made in the middle of that decade. It has the production feel of an Eric Clapton album of that period, but with the type of half-hearted instrumentation that showcases a vocalist and not a musician.

Hit: The Best

Hidden Gem: Steamy Windows

Rocks In The Attic #47: Blind Faith – ‘Blind Faith’ (1969)

Rocks In The Attic #47: Blind Faith - ‘Blind Faith’ (1969)In terms of album covers, this has to be up there with the worst. Not only is it a photograph of a topless eleven year old girl (who is now a massage therapist in London), but this has been badly superimposed onto another image of a pastoral landscape, which clashes with the futuristic “spaceship” that the girl has in her hands. Thankfully the music inside is much better.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Cream because Jack Bruce’s vocals can be pretty annoying. Here you get Steve Winwood’s vocals (and keyboards) on top of Clapton’s guitar playing, and Ginger Baker on drums. It’s not the greatest album in the world – falling somewhere between late-60s psychedelia and early-70s rock – but it was a stepping stone nonetheless for Clapton.

Hit: Well All Right

Hidden Gem: Can’t Find My Way Home

Rocks In The Attic #22: Eric Clapton – ‘Journeyman’ (1989)

I bought this because it had Bad Loveon it. I’m glad I bought it because the rest of the album is sweet – I could never understand how Unplugged was considered his comeback when he was making albums of this quality 3 years earlier.

The opening guitar riff to Bad Lovehas to be one of most underrated rock riffs of the 1980s. I’d put it up there with Dire Straits’ Money For Nothingas the best of that decade. In fact, does anybody even write riffs of that calibre anymore? Jack White has a few under his belt, but there’s been a shift away from putting a riff like that front and centre in the production.

I love everything about this album – the photo of Eric looking vaguely psychotic in the dark on the front cover, to the photo of him on the reverse – wearing a grey linen suit over a bright yellow turtleneck, standing on metal shavings.

I read his autobiography not too long ago, and it really got to me that so much of his life has been plagued by alcoholism, and frankly, wasted. If he had been able to knock albums like this out every couple of years, he would have a pretty impressive back catalogue rather than the sketchy affair that it is.

I remember, many years after first buying this record, I was working on a late night as a supervisor of a DIY store. I put the album on in the break room, thinking that nobody would know it, but one of my colleagues Carly got overexcited and started singing and dancing along to it whilst doing the vacuuming – a favourite album of hers too. It’s funny how things stick in your memory like that.

Hit: Bad Love

Hidden Gem: Breaking Point