Tag Archives: Eric Clapton

Rocks In The Attic #818: Cream – ‘Disraeli Gears’ (1967)

RITA#818This belter of an album reminds me of a period in the mid 2000s when I was trying to put together a southern rock-tinged blues-boogie band in Manchester with Dustan Chiasson, an American ex-serviceman from Louisiana. Cream’s Sunshine Of Your Love and the Black Crowe’s Remedy were two of the songs that we bonded over, and despite a raft of rehearsals – many of which amusingly took place in the stock room of an adult store in Oldham – and just one live performance of Sunshine Of Your Love and ZZ Top’s Blue Jean Blues, the band fizzled out and lost momentum.

I recently discovered that Dustan committed suicide in 2015, an extremely sad loss that really took me by surprise. He was always such a solid guy, which I always put down to his past in the military, and so to hear how he died is really confusing. One of our band members lived in Todmorden and so we’d RITA#818asometimes drive there from Manchester. I have good memories of those car trips, laughing and joking about stuff to pass the time. I seem to remember being in the car with Dustan when we heard on the radio that Syd Barrett died. Such a weird thing to remember, but I even remember the exact spot on the M60 where we heard the news.

That could have been a good band, if we had kept it together. My wife and I really got on with Dustan’s Finnish wife, and his two kids and some of their parental instructions (‘lopettaa!’ = ‘stop!’). We lost touch, but from what I’ve gathered online, it seems like he later formed a killer band in Remedy Krewe. They sound very much like the image he had for the band we were putting together.

Hit: Sunshine Of Your Love

Hidden Gem: SWLABR

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Rocks In The Attic #809: Eric Clapton – ‘August’ (1986)

RITA#809After a lacklustre start to the decade, Eric Clapton really picked up the pace on this and its follow-up, Journeyman. Both covers feature photography by the recently departed Terry O’Neill, depicting a stylish, more mature Clapton. This maturity can also be heard in the songwriting, which finds a plaintive Clapton in a new spot, looking back at his life. The instrumentation is also similar across the two records, utilising the same band of Michael Jackson sideman Greg Phillinganes on keyboards, Nathan East on bass and Phil Collins on drums.

The album kicks off with It’s In The Way That You Use It, featured in The Color Of Money, the 1986 sequel to The Hustler, starring Tom Cruise and Paul Newman. But as commercial as that song is, there’s far stronger material to be found throughout the album.

RITA#809aTearing Us Apart features a vocal duet with Tina Turner, who returns to provide backing vocals on Hold On. The real highpoint though is Behind The Mask, the album’s closer and its only Top 20 single. Starting life as a song by Yellow Magic Orchestra, Quincy Jones heard the song and had Michael Jackson write new lyrics for it, eventually recording it during the Thriller sessions. Unreleased on the eventual album, Greg Phillinganes then recorded a version of it for his 1984 solo album, Pulse, before Clapton covered it on August.

My favourite track though is Miss You – a slow burning electric blues, with a soaring lead guitar from Clapton. It’s a fantastic taster of the kind of material and production that makes Journeyman such a joy to listen to. August is a great start, but Journeyman is clearly the better album.

Hit: Behind The Mask

Hidden Gem: Miss You

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Rocks In The Attic #754: George Harrison – ‘Cloud Nine’ (1987)

RITA#754Imagine if George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Elton John, Ringo Starr and Jeff Lynne had got together and formed a band, maybe recorded an album together. What a project that would have been! Well imagine no more, as it did happen, in the form of this, George’s eleventh and final (in his lifetime) studio album from 1987.

The stars were definitely aligning around George around this time. The players on this album attest to the strength of this; neither of them needed the work. And it wasn’t the only supergroup that George would play with before the decade was out. A year later he and Jeff Lynne would form the Traveling Wilburys with Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Roy Orbison – itself the result of a need to record a b-side for a Cloud Nine single.

In fact, it’s Jeff Lynne who I see as the unsung hero behind these two projects. His production is the reason Cloud Nine sounds so focused, compared to some of George’s more meandering efforts. It sounds upbeat and now, mainly thanks to that big drum sound – something he would apply again to Ringo’s drums ten years later on the Beatles’ ‘reunion’ singles, Free As A Bird and Real Love. Lynne would apply the same formula to Roy Orbison’s Mystery Girl and Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever in 1989, before pulling Paul McCartney back on creative track with 1996’s Flaming Pie.

It’s sad that George didn’t release any more studio albums after this, before he died in 2002. Aside from working on the Beatles’ Anthology project, I guess he was happy just to tinker around in his garden, and bring up his son, Dhani.

Speaking of Dhani, I was happy to see his name credited as the composer of HBO’s recent documentary The Case Against Adnan Syed.  Alongside his writing partner, Paul Hicks, he’s been working as a composer for films and TV shows since 2013. Given the soundtrack success of partnerships Nick Cave & Warren Ellis, and Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, it’s more than likely that we’ll hear more from Harrison and Hicks in the near future.

Hit: Got My Mind Set On You

Hidden Gem: Fish On The Sand

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Rocks In The Attic #640: Otis Rush – ‘The Classic Recordings’ (1985)

RITA#640The great Chicago bluesman Otis Rush will forever be remembered as the man who wrote All Your Love, his eighth A-side, featured here as the first song on this compilation. The song later found a wider audience by introducing the world to Eric Clapton by way of John Mayall’s Blues Breakers record in 1966 – however it was Aerosmith’s cover, from 1991’s Pandora’s Box collection of outtakes and demos, which first turned me onto the song.

Otis Rush is also synonymous with Led Zeppelin. He was the first artist to record I Can’t Quit You Baby, written by Willie Dixon and later covered by Zeppelin on their eponymous 1969 debut record and featured twice on their BBC Sessions collection.

Rush was discovered by Dixon in 1956, and it is Dixon who is credited for getting Rush signed to a record contract (with Abco Records). Dixon plays bass across each of the eight singles (A- and B-sides) which make up this record, backing Rush on vocals and guitar (a young Ike Turner even pops up on guitar on the last two singles).

The quirk of Otis Rush is that he is left-handed, but plays right-handed strung guitars flipped upside down (with the low E string at the bottom). Now that’s the kind of left-handed guitar player us right-handers need to be friends with!

Hit: All Your Love

Hidden Gem: Sit Down Baby

Rocks In The Attic #632: Amen Corner – ‘Greatest Hits’ (1977)

RITA#632Greatest Hits can mean a lot of things. Some collections can cover decades, some much shorter. This disc represents the latter: twelve songs from a band that had a very short life, in that they only recorded across two years – 1968 and 1969.

Opening with the #1 single, (If Paradise Is) Half As Nice, things slip downhill quite suddenly with a cover of the Beatles’ Get Back. It’s not a bad cover – in fact, they re-imagine the song quite well from the original – but the prospect of a cover song as the second song on a Greatest Hits collection doesn’t bode well.

In fact, of the record’s twelve songs, another two are well-known covers – a more straightforward, yet sloppier, version of the Band’s The Weight that outstays its welcome, and a peaky version of the American Breed’s Bend Me, Shape Me – while the album’s final four songs are all live recordings. Surely this is the dictionary definition of scraping the barrel; but good on Immediate Records for trying.

Released in 1977 to benefit from frontman Andy Fairweather Low’s burgeoning solo career (and sideman to the likes of Eric Clapton and George Harrison), the album is a nice little nostalgia trip, and a snapshot of the band’s short life at the headier, and musically more interesting, end of the 1960s.

Hit: (If Paradise Is) Half As Nice

Hidden Gem: Get Back

Rocks In The Attic #623: The Band – ‘Music From Big Pink’ (1968)

RITA#623I recently saw The Last Waltz, Martin Scorsese’s film of the final Band performance in 1976. I don’t know why I had avoided this for so long; perhaps it was the feeling that when you’ve seen one classic rock superstar concert line-up, you’ve seen them all. “Get Eric Clapton on the phone, we’re having a get-together.” Or perhaps it was the suspicion that Scorsese’s presence might taint the Band, just like his sycophancy for the Rolling Stones has left that band a little less dangerous.

Watching the film – which I enjoyed immensely – I was struck by the feeling of how inadequate my collection of Band records is. I have this, their classic debut, and I also have their self-titled follow-up, but that’s it. No more. Zilch.

Of course, I’ve been operating under the illusion that that’s all I needed, and that if I made the effort to check out their later recordings then I’d be disappointed. But watching the 1976 version of the group perform in The Last Waltz, it seems like the Band couldn’t write a bad song if they tried.

My favourite guest star in The Waltz was Joni Mitchell – another artist seriously under-represented in my record collection. I have Ladies Of The Canyon, Blue and The Hissing Of Summer Lawns, but I need more, so much more. I might grow my hair and start wearing flares this summer.

Hit: The Weight

Hidden Gem: Chest Fever

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

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