Saturday, August 20, 2016

BOOTLEG SERIES #15: Eric Clapton – Frost Amphitheatre, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA, USA // 9th August 1975

Eric’s return to to the stage in 1974 saw him free from a certain demon for the first time since his Dominos period but a new demon had taken it’s place in the form of alcohol. As a result, there are a number of bootlegs from shows in 1974 that show Eric at his very worst. Unable to sing in key, unable to play like he once did, it’s one of the saddest things to listen to as a Clapton fan. 

But there were a number of shows where things came together brilliantly and this show at Frost Amphitheatre at Stanford University on the 9th August 1975 is one of them.

The band open with Layla which Eric originally recorded with Derek and the Dominos five years earlier. Compared to versions from bootlegs in 1974, Eric is on form vocally and the band sound incredibly tight. I don’t think any version of Layla post-1970 can be compared to when Derek and the Dominos played the song live on tour due to the lack of Jim Gordon and Duane Allman, but Clapton and George Terry manage to do the song justice.

Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door is the second song which, personally, is an odd choice. It’s a good rendition but after six minutes of explosiveness in Layla it kills off any kind of momentum the band gathered since beginning the show. Tell The Truth manages to save things magnificently though and you immediately get the feeling that this should have followed straight after Layla

The opening guitar riff sets the tone well and Clapton sounds great on vocals, as does the rest of the band on their respective instruments. The guitar solo sections sound great and Carl Radle’s trusted and solid bass playing drives the song further and further towards blues/rock heaven.
  1. Layla
  2. Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
  3. Tell The Truth
  4. Can’t Find My Way Home
  5. Key To The Highway
  6. Carnival
  7. Take Me Down To The River
  8. Badge
  9. Better Make It Through Today
  10. Blues Power
  11. Ramblin’ On My Mind
  12. Let It Rain
  13. Eyesight To The Blind (with Carlos Santana)
Things then turn acoustic with a laid back version of Blind Faith’s Can’t Find My Way Home. The song picks up brilliantly as it goes on with a well played harmonica solo in the mix. 

It’s followed closely by Key To The Highway which at this point is the third song to feature from Clapton’s Derek and the Dominos period. Whereas the version that featured on the Layla album contained explosive guitar playing from Clapton and Duane Allman, this version is more laid back. Clapton sounds good on vocals and when he takes a guitar solo mid-way through the song it resembles some of his former glory with the Dominos resulting in a thoroughly enjoyable performance. The song builds and builds over its near nine minute length after which the willing crowd roars its approval. 

The song Carnival follows which would feature on Clapton’s next studio album No Reason To Cry a year later in 1976. He introduces it as a “new one” before the band perform an extremely enjoyable rendition of the song, cemented by Jamie Oldaker’s superb drumming. The guitar playing on this track is nice too and you can sense the enjoyment coming from the band.

After Carnival comes Take Me Down To The River which takes the show in a different direction, but sadly the song is nothing more than a filler track. The band sound great but it pales in comparison to Badge, the song that follows. Clapton is in fine form here and the instrumental section is one of the highlights of the entire show with each member of the band firing on all cylinders. When you think things come to an end near the five minute mark, you’re hugely mistaken, because Clapton re-enters with that downward chord progression that makes Badge so enjoyable to listen to. 

Things then head in a more mellow direction with Better Make It Through Today from 1975’s There’s One In Every Crowd album. The song begins beautifully with Clapton singing from his soul before he turns things up a notch with a wah drenched solo mid-way through the song. The band and their ability to change the tone of this song is superb as they end it the way it begin, laid back and mellow before immediately feeding straight into Blues Power from Clapton’s debut 1970 solo album. 

This song was one of the most explosive when played by Derek and the Dominos, especially on their US tour of 1970, and the explosiveness returns in full force here, albeit in a slightly different form due to the larger band. Clapton shows why he is considered one of the greatest guitarists of all time magnificently well here with a fine solo beginning at around the three minute mark.

Clapton then goes back to basics with a rendition of the Robert Johnson number Ramblin’ On My Mind, a song he first recorded with John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers nearly a decade previously. The song is completely different to the Mayall version but Clapton’s heart and soul remain the same, resulting in a fantastic performance. This version actually resembles The Sky Is Crying from There’s One In Every Crowd when it comes to song structure. Same beat, same guitar, very similar indeed. But still great.  

Let It Rain comes next with those familiar opening chords before the full band come in, with Clapton arguably giving his best vocal performance of the entire show. On some songs you can hear the difference in his voice compared to that of five years previously with Derek and the Dominos, but with this version of Let It Rain he sounds exactly the same in delivery. 

The whole song is a fine band effort and a fantastic way to bring the show to an end, but only until they re-appear with Santana in tow for a run through of Eyesight To The Blind from The Who’s film Tommy. It’s fantastic to hear these two guitar greats go at it and at one point you can hear Clapton lay down a few licks from the song All Your Love from the Bluesbreakers album. Very special.

Overall it’s a fantastic show and a great quality bootleg. Clapton shows during 1974 and 1975 were very hit or miss but this one at at Frost Amphitheatre at Stanford University is one of the best available with Clapton on fine form and at the top of his game musically and vocally. A joy to listen to.

CLASSIC ALBUM SERIES #4: John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers – Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton

Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton
Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

July 22nd 1966 saw the release of what has become the greatest British blues albums of them all, Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton. 

The album set the benchmark for all blues albums that followed, cemented by Clapton’s explosive guitar tone thanks to the majestic bonding between a Gibson guitar and a Marshall amplifier. 

Not only is it the greatest British blues album but it’s also one of the great albums of all time, period.

The album opens with the Otis Rush number All Your Love, a cracking way to begin. The song manages to capture everything great about the Bluesbreakers from Mayall’s unique vocals, Clapton’s explosive guitar, McVie’s pounding bass and Flint’s driving rhythm that is the back bone of the entire song. 

It’s followed by Hideaway which has arguably become the standard version of the song, the original of course being by the late great Freddie King who Clapton was hugely influenced by at the time. Even though it’s a song largely dominated by Clapton’s guitar, the entire band shine brightly and showcase their abilities as Britain’s premier and best British blues band. 

The first Mayall penned track comes next in Little Girl. Apart from Mayall’s vocals, Clapton again takes centre stage with a blistering guitar solo over the ruthless rhythm section of John McVie and Hugh Flint, both of which really take this song to another level. Another Man is pure Mayall drenched with some of the best harmonica playing you’ll ever hear.
  1. All Your Love
  2. Hideaway
  3. Little Girl
  4. Another Man
  5. Double Crossing Time
  6. What’d I Say
  7. Key To Love
  8. Parchman Farm
  9. Have You Heard
  10. Ramblin’ On My Mind
  11. Steppin’ Out
  12. Ain’t It Right
Things then slow down a tad with Double Crossing Time, a fantastic number written by Mayall and Clapton. It’s a wonderful slow blues which clocks in at just over three minutes in length which is the only downside as you feel it deserves to go on for at least another few minutes. 

The opening riff of What’d I Say, originally by Ray Charles, is next and this particular version remains one of the most exciting ever recorded. Mayall gives one of his best vocal performances and it’s the first time on the album so far where you’re able to bask in the magnificence of Hugh Flint’s drumming, as he plays a superb solo section halfway through the song. 

The rest of the band then return with a Day Tripper-esque riff to bring the song to a close. Next up is Key To Love which is another Mayall original. Flint is an abslute force of nature with some of the best drumming you’ll ever hear, and Clapton returns for another ear drum attacking guitar solo.

The great Parchman Farm comes next which was originally recorded by Bukka White in 1940 and then covered by a host of musicians including Mose Allison, Johnny Winter, Bobbie Gentry and Hot Tuna to name just a few. Mayall is a man possessed on harmonica here, arguably giving his finest musical performance of the entire album. 

The slow blues number Have You Heard then takes things in a slower direction, at least at first. When it comes to electric guitar solos this song certainly contains one of the finest ever recorded with Clapton showing exactly why the nickname “God” was so fitting. The things he managed to do with a guitar during this song are second to none in my opinion, firmly placing him as the greatest British blues guitarist of all time.

Ramblin’ On My Mind remains to this day as one of Robert Johnson’s most well known songs, helped by the legendary status of this version featuring Clapton on lead vocals. And it’s the fact that Clapton took lead vocal duties on this song that made it so legendary, after all this is the first time he ever sang lead on a song. Even though he used to sing backing vocals with The Yardbirds it’s a strong vocal performance with guitar accompaniment including a tasty solo, backed up by Mayall on piano. It’s probably the most pure blues song of the whole album and a song that opened up Clapton both vocally and musically, as he would go on to call Robert Johnson one of his main influences and as a eventually record Me & Mr. Johnson, a tribute album to his idol, in 2004.

Steppin’ Out is the second guitar lead instrumental after Hideaway and a song Clapton would continue playing with Cream up until their final active year in 1968. It’s a superb number with Clapton yet again showcasing his guitar abilities fantastically. The final song is It Ain’t Right which sees the album end on a wonderful note. Originally recorded by Little Walter, Mayall lays down some fine harmonica while the rest of the band hit hard like a freight train. A perfect way to end the album.

Overall it’s a faultless album, a solid 10/10 if there ever was one. Not only do you get to witness the evolution of Eric Clapton but you get to listen to British blues at it’s very finest. The band as a whole were fantastic. John Mayall, Eric Clapton, John McVie, Hugh Flint. Four of the finest musicians to ever play and the blues is richer today because of them.