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J.J. Cale And Eric Clapton – The Road To Escondido

Sometimes, you throw on a record and it just works, ya know? Whatever the mood, whatever your day has been like, you go to your collection in need of that one record that’s gonna make it right… and you just nail it.

This one is that record. Every damn time.

I can’t even begin to tell you how great this is. I may have raved before about J.J. Cale in these pages before, especially his record Troubadour. He has a sound, a thing that he does, and no matter where you are or what’s happening, it brings you back. It grounds you, lets you know everything can be OK.

Oh yeah, and that guy Clapton. You might have heard of him. He’s OK with a guitar now and then, I reckon.

Honestly, this is sunny California and sweet rhythms and blues all rolled into 14 tracks of glorious.

And look at just a short list of folks involved, in one way or another… Derek Trucks, John Mayer, Albert Lee, Doyle Bramhall II, Nathan East, Pino Palladino, Steve Jordan, Billy Preston, Taj Mahal, and many others…

I know. The damn thing won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album in 2008, too.

In Sum:

If you have this, you’ll know what I mean. If you don’t have this, you’re probably wondering how the hell you missed it. Or perhaps you’re regretting passing it over as some Clapton side project not worth your time. Or if, after all that, you still don’t care, well, it’ll be here for you when you come around, when you’re ready for it.

Get this in your life. Trust me.

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B.B. King & Eric Clapton – Riding With The King

Well this one’s like shooting fish in a barrel, isn’t it. B.B. King. Eric Clapton. Lucille. Blackie.

That oughta cover it, eh?

But of course I can go on…

Hot damn I love this album. So did lots of other people, as it won the Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Album in 2001, and it went 2x Multi-Platinum in the U.S. Yes.

I was gonna type all this out, but Wiki has got me covered:

The album contains five “vintage” King songs from the 1950s and 1960s: “Ten Long Years”, “Three O’Clock Blues”, “Help the Poor”, “Days of Old” and “When My Heart Beats Like a Hammer”. Other standards include the Big Bill Broonzy-penned “Key to the Highway” (which Clapton had recorded in the early 1970s with Derek and the Dominos), Chicago pianist Maceo Merriweather’s “Worried Life Blues”, a cover of Isaac Hayes’s composition “Hold On, I’m Comin'” originally a 1966 single for Sam & Dave, and “Come Rain or Come Shine” from the 1946 musical St. Louis Woman. The album’s title track, “Riding with the King”, is a John Hiatt composition that came about when producer Scott Mathews recounted to Hiatt a strange and abstract dream he had of flying on an airplane with Elvis Presley. It is also the title track of Hiatt’s 1983 album of the same name that Mathews co-produced. The balance of the tracks were written especially for the album.

Doyle Bramhall II, Andy Fairweather Low, Jimmie Vaughan, Joe Sample, Tim Carmon, Nathan East, and Steve Gadd join as players, while Susannah and Wendy Melvoin add back-up vocals.

What else do you need? This is laid-back, beautiful blues from two of the best practitioners of the art who have ever lived.

GET YOU SOME!

Revisiting Eric Crapton

As you know, I’ve (recently) been attacking the very daunting job of reorganizing the library here at the house. It’s far past time to be getting things into some much-needed order.

Today, I tackled all of my cassettes. Tapes! I know, that’s so hawt. Anyway, I didn’t think I had very many, but that turned out to be quite incorrect. So, as I dug through the piles of tapes, I made an amusing re-discovery…

Way back in April of 2008, I posted* about finding a wonderful cassette in the used book shop at the beach. It’s Eric Clapton’s From The Cradle album. It is the Korean release of the album, and it has a very special spelling on Side B.

Click the photo to enlarge all of its majesty…

IMAG1569

 

* the photo at the link no longer works, hence the second reason for this reposting today.

B.B. King & Eric Clapton – Riding With The King

How did they even decide who got their name first on this album? I’d suppose B.B.’s first as a sign of respect from Eric? Right on.

Riding With The King is a great album, made by two guitar legends and a top band. They were clearly having fun, here. I’m sure you can imagine what it sounds like, given these two players, without ever having to hear them play a note. Still, it’s really, really worth it to dig into this album.

The title track slinks along, and even has a bit of spoken word from B.B. Not a bad introduction, indeed. Ten Long Years is pure B.B.-sounding, but both guitars are doing all of the talking on this slower blues. Hot damn. Key To The Highway goes acoustic, a nice touch. Marry You is 70’s funk blues, a really swinging track. Clapton’s vocals are played a bit too straight, but so what?

Three O’Clock Blues here is pure gold, a last song of the night, after last call, a blues to send you off into the night. So sweet, one of my favourite tracks here, just for mood alone. They play Help The Poor, an old B.B. standard, fairly close to the way it has always sounded. Still a nice shuffle to it. I Wanna Be feels like it could have been one of the stronger tracks off Journeyman, and that’s alright with me. Worried Life Blues goes acoustic again, pure old blues in the best tradition. Another favourite here. So it seems I like the slower tracks, here. Interesting.

Days Of Old is a jump blues that really cooks. It’s impossible to sit still listening to this. Blistering solos, and great piano work. When My Heart Beats Like A Hammer is another sweet, low down and slow blues. More great piano all over this one. This one just drips with blues. Hold On, I’m Coming! is a song title that, no matter who does it, always makes me snicker like a schoolboy because it’s never what I think of when I read or hear those words. Anyway. This is a credible version, about half-speed from the Sam & Dave version to which you’re probably accustomed. And bringing up the rear is a lovely love song version of Come Rain Or Come Shine. B.B.’s vocals sound particularly fragile, which lends beauty.

I could listen to this record anytime. Of course there are tracks I’d pull out for a mix tape, but there truthfully isn’t anything close to a mediocre track here. Put these two legends together, and that’s what you get. Brilliance.

Wynton Marsalis & Eric Clapton – Play The Blues, Live From Jazz At Lincoln Center

Two giants on the stage, surrounded by an ace band, ripping through an impeccable set list of old blues songs. One CD, and a DVD, too. What a set, what a night! The enduring impression I have of hearing this is of a stage-full of incredibly gifted players, lost in the joy of both making music and paying homage to the history that gave it to us. Let’s hope that this is only the first of many collaborations between these two superlative players and their friends.

To say I loved this would be unparalleled understatement.

Ice Cream is a great old jump boogie in that old party style, bringing turn of the last century ‘jass’ one hundred years into the future. Glorious. Lots of solo turns, and each is phenomenal. If you’re not tapping your foot along to this, stop listening now.

Move without much pause into the sweetly loping Forty-Four. Clapton’s vocals growl, just like they did on his From The Cradle record. The guitar is much more to the fore in this track, and that relentless piano echoing the snare drum is hypnotic. We get more huge solos, all tastefully dirty and suiting the song. The liner notes list this as written by Chester Burnett, but you might know him by the name Howlin’ Wolf. Or, if you’re an afficianado, maybe you know Roosevelt Sykes’ earlier take on it. So hot.

In the Notes On Play The Blues inside the booklet, Wynton describes WC Handy’s Joe Turner’s Blues here as a ‘southern slow drag,’ and that it sure is. It’s so sweet, playing at half speed is just as powerful as the finger-twisting speed of other tracks here. This is lazy afternoon music, hell, maybe even funeral march music.

Louis Armstrong’s The Last Time opens with a sweet clarinet, which makes way for a really fat-toned trumpet by Wynton. That must’ve been Clapton saying “yeah!” during the intro. The clarinet comes back and you can’t help but smile. The band members are surely enjoying it. The vocals ride in on a wave of piano, followed by just great instrumentation all around. These cats are just revelling in it. Hot damn.

W.C. Handy’s Careless Love is another slow stomper, though the horns in the background are lightly kinetic. A sweet mix of slow and agile. Clapton’s vocals mix perfectly with his bluesy guitar line, and holy hell what a solo! And that trumpet… I need to play this CD over and over and just let that horn seep into my blood. I do believe I will.

Head straight into the Kidman Blues, which double-times it straight into a dance jive that’ll make you move no matter what you’re doing otherwise. Fun! Stand-out here is the piano through the whole tune. There’s a wall of horns, they’re all yammering at once, but no one is stepping in the way of any other. Another huge guitar solo… all of it stunning.

A big, messy teaser intro leads into a dirge-like Layla. It takes the crowd a while to pick up the hint of what it is, but when they do, they love it. It’s interesting how well this song fits in with the surrounding standards and classic old blues. Clapton has played with variations of this track many times through the years. At this version’s pace, the tune becomes even more plaintive, even more pained. Clapton’s guitar solo is incendiary, and when Wynton takes over to solo, the tune starts to swing before sliding back. So cool.

Joliet Bound is pure old blues jamming from Memphis Minnie, with a propulsive beat like an old steam engine at full throttle. What a harrowing tale, and Chris Crenshaw’s vocals are great. “I’ve been drinking white lightning, it’s gone to my head” indeed. A great muted horn solo. I swear.

Then we’re swept to a New orleans side street as a funeral procession glides past, the band marching sweetly through Just A Closer Walk With Thee. Just let it wash over you. You’ll find yourself wishing it would never end. Taj Mahal’s vocals are also really great. Then, around the six and a half minute-mark, one of those great drum breakouts appears from the sadness, enough to make you shake your moneymaker and not care who was watching. From there the track takes off into a gleeful blast of happy jazz.

Ostensibly the concert ends here, though Mahal comes back for a jaunt through Corrine, Corinna, which is just a great party track. He even brings a banjo. Yeah, man. Yeah. You can surely tell the band can’t get enough, they’d play all night. This last volley is just gravy. Delicious, jazzy gravy.

Please. Buy This. Even if it’s the only jazz CD you’d own. Damn. This might be my album of the year.

***

And then I did it all over again, this time watching the DVD of the same performance. But the DVD is so much more than that!

Sure, we get all of the performances with mostly good camera-work (some of it does jump around on zoom disorientingly fast), and a bit more of the stage banter that was edited from the CD. That’s the part of shows like this that I love. The little stories between songs, the stuff of life that the final product wouldn’t otherwise give you.

It’s fun to watch these musicians ply their trade, but I still have to say that I’m glad I played the CD first. Sort of like when you’re glad you read the book before seeing the movie. It’s better when your mind takes in the music first, before the distractions of watching them move and play in the film takes over. The latter is much more passive. However you look at it, though, this stuff is BRILLIANT.

And as if that isn’t enough, there are patches of documentary-style footage as well, backstage shots of band members, with voices-overs from Wynton. One of the most poignant things he says, (I think it was during the end credits), is that to have all of these amazing musicians together, they were really trying to come from a place of quality. Make the most of it, you know? Right on, brother. Right on. It’d be so easy for these guys to get together, whip off some old songs like it weren’t no thing, and the crowd would still go nuts. I appreciate the time and effort they clearly put into this whole production. That’s the real gift to us, right there.

As a bonus track on the DVD, Taj Mahal comes back to the stage solo and rips off a pretty stellar version of Stagger Lee. On its own, this is really neat. It also seems a little out of context of the setting of full band we’d enjoyed for the whole show. Was it an afterthought? Were they standing around right after the band left the stage following Corrine, Corrina and somebody said, ‘hey, Taj, go play your cool version of that old song?’ Who knows. Who cares? But it doesn’t add a whole lot to the main experience.

Overall, the DVD is just as much fun to watch as the CD is to listen to… again, and again, and again, and…

Buy this set, already. Go on!

Eric Clapton – Journeyman

[Reprise/Duck Records 92-60741, 1989]

I bought this for a couple of songs that I love, and ended up liking the whole thing. Mostly. The guitar work is, of course, unimpeachable, and most of the songs are so strong it hurts. But the 80’s weren’t kind to anybody, and some of the sound is pure 80’s cheese.

SIDE A

Pretending’s cool little blues intro devolves quickly into its Miami Vice-like sound (with blistering guitar runs and solos, of course), which totally matches the hilarious, wrinkled and ill-fitting grey Don Johnson-esque leisure suit (with shades!) he’s wearing on the back cover of this record. Those reverb synths, that chorus that somehow manages to bring things down a bit rather than lifting it all up (as a chorus should), Chaka Khan on backing vocals… Great song. Just definitely of a period.

Anything For Your Love keeps that sound alive, at half-speed, sounding like it could have come off any major Hollywood movie soundtrack circa 1985. The guitar hammer-on noodling in the background is fun, but it helps to have headphones on to notice that it is there. Really nice solo here, and Robert Cray on guitar too!

Bad Love’s synth intro gives way to a satisfying guitar line worthy of Cream. Of course, by the time he starts singing, the song lightens up again. The pace also seems too quick, trying too hard. I wonder if Phil Collins being on drums for this track has anything to do with that. Oh well. The soloing here is absolutely blistering.

Running On Faith is one of the reasons I bought this record. It’s one of the most gorgeous songs Clapton has ever recorded, capturing that longing, that blues that can (and does, here) save a record. The acoustic slide guitar, the choir, everything. Perfect. The version on 24 Nights is also glorious.

Hard Times is the main reason I brought this home, and my favourite track on this record, Greg Philliganes is all over the piano on this superlative cover of Ray Charles, his playing the real heart of the song. The guitar is perfect, the horns (including a sax solo!), the story of the song… Man, I love this track.

Hound Dog is a fun, stomping jalopy run-through of an old classic. You can tell this is the point in the recording sessions where the band just wanted to be loose and have fun. And who wouldn’t, with Robert Cray along for the ride again?! Good on ’em, anyway. It totally worked. The spirit here is easy to recognize.

SIDE B

No Alibis is another 80’s blast, worthy of any of Steve Winwood’s records. A great guitar sound, that soaring soloing. Daryl Hall grabs harmony vocals (where was Oats?), and Chaka Khan and friends return for backing vocals.

Run So Far, written by George Harrison, features the man himself. This track definitely displays his sound and influence. Amazing he’s here, really, given his history with Mr. Clapton and a particular woman… shows incredible personal courage and restraint. Anyway, also cool to see Rolling Stone Darryl Jones on bass, here.

Old Love is a great blues that wants to break free of the 80’s grip of the record. Robert Cray on guitar, Gary Burton on vibes. Just a great slow dancer with guitars everywhere.

Breaking Point is funky chunky, and still holding tight to the sense that it ought to have Harold Faltermeyer playing on it. Great wah-wah guitar. The song drags on a bit long with far too much repetition (taking the listener to their own Breaking Point?), but whatever. Maybe they could have cut out the synth break. Oh yeah, they could have.

Lead Me On is a pretty, wobbly-sounding love song with Cecil and Lina Womack (it’s their song) sharing vocal duties. Some of the lyrics are right out of Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean, and the rest is pure disgusting maudlin, but I guess they were just in a touchy-feely mood. Let them have their moment.

Before You Accuse Me brings back Robert Cray again for a rip through this Bo Diddley classic. I love this track. Some absolutely scorching guitar solos here, and that great shuffling 12-bar blues that Clapton should use more often. You may know the version on Unplugged better, but this one absolutely smokes.

This record contains a couple of my favourite Clapton tracks, and some toss-aways too. It may also have seemed to be the last of its kind for ‘God’ himself, teetering as it was on the edge of the grunge period.

Eric Crapton

Yes, you read that correctly.

We were at the beach on the weekend and, as is our wont, we popped in to check out the local used book store after walking on the shore (it was lovely, by the way, thanks for asking). Anyway, I found a bin of old cassettes and, whilst pawing through them looking for cool stuff for my car’s top-of-the-line tape deck (rock! nostalgic! sweet!), I found a copy of Eric Clapton’s brilliant blues revival record, From The Cradle. There’s all kinds of songs on here that make me inordinately happy, and it’s one of the only Later Years Clapton records I enjoy from start to finish.

Anyway, the point of this post isn’t exactly to review the record, per se, but to share the beauty of this cassette copy with you. You see, this is not what one would expect to find in a used book shop in small town Ontario. Nope, this is a Warner Music Korea release, complete with Korean ideograms in the liner notes, and other cool markings on the packaging that we’re not used to seeing here in North America.

Now, that in itself is pretty awesome. It makes me wonder how it got here. I mean, I know this is a global community now, and anyone from anywhere (as long as we remember to narrow down that pool of people to Clapton fans) could have traveled to Korea and brought it back, or had it shipped to them, or purchased it in a larger center like Toronto… But still, for that little area it’s pretty unique, indeed.

But maybe the best part about it is the cassette label, particularly on Side B. Now, Side A is perfectly normal. But have a look at the pic, below, and check out Side B. You’ll see why I already love this cassette completely.

Bahahaha! This made my week!

(Thanks, James, for making the picture work!)

Clapton – The Autobiography

I had a really good time reading this book. Of course, I knew most of the major details of Clapton’s life, having been a fan (mostly) for all these years. It’s pretty hard not to have heard these tales already, since when you’re a star as big as he is, the world just makes it their business.

So, I knew all about the different bands over the decades, and most of the reasons why they worked (or didn’t), just from having paid half-assed attention to rock history. It also helped to have already heard most of the music being discussed. I found it played in my head while reading, thus providing an excellent soundtrack.

The tales of his childhood are interesting (I hadn’t really known about the Canadian connection, so that’s cool). We are all shaped by our experiences (duh!), and Clapton is no different. And so I wasn’t too surprised when I read through his tales of messed up relationships (especially lusting after another man’s wife), and of his massive substance abuse problems, because these, too, are well documented in a million places. They say artists must suffer for their art, and Clapton surely did suffer, but c’mon, most of it was self-inflicted. Well, we all make choices, don’t we! At least he owns up to this in the book.

So, I read through his tales of trying to get clean, the horrific death of his son, his falling off the wagon and then finally getting clear of the shit for good. I had known, somewhat peripherally, of his subsequent auctioning off of a lot of guitars. But I hadn’t realized just how many, or how much money he actually raised. Jeez. Well, good for him. Especially since the money went to a healthy place, even if that place can only be reached by (surely hand-selected) locals and an elite few rich folks. I mean, when was the last time you passed through Antigua, for any reason? Exactly.

I hadn’t known much about the more recent parts of his life – his new wife, their daughters, etc, so it was good to get caught up with the man. Frankly, I hadn’t been paying too much attention to him in the last few years, as his albums have generally left me cold. Even the blues ones, which should appeal to me to no end. Tastes change, I know, but I still love the blues, and he plays them incredibly well. He even claims that the blues are still his number one mission. So I don’t know why I find he just sounds like a professional going through the motions, tossing off the riffs in a studio, these days. I guess I just can’t feel it from him anymore. Which is not to say the music is not technically brilliant, because it surely is. But there’s a difference between that and soul. Maybe it’s age, or that he’s happier now than he’s maybe ever been, or it’s the sobriety, or his shift from player to legend (and all the attendant hype)? Maybe a little bit of all of that. Who knows? Of course, it’s probably unreasonable of me to expect he’d solely make pure, raw blues records – they never sell as well. After all, he’s got a massive boat to pay for now, you know?

Anyway, the best part about this book is the level of self-effacing humility that he has reached at this point in his life. Oh sure, he is still living a life most of us can only imagine, but he really seems pretty humble about his talent, about his accomplishments, and even somewhat mystified, at points, about the reverence people hold for him as a person and as a musician. Of course, it’s his book and he can write what he wants (he might kick his dog, for all we know), but it’s still refreshing to read that he’s not still all full of himself, that all of his experiences have finally led him to grow up a little, and to see the world through increasingly balanced eyes. The fact that he’s had to live into his 60’s to reach this position is beside the point. At least he’s doing it.

I highly recommend this book.

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