Analysis: Clapton’s Late Career – Is He Making Amends?

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I’ve almost always liked Eric Clapton. And, like his recently titled album suggests, “I still do.” However, I won’t be reviewing his new album for BourbonAndVinyl. For me, “I Still Do” is just another mellow strummer along the lines of “Back Home,” “Old Sock,” or “Clapton.” Sure, “I Still Do” has better production than most of his LPs, but I still have no interest. I have to admit to a bit of frustration with Eric Clapton. Here’s a guy who made his reputation on fiery guitar solo’s in the 60s with such history-making acts as John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and Cream. His playing earned him the graffiti tag: “Clapton Is God.” Now it appears he’s turned his back on that sort of guitar virtuosity in favor of a very mellow and often over-slick, produced sound. It’s just not interesting to me at all. At this point I’d even settle for a little of the blues fire he showed on “Slowhand,” my first Clapton album purchased with my own money. I also purchased “Just One Night” his live album from that era and I think it’s the best live album he’s ever done. Do yourself a favor and check that one out.

I heard Keith Richards say of Clapton in an interview years ago, “Eric is ok, but he’s just so afraid.” I chocked it up to Keith being stoned and rambling, but I’m beginning to think he may be right. Clapton seems downright afraid of letting loose with his guitar. Similar to Robert Plant, it seems Clapton wants no part in living up to his past. I don’t necessarily disagree with that, but I’d like to think he wouldn’t so actively flee from it. I saw Clapton in Dallas about 10 years ago or so, and he ended the rather weak show with “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” I’m still pissed. I mean, really? He’s always had an affinity for the “Great American Songbook,” but come on, man.

I was thinking about Clapton’s work in this millennium the other day, really everything since “From the Cradle,” trying to make sense of it. It suddenly occurred to me, Clapton is also rather famous for being a recovered addict. He managed to somehow kick heroin in the 70’s. I’m not sure when he finally won the battle against alcohol but he’s been sober quite a while now. I typically don’t trust someone who doesn’t drink, but I always respect the recovered alcoholic, so good for Eric. We all make that choice every day. Clapton famously founded the Crossroads Rehab center and does (I believe) an annual concert in Chicago with all the guitar firepower in the world performing. I’d actually like to attend that festival but the Rock Chick doesn’t share my affinity for 70’s guitar-blues-rock (maybe she’d go for the shopping?). When thinking about Clapton’s late career it suddenly occurred to me, maybe he’s making amends. Perhaps he associates the blistering guitar solos of his youth with his drug and liquor addictions hence he’s turned his back on that part of his skill set.

According to what I’ve read, “Making Amends” is defined by the 12-Step Program as the attempt to “make direct amends to such people (I’m assuming that you’ve harmed), wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” I believe this is Step 9 and it led me to this theory of Clapton’s late career. To understand my theory you really have to look at his collaborations. Clapton’s late career is chock full of collaborations. Could it be that he’s making amends with these people? I read his autobiography a few years ago and I have to admit, I’ve never read someone’s autobiography and come out liking the person less afterward. It seems he was a colossal asshole when he was on the sauce.

  1. George Harrison – as early as 1992 Clapton went on tour in Japan with Harrison. He attended/helped organize the Harrison Tribute concert. Let’s face it, he stole George’s wife… so there was a lot to be sorry for there.
  2. B.B. King – “Riding With the King,” his collaboration with B.B. is one of the better collaborations he’s done. Not sure why he’d need to make amends with B.B. Everybody loved and respected B.B. King. Maybe he felt bad about exploiting and/or stealing from the old blues masters. You’re really looking for something to feel bad about if that’s your motivation.
  3. Cream – the 2005 Reunion Concerts/Live LP – Clapton’s stormy relationship with Jack Bruce (bass), and Ginger Baker (drums) are the thing of legend. In the end they’d just go on stage and jam while ignoring each other. From the smiling faces and mellow performances one could suggest Clapton succeeded in “getting the healing done.”
  4. Steve Winwood – 2009 Madison Square Garden Concerts/LP – From everything I read, Winwood was hoping for a lot more collaboration and leadership from Clapton when they were in Blind Faith. Unfortunately Clapton quietly faded into the woodwork. Maybe this joint concert was an attempt to show us what might have been. I love this live album. Winwood appears to be one of the few people who can coax a little fire out of Clapton’s guitar. Clapton provides a solo on Winwood’s fabulous tune “Dirty City” that makes you think, “where the fuck has this sound been?” “Dirty City” is a must-buy.
  5. Glyn Johns – “I Still Do” – Clapton read Johns’ autobiography and in it Glyn describes his initial collaborations with Clapton which were not positive. Johns was brought in to work on “The Rainbow Concerts” album and Clapton wouldn’t show up for “touch-up” recording sessions for that live album. Johns went on to work with Clapton later and it went a lot better, maybe Eric was sober finally, and he wondered in his book if they were still friends. Suddenly, Clapton is bringing Glyn to produce “I Still Do.” That smacks of “amends” in my book.
  6. J.J. Cale – “The Road to Escondido” – Clapton has recorded more J.J. Cale songs than just about anybody. He recorded this collaborative album in 2006 and did a tribute album when Cale sadly passed in 2014. Heaven knows what Clapton has to make up for here.
  7. Wynton Marsalis – “Live From Jazz at Lincoln Center” – again, no idea what amends would be made here but this is a critically acclaimed live album.

It may be a stretch to say that Clapton has mellowed out and stop playing fierce guitar as a reaction to his sobriety. However, if you look at his collaborations, you could make the case that he’s out there making amends. It’s produced better music than his solo albums, so I’m not complaining here. He did cover Dylan’s “I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine” a tune which has an air of remorse and confession about it. Of course the Wynton Marsalis, J.J. Cale, and B.B. King collaborations seem to be more of a joyful thing, so I could be wrong. I often am. But I felt this was good food for thought.

I would still advise checking out some of these collaborations. I believe you’ll find them more satisfying than “I Still Do.” And yes, I still do like Eric Clapton, blazing solo’s or not.

Cheers!

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6 thoughts on “Analysis: Clapton’s Late Career – Is He Making Amends?

  1. Great piece of writing.
    Couldn’t agree more about the slightly sour taste his biography left with me.
    Two areas he might like to make amends
    Alice omesby gore
    Layla substitute who as a teenager cared for him through the Heroin years only to be dumped herself an addict when the real Layla became available.
    Public racism
    A pissed up Eric appeared on stage and, here I have to quote

    Do we have any foreigners in the audience tonight? If so, please put up your hands. Wogs I mean, I’m looking at you. Where are you? I’m sorry but some fucking wog…Arab grabbed my wife’s bum, you know? Surely got to be said, yeah this is what all the fucking foreigners and wogs over here are like, just disgusting, that’s just the truth, yeah. So where are you? Well wherever you all are, I think you should all just leave. Not just leave the hall, leave our country. You fucking (indecipherable). I don’t want you here, in the room or in my country. Listen to me, man! I think we should vote for Enoch Powell. Enoch’s our man. I think Enoch’s right, I think we should send them all back. Stop Britain from becoming a black colony. Get the foreigners out. Get the wogs out. Get the coons out. Keep Britain white. I used to be into dope, now I’m into racism. It’s much heavier, man. Fucking wogs, man. Fucking Saudis taking over London. Bastard wogs. Britain is becoming overcrowded and Enoch will stop it and send them all back. The black wogs and coons and Arabs and fucking Jamaicans and fucking (indecipherable) don’t belong here, we don’t want them here. This is England, this is a white country, we don’t want any black wogs and coons living here. We need to make clear to them they are not welcome. England is for white people, man. We are a white country. I don’t want fucking wogs living next to me with their standards. This is Great Britain, a white country, what is happening to us, for fuck’s sake? We need to vote for Enoch Powell, he’s a great man, speaking truth. Vote for Enoch, he’s our man, he’s on our side, he’ll look after us. I want all of you here to vote for Enoch, support him, he’s on our side. Enoch for Prime Minister! Throw the wogs out! Keep Britain white!

    I think this made a far bigger splash in Britain where there was a serious right wing movement, Enoch Powell was actually a member of Parliament who warned of the dangers of immigration but got rather hijacked by the far right .

    My reading of the whole thing was Clapton was an arsehole but clearly not a racist but he’s always glossed this event over rather than owning up to being an embarrassment .

    At the time Bowie was also flirting with fascism and seeing our heroes ( any pun accidental ) behaving like this let to the formation of Rock Against Racism with was really influential by the end of the 70s
    I’m sure there’s plenty more and yet I too almost like the guy

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    1. I had not heard that story about Clapton saying something truly awful and racist like that. Hard to believe with all the man owes black musicians that he’d go down that path. Clapton has some truly awful things to atone for. I deplore racism or bigotry in any form. I have to tell you, I like Clapton a little less after that story. Thank you for commenting.

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      1. Yeah it was a massive deal post 76 when he made that statement it’s probably testament to the pre Twitter years that it didn’t destroy his career. My suspicions are that he’s probably somewhere on the autistic spectrum which I don’t think is that unusual for musicians as they need solitary focus for their craft ( unless you’re Ronnie wood )

        There seems a lot about Clapton that doesn’t really recognise other people’s feelings, I don’t think he realises how much his comments upset people. For someone who basically made a career out of copying the 3 kings it was a bit ripe at the time!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Interesting view on Clapton vis a vis the autistic scale. I hadn’t considered that but per his autobiography the man seems to care less about how his actions effect those around him. There’s a story about when he first joined the Bluesbreakers, they had gigs scheduled and he decided to just fuck off to Greece with no regard for the band. Somehow he came back and rejoined the band, all was forgiven. I’m thinking about that in an all new light…

        Ronnie Wood is the guitarist I’d most like to have a bourbon with… if he was still drinking. The childlike joy he brings to everything he does is infectious… I am still praying for a Faces reunion… well with everybody whose left… Cheers!

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