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Eric Clapton

Reviewed on this page:
Blues Breakers - Fresh Cream - Live Cream - Disraeli Gears - Wheels Of Fire - Live Cream Volume II - Goodbye - Blind Faith - On Tour With Eric Clapton - Eric Clapton - Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs - In Concert - Rainbow Concert - 461 Ocean Boulevard - There's One In Every Crowd - (no reason to cry) - Slowhand - Backless - Another Ticket - Money And Cigarettes - Behind The Sun - August - Journeyman - Unplugged - From The Cradle - Pilgrim - Reptile

Maybe he's not god, but he's doggone good. Clapton won't need an introduction for most 60s rock fans, but many folks know him only from his later soft-rock offerings. It's a shame, because once upon a time Clapton was a lot more than just another rock star - for a year or two, he was worshipped as the greatest guitar player ever. Of course, by 1967 the fans, the professionals, and Clapton himself all had to admit that Jimi Hendrix had earned that title. But during the period between Clapton's first recordings with the Yardbirds in 1964 and his temporary retirement after 1970s Layla, EC still succeeded marvelously in popularizing an energetic blend of electrified blues and acidified rock. With Clapton floating restlessly from one band to another, and finally striking out on his own by late 1969, virtually every one of records back then offered something new and exciting to an eager fan following.

Since then Clapton has steadily released studio, live, and movie soundtrack records that stick to a careful and instantly recognizeable blend of blues, R & B, reggae, and pop. Some of this work has been successful not just commercially but artistically, but there are plenty of late-period stinkers as well. The problem is that Clapton has shown little of his early interest in pushing the boundaries of rock and roll. Instead, he's often put songwriting, production, and backing performance responsibilities in the hands of faceless studio automatons, rehashing his mellow balladeering and generic corporate "rock" on album after album. May the buyer beware...

Over the years, EC has become one of the guys everyone turns to when a fellow 60s superstar shot-in-the-arm is needed. Here are some of Eric's many guest appearances - but only on records that we have reviewed; there are a heck of a lot more where these came from:

I've got a nearly complete collection of Clapton's standard studio records, but I've intentionally ignored his movie soundtracks, and I'm missing some live records, although I've listed, commented upon, and reviewed them whenever possible. Clapton's stay with the Yardbirds yielded precious little in the way of studio recordings; I discuss that work on their page. Cream is covered on this page, but we deal with numerous solo records by Jack Bruce elsewhere, and we cover a Ginger Baker solo album on our Traffic page.

For more on EC, the "official unofficial" Clapton site is worth checking out; the separately-maintained, mostly-text Clapton FAQ has a lot of interesting trivia and even some book reviews; and the Clapton lyric archive has an outstanding, intelligently organized discography. (JA)


John Mayall's Blues Breakers - Hughie Flint (drums); John Mayall (vocals, harmonica, piano, organ), John McVie (bass). McVie alternated with Jack Bruce.

Cream - Ginger Baker (drums); Jack Bruce (bass, vocals). Peter Brown collaborated with Bruce on most of the lyrics. Producer Felix Pappalardi (mellotron and some viola, bass, and keyboards) used for studio recordings, 1968.

Blind Faith - Ginger Baker (drums); Rick Grech (bass, viola); Steve Winwood (vocals, keyboards).

The Dominos - Jim Gordon (drums); Carl Radle (bass); Bobby Whitlock (keyboards, vocals). Supplemented by Duane Allman (slide guitar) during the recording of Layla.

The 70s Band - Yvonne Elliman (vocals); Jamie Oldaker (drums); Carl Radle (bass); Dick Sims (keyboards); George Terry (guitar). Marcy Levy (vocals) added, 1976.

Eric Clapton Is God: The 60s Supergroups

Blues Breakers (with John Mayall: 1965)
- Occasionally scorching Chicago blues. Mayall was a white-bread imitator (Ray Charles' "What'd I Say"; derivative originals like "Little Girl" and "Key To Love"), but Clapton more than made up for it (the sinuous "All Your Love"; the smoking "Stepping Out"; and leads throughout the record). It's remarkably close to Cream's early sound, with the exception of frequent keyboard parts and a horn section on about half the tracks. Mayall also tosses in a few slowed-down, traditional blues numbers that might or might not hold your interest ("Parchman Farm"). Gus Dudgeon, the engineer on this record, went on to become Elton John's legendary producer. (JA)
- I don't know why Fresh Cream was revered and this record disappeared. The best of the Brit blues records, lifted above the pack by blistering Clapton solos (he plays short, snappy licks, not the lengthy sonic explorations he often got into later). I agree that Mayall's harmonica playing is short of miraculous, but it's not bad, and I find his blues vocals a lot more compelling than most of the Brits (Jack Bruce, for example). The rhythm section stays in its place, not overplaying as Bruce and Baker would later do, and I think the horns and keyboards add a variety and coherence that was lacking on Fresh Cream, for example. The covers are good (including two instrumentals), and I don't find the originals terribly derivative: they're riff tunes built on blues chord changes, sure, but if you have a problem with that, you shouldn't listen to blues. (DBW)

Fresh Cream (Cream: 1966)
- Ironically, Clapton had quit the Yardbirds in early 1965 on the grounds that they weren't serious about the blues. Now he had quit a "real" blues band to form a lightweight pop-rock act - despite the phenomenal musicianship, that's all what Cream often was at this early date (hit pop songs like "I Feel Free"; "N.S.U."; "I'm So Glad," with a brilliant, innovative Clapton solo). Of course there are some classy blues covers (the rave up "Rollin' And Tumblin'"), but like the other cuts they sound tame in comparison to the group's later efforts, just edging towards the distorted, psychedelic guitarwork that made Cream so memorable. With the exception of gems like the extended, druggy jam on "Spoonful," the sound is so clean you could hear a pin drop. (JA)
- Clapton proved with the Blues Breakers that a bunch of white Brits could play quality electric blues. Here he proves that white Brits can also play weak electric blues: there are a bunch of covers here, and in every instance ("Spoonful," "Rollin' and Tumblin'," "Four Until Late") you're far better off with the originals. Clapton often rambles, Baker bangs on everything within reach without much forethought (in Sixties rock, that passed for virtuosity--see Keith Moon), and Jack Bruce's voice must be an acquired taste or something. The non-blues tunes ("I'm So Glad"; "Toad," an excuse for a drum solo that inspired Led Zeppelin's "Moby Dick") are really bad. Get yourself a couple of Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf records instead. (DBW)
W & A fans take note: we've actually got a whopping disagreement going here, as such things go. (JA)

Live Cream (Cream: rec. 1968, rel. 1970)
This one features live performances of just four songs from Fresh Cream. All of them are tedious, and two of them are downright excessive - "N.S.U.," which barely sustains itself for ten minutes, and Ginger Baker's "Sweet Wine," which will put you to sleep long before the quarter-hour is over. "Rollin' And Tumblin'" adds nothing to the studio take, and "Sleepy Time Time" isn't such a great tune to start with. Even if you thought their debut record was brilliant, you'll be annoyed with the small number of selections, their length, and the absence of, say, "I Feel Free" or any of the Disraeli Gears tunes. There's also a built-in bonus track, namely, a 1966 or 1967 studio version of the old blues number "Lawdy Mama" that has almost the same instrumental parts and vocal melody as "Strange Brew," but preserves the original lyrics. It's interesting, but little more than a historical curiosity. Like the follow-up live record, this one is a cash-in attempt that you should probably avoid. (JA)

Disraeli Gears (Cream: 1967)
- The best place to start with Cream, as it includes most of the band's first-rate, Hendrix-inspired psychedelic hits ("Strange Brew"; "Sunshine Of Your Love"; "Tales Of Brave Ulysses"; "SWLABR"). Some of the other tracks are odd to annoying (Baker's "Blue Condition"), and there's also some blues-based filler ("Outside Woman Blues"; "Take It Back"). But that doesn't detract from the band's accomplishment here - they were the first to succeed at all in catching up with Hendrix, not only by expanding their volume and lyrical subject matter, but by pushing their musical virtuosity to the limit. It's particularly impressive because of the primitive recording techiques; apart from some guitar overdubs, harmonies, and heavy guitar distortion, the sound is mostly live in the studio. Produced by Felix Pappalardi, who stayed with the band until it broke up and was responsible for much of its sound. (JA)
- Cream finds its niche not as a blues band, but as a psychedelic pop band. Clapton shines on "Sunshine Of Your Love" and breaks in his wah-wah pedal on "Tales Of Brave Ulysses." They do continue to embarrass themselves on a couple of blues covers ("You can't keep your wife and your outside womens too," Eric advises knowingly). (DBW)

Wheels Of Fire (Cream: 1968)
A double album, done half in the studio and half live. The studio tracks fall into three categories: kick-ass psychedelic Chicago blues numbers like Bruce's sarcastic "Politician" and Booker T.'s "Born Under A Bad Sign"; classic Bruce-Brown rock songs like "White Room" and "Deserted Cities Of The Heart" that rank with the band's best work; and some weak Ginger Baker originals that struggle to emulate the Beatles' brand of gentlemanly acid rock, with Pappalardi adding assorted trip-out instrumentation ("Pressed Rat And Warthog," with Baker intoning hippies-in-Wonderland poetry; "Those Were The Days," a catchy but routine riff tune). Experiments aside, the studio disc is stronger than any one of the band's other studio albums. But the live stuff, compiled from four different shows, almost ruins it. There are two long, miserable jams that fall apart in the middle ("Spoonful" again), plus a pedestrian version of Bruce's harmonica-plus-drums vamp "Traintime." Still, though, Clapton does lead the band on the most definitive version of Robert Johnson's "Crossroads" ever recorded. With sharp, blues-drenched guitar solos littering the album, it's a must-have for students of acid rock despite its problems. The band's only double record, this was also Cream's biggest seller and only chart-topper. (JA)

Live Cream Volume II (Cream: rec. 1968, rel. 1972)
This is a record-company cash-in documenting the band's live sound during its commercial peak in 1968. Most of the tracks are slightly extended, but otherwise by-the-book versions of over-familiar hits from Disraeli Gears and Wheels Of Fire, like "Tales Of Brave Ulysses" and "White Room." The exception is an exhausting and embarassing 13 minute "Steppin' Out," with the band running out of ideas long before the end; the version on Blues Breakers makes the point far more efficiently. A lot of fans can't get enough of live Cream, and in fact the performances are mostly good; but generally speaking the record is just redundant. It's a shame they couldn't dig out performances of more unreleased blues covers like the live tracks on Goodbye. (JA)

Goodbye (Cream: 1969)
Under-rated. Although it's a post-breakup record company concoction consisting of three live tracks, a first-rate single ("Badge," with George Harrison on guitar), and some leftover studio efforts, it's good. The live stuff is extraordinarily proficient - "I'm So Glad" makes it clear why the group bothered covering such lightweight material; Howlin' Wolf's "Sitting On Top Of The World" goes off like a ton of TNT. But it gets even better: the band was now experimenting even more wildly in the studio with a softer, cheerfully tripped out sound that featured mellotrons, violas, crazy time signatures, and multiple guitar overdubs. It really seemed like they were about to head in an interesting direction; Clapton's lyrically elliptical, but tuneful "Anyone For Tennis" is a fine example (it was a B-side added to the CD as a bonus track). The big downer is that the record has such a short running time. Produced again by Pappalardi. (JA)

Blind Faith (Blind Faith: 1969)
- This talented, but short-lived and over-hyped supergroup was a let-down for fans and musicians alike - but not the record company; the album rocketed to #1. With Ginger Baker egging them on, the band had rushed into the studio just a couple months after forming. They just didn't have enough material, although the combination of Clapton's expressive and newly precise non-stop soloing and Steve Winwood's fevered R & B howling was magic. The first side is phenomenal ("Can't Find My Way Home"; the intricate cover of Buddy Holly's "Well Alright"; Clapton's soulful "Presence Of The Lord"), but the record ends with a deadly dull, 20-minute, 5/4 time Ginger Baker tune ("Do What You Like") that's mostly filled out with solos ranging from indifferent (Clapton, Winwood) to incompetent (Baker, and in-over-his-head bassist Rick Grech). Despite this, Blind Faith crystallizes Clapton's best soloing outside of Layla; it's a must for fans and students of the electric guitar. (JA)
- Winwood's "Can't Find My Way Home" is a fine song, plaintive and tastefully rendered, and his hard-rock "Had To Cry Today" is a great riff, although it goes on too long. Otherwise, the record ranges from boring (Clapton's George Harrison impression on "Presence Of The Lord") to downright irritating (the Buddy Holly cover "Well All Right," Baker's extended journey into banality "Do What You Like"). The LP was noteworthy for its kiddie porn cover, before the internet made such things readily available. There was an early CD release that had two bonus tracks, but it's not worth hunting down unless you want to hear instrumentals with Rick Grech on violin. (DBW)

The Domino Effect: Solo In The 70s

On Tour With Eric Clapton (Delaney & Bonnie & Friends: 1970)
- A rambling all-star jam, fronted by blue-eyed soulsters Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett. The selections are mostly covers with several Bramlett originals, the best of which ("Coming Home") Clapton co-wrote. The band is essentially the Dominos, plus Dave Mason and the Price/Keys horn section; it was formed in late 1969, then toured with Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour without Clapton, then worked over the summer on solo albums by Clapton, Mason, and George Harrison before cutting Layla. Both Bramletts are unremarkable vocalists, and the band's white blues boogie groove just sounds sloppy and dull, like Cocker without the ear-catching arrangements or vocal mannerisms. (Mason also serves up one of many live versions of "Only You Know And I Know.") Probably the least interesting of the many projects the core band was involved with over this period. (DBW)
- Sure, it's nowhere near as good as the band's other projects, and Bonnie isn't the best front for them; although she demonstrates some gritty, bluesy authenticity, she literally shrieks her way through some of the numbers. But the arrangements are reasonably tight - I wouldn't call any of them jams; Clapton's spotlight vocal on "Coming Home" is pretty impressive; and if you're fond of Clapton's debut solo album, you'll find this one's big-band white-boy R & B sound reassuringly familiar. Co-produced by Delaney and Jimmy Miller. (JA)

Eric Clapton (1970)
- Clapton had backed up Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett on a tour and a live album, and now Delaney returned the favor by lending his backing band and producing Clapton's debut solo record. It doesn't work too well, mostly because the horde of players drowns Clapton out - a full rhythm section, Leon Russell on piano, Bobby Keys and Jim Price on horns, and a million backup vocalists (the pretty, but vacant "Lovin' You, Lovin' Me" is a typical victim). But a lot of it's quite good anyway: the amiable big-band "Blues Power"; the classic, shimmering "Let It Rain," featuring an uncredited Steve Stills on guitar; the chugging "After Midnight"; and the sweet ballad "Easy Now." Ironically, the rhythm section resurfaced immediately afterwards as the far more tasteful Dominos. (JA)
- This is so much better than the live record it's hard to believe it's really the same people. Clapton's at his songwriting peak, which makes this a good deal despite various production annoyances. (DBW)

Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs (The Dominos: 1970)
- An absolute classic. It deserves to be memorized note-for-note, which is saying a lot for a double album filled out with blues covers ("Key To The Highway"). The Dominos didn't quite have their sound worked out when Duane Allman showed up at the studio and proceeded to shame Clapton with his unbelievably scorching slide guitar parts. Clapton rose to the challenge, and the result is a phenomenal duel on one song after another. The title track is overplayed, but there are masterful, broken-hearted love songs throughout the record ("Anyday"; "Bell Bottom Blues"; the blistering, warp speed "Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad"; the acoustic guitar trio arrangement on Bobby Whitlock's overwrought "Thorn Tree In The Garden"). Hendrix's death coincidentally occurred during the recording sessions, and a capable tribute ("Little Wing") only proves that no one could beat the master at his own game. (JA)
- This is a hell of a record, but I wouldn't bother learning it note for note: there are too many sprawling jams, and some of the originals are trivial love songs ("I Am Yours"). But there's so much great material here that's just a quibble. (DBW)
For the record, I think "I Am Yours" is a masterpiece, like the others I mentioned. (JA)

In Concert (The Dominos: rec. 1970, rel. 1973)
This double LP/CD was recorded at two Fillmore East shows in October, 1970, just after Layla was finished. The original release sold about as strongly as the studio record, going gold and reaching #20. In 1994 it was remixed, augmented by four tunes (three others were replaced with alternate takes), and released as Live At The Fillmore, which is the version I have. Duane Allman doesn't appear, since he was never a formal member of the band; it thins the sound considerably, but it also brings Clapton's guitar to the forefront, giving him an excuse to wail on the wah-wah pedal and otherwise grandstand. Unfortunately, that translates into big-time sprawl: five tracks go well over ten minutes, and none of them are under five. Only "Key To The Highway" is considerably shortened. The track selection is also predictable; about half the tunes are from Layla, several are older Clapton standards ("Presence Of The Lord"; "Crossroads"), a bunch are from his solo debut record ("Blues Power"; "Bottle Of Red Wine"; "Let It Rain"), and just a couple are obscure Dominos tunes ("Got To Get Better In A Little While"; "Roll It Over"). Still, Clapton's reasonably concise throughout disc 2, and after all, this is his artistic peak: I'd take 18 minutes of a great 1970 Clapton jam over three minutes of almost anything else any day. And the 1994 remix is awesome. (JA)

Rainbow Concert (with a cast of millions: 1973)
After a couple years of hiding in his house, snorting heroin, and very occasionally cutting sessions for his friends' albums, Clapton was finally roused by Pete Townshend to put on a benefit concert. There are too many cooks stirring the pot, however, and the sound suffers: Rick Grech on bass, Jim Capaldi on drums, Rebop on percussion, Steve Winwood on organ (all borrowed from Traffic), a second drummer (Jimmy Karstein), and then Townshend, Clapton, and Ron Wood all joining in on guitar. The originals of such hits as "Badge" and "Presence Of The Lord" are similar but better, and the only unusual selections are a Traffic number ("Pearly Queen") and the Dominos' old A-side "Roll It Over." Those who want to hear Clapton in concert would do better to start with the live Dominos album. However, the completely redone 1995 CD version not only has enough bonus tracks to double the album, but makes it clear what the extra players are for: on tracks like "Layla," Winwood's piano and Wood's slide guitar create more depth than you'll find on any other live Clapton or Cream record. Plus the improved mix shows that it's Wood and Townshend, not Clapton, who respectively hold down much of the lead and rhythm work ("Bell Bottom Blues"). All of the new titles are Clapton standards from Eric Clapton ("Let It Rain") and Layla, except, of course, yet another version of "Crossroads." My rating is based on the long version; subtract a full star for the original. Recorded by Glyn Johns. (JA)

461 Ocean Boulevard (1974)
If 70s/80s Clapton is what you're after, this is the place to start. It's not just the first, but the best of Clapton's post-Layla studio albums, with important material like the chugging, slide-guitar laden "Motherless Children," and the #1 hit cover of Bob Marley's "I Shot The Sheriff" (the LP itself also went #1). Clapton wasn't writing a lot at this point, but it didn't really matter. Many of the best tracks are covers, or gifts like second guitarist George Terry's "Mainline Florida"; and Clapton's fondness for the blues comes up repeatedly (Johnny Otis' "Willie And The Hand Jive," with a Bo Diddley beat; Elmore James' sinister "I Can't Hold Out"; a mellow, but classy take on Robert Johnson's "Steady Rollin' Man"). His one significant composition here is the marvelous "Let It Grow," a soft-rock ballad that ranks with his finest work. This was the first appearance of Clapton's classic 70s band, with Carl Radle carried over from the Dominos; drummer Al Jackson of the MG's guests on one track, and as on later records Clapton often duets with a female vocalist (here Yvonne Elliman). Like Layla and some of Clapton's later records, this was recorded in Florida with Allman Bros. whiz-kid producer Tom Dowd. (JA)

There's One In Every Crowd (1975)
This is a really satisfying effort, and surely worthwhile for anyone who liked the easy-going light reggae/blues/boogie sound of the preceding album. On the first side there's a lot of old blues numbers like "The Sky Is Crying" and some gospely stuff like the reggae-ified "Swing Low Sweet Chariot." On those numbers Clapton's backup singers do get a bit carried away with their soulful testimony: "We've Been Told (Jesus Coming Soon)" is such a wild-eyed raveup you'd think it was a parody. But the original material on side 2 is really strong. "Better Make It Through The Day" and "Opposites" get surprising emotional power out of their low-key acoustic blues arrangements despite Albhy Galuten's goofy "Auld Lang Syne" synth fade on the latter, and "Pretty Blue Eyes" has the gentle finger-snapping riffery of great 60s Clapton's ballads like "Let It Rain." If anything, this is the most contemplative and authentic album of Clapton's entire solo career. But neither it nor the following studio album were even vaguely as big a seller as 461 or any of the Cream/Dominos records. Go figure. (JA)

E.C. Was Here (1975)
A live record with an exploitative, nearly pornographic cover. Apparently it's recently been submerged into a new multi-CD Clapton set. I have the original, and I think it's dull and self-indulgent, with some weak covers of his pre-Dominoes solo tunes, a bunch of mediocre blues jams, and some painful vocal duetting with Levy. Despite this, several of his solos do really shine, so guitar students may want to hear it. (JA)

(no reason to cry) (1976)
At this point Clapton started to work with a formula that blended commercialized blues in either the Chicago ("County Jail Blues"; "Double Trouble") or Delta ("Last Night") style with plenty of soft rock (the speeded up pseudo-reggae number "Carnival"; the catchy, George Harrison-esque Top 40 single "Hello Old Friend"; pure product like "Black Summer Rain"). But he hadn't yet acceded artistic control to outside songwriters and producers; his regular 70s band appears here in full force, augmented by numerous guest artist friends like the Band and Ron Wood. So despite ruining some tracks with pedestrian female vocals, even giving away the lead on "Innocent Times" and "Hungry," there's still some musical integrity, inventiveness, and personality in here somewhere. The best track is Bob Dylan's "Sign Language," with the two rock dinosaurs sharing the lead vocal and Clapton giving it his signature mellow 70s sound, but adding an interesting lead guitar line. (JA)

Slowhand (1977)
An artistic and commercial comeback record after a couple of flops, with veteran producer Glyn Johns showing up to steady Clapton's judgment. It features Clapton's druggy, laid-back cover of J. J. Cale's "Cocaine" and other Top 40 hits like "Wonderful Tonight" and "Lay Down Sally." They verge on easy-listening, but they're tasteful, pleasant, and catchy, unlike similar efforts on the last record. On the other hand, with Clapton sticking with his regular band and eschewing guest stars, things aren't nearly as quirky or as interesting this time around; instead, one tune after another is immaculately performed and commercial. Only Clapton's funky, eight-minute "The Core" (also a radio fave) has any grit - even when Clapton goes with the obligatory ancient blues cover ("Mean Old Frisco"), he waters it town with honky-tonk piano and lazy acoustic and slide guitars. It's always engaging, but it also marks the emergence of Eric Clapton as unadulturated corporate product; just look at the pleasant instrumental "Peaches And Diesel," co-authored by Bee Gees producer Albhy Galuten. This and the following three records broke the American Top Ten; after that, Clapton lost some of his golden touch. (JA)

Backless (1978)
Another studio record in the mold of Slowhand. Clapton was trying to be a little more gritty this time around by throwing in more heavy blues numbers like the nearly eight-minute "Early In The Morning" (the original LP release featured an edited version of the song). But it's a bore, because his ever-worsening, snootily academic, Delta-obsessed approach to the blues snuffs out the fun factor. The big hit was the feel-good, piano-and-slide-driven retro blues number "Tulsa Time," and the chugging, light-as-a-feather ballad "Promises" also got a lot of radio play. But the rest of the material is completely forgettable and monotonous, albeit inoffensive. The 70s Clapton band made its last appearance here; guests were kept to a minimum, and the producer was Glyn Johns again. (JA)

Just One Night (1980)
Actually recorded over two nights in December, 1979, this is a live album with a predictable selection of 60s nostalgia ("Blues Power"), mid-70s hits ("Lay Down Sally," "Cocaine"), repeats from the preceding studio record ("Tulsa Time"), and standard blues numbers ("Double Trouble"; Robert Johnson's "Ramblin' On My Mind"). There are only a couple of new selections like "Setting Me Up" and "Worried Life Blues." Still, this might be a decent investment if you're interested in Eric's mellow 70s period. (JA)

Moneyman: 80s And 90s Product

Another Ticket (1981)
This was Clapton's last hurrah before a commercial slump in the 80s. Despite the title, it's a studio album recorded in the Bahamas, produced by Tom Dowd, and beefed up by an excellent band - Gary Brooker (keyboards; former leader of Procol Harum); Albert Lee (guitar; not the same as Alvin Lee of Ten Years After); Henry Spinetti (drums; occasional Pete Townshend backer); and Chris Stainton (keyboards; ex-Joe Cocker group). At this point Clapton's 70s band had already been fired; Carl Radle had died shortly afterwards in 1979, so the record is dedicated to him. High points? There's a middling, traditional blues number (Muddy Waters' "Blow Wind Blow"), and one really good, mid-tempo rocker that was a big radio hit: "I Can't Stand It," with Eric sounding positively enthusiastic on the vocal. "Catch Me If You Can," with three unrelated lead guitars running at once on the solo, is almost as good. But the rest is just cleanly performed, professionalized, and frankly boring soft rock that if anything regresses from Clapton's 70s sound; the worst offender is the sleep-a-thon "Floating Bridge." There's even a prominent synth part on the title track, one of the better tunes but still over-long. And annoyingly, the production defuses Clapton's guitar even when he stretches out with a long solo, as on "Rita Mae." At least Eric wrote most of his own material this time around. (JA)

Clapton has pumped out several movie soundtrack records over the last two decades, starting at about this point, but I've made no effort to track down these discs and won't list them here. (JA)

Time Pieces (The Best Of Eric Clapton) (1982)
I'm just listing this slightly deceptive compilation for completeness' sake. We don't rate or recommend greatest hits packages. (JA)

Money And Cigarettes (1983)
This one sold miserably for a Clapton record, and I just don't get it. Eric put together a great band this time around, bringing back Lee and Stainton and adding Ry Cooder, Duck Dunn, and Roger Hawkins. They're damn good, with Cooder egging on Clapton's natural affinity for slide guitar, Delta blues, and good time rock 'n' roll - there's a trio of old blues covers, the best and most popular being Sleepy John Estes' upbeat "Everybody Oughta Make A Change." Admittedly, none of the tunes are particularly memorable. The centerpiece number ("I've Got A Rock 'N' Roll Heart") isn't an EC original, isn't even vaguely tasteful or profound, and frankly sounds like a throwaway attempt at fabricating another 461 Ocean Boulevard-style hit. And a lot of the tunes that are originals are thin indeed; "Ain't Going Down" is a bold-faced ripoff of "All Along The Watchtower," and the finger-snapping "The Shape You're In" is nothing more than a retro rockabilly/Bo Diddley raveup. Still, though, there's barely a hint anywhere of the synth-slathered pop pablum that mars everything else Clapton recorded in this decade. Let's give some credit to producer Tom Dowd for turning this one into a listenable rock record. (JA)

Time Pieces Volume II - 'Live' In The Seventies (1983)
Don't be fooled like I was: this is a really lousy best-of compiled from live cuts, most of which feature the serviceable but faceless Another Ticket band. We don't rate compilations and we generally recommend avoiding them; this disc is a good argument for said policy. (JA)

Behind The Sun (1985)
A hybrid monster of a record. Most of it features Clapton originals produced by Phil Collins, with Stainton, Dunn, Collins, percussionist Ray Cooper, synth player Peter Robinson, and 70s associates Jamie Oldaker and Marcy Levy. Despite Collins' lightweight drumming, they mostly recall his last two studio albums - soft rock (the silly, but catchy synth-march "She's Waiting"), blues (eight minutes solid on "Same Old Blues"), a faithful cover of "Knock On Wood." It's always drab and often overlong, but usually either pretty ("It All Depends"; title track) or at least lifted by athletic guitar solos ("Just Like A Prisoner"). But on the insistence of Warner Brothers, this core of an album was augmented by three made-to-order Jerry Williams songs. Produced by schlockmeisters Ted Templeman and Lenny Waronker, they feature L.A. hired guns Steve Lukather, Jeff Porcaro, and Nathan East. The ploy worked: the up-tempo "Forever Man" was a Top 40 hit and indeed has good vocal and guitar hooks; "See What Love Can Do" got endless airplay despite merely sanitizing Clapton's usual reggae shuffle formula; and James Newton Howard and Lindsay Buckingham guest on the flabby, generic "Something's Happening." But Clapton seems to have been so cowed by the experience that he lost interest in songwriting for more than a decade, and as a whole the album is aimless and impersonal. East stayed on for the next record. (JA)

August (1986)
This is a typical 80s Clapton effort: half the tracks are covers, and Clapton used collaborators to write the others. Lamont Dozier of Motown fame supplied a couple of the best tunes ("Run"), but the other covers are yet more pablum, like the trite, air-headed "Behind The Mask" ("Who do you love? Is it me, babe?," etc.). EC's contributions are mostly higher-energy stuff, like the hits "Tearing Us Apart" and "Miss You," but the material is buried by soulless, formulaic production values. The entire record alternates between beer commercial rock and, even worse, disco-ified muzak ("Grand Illusion," six minutes of pure torture). It's not Eric's fault, but the fact that he doesn't make it his fault is exactly why the album's so dull. The band here includes Phil Collins (drums) and Greg Phillinganes (keyboards), both of whom have a heavy hand in the songwriting; Collins co-produced with Tom Dowd. The Brecker Brothers contribute some horn parts, and Tina Turner sings on a couple tracks. Gary Brooker and Henry Spinetti also appear on the catchy hit "It's In The Way That You Use It," a leftover from the film The Color Of Money that not coincidentally recalls Clapton's sound on Another Ticket. (JA)

Journeyman (1989)
Yet another 80s factory-made product, this time courtesy of LA studio veteran Russ Titelman. It's slick, professional, and often even tasteful, but dull in the extreme; Clapton has nothing approaching a new idea here despite his fluid and perfectionistic blues riffing. Some of the wah-wah'ed leads are indeed brilliant, and at least there are fewer overblown easy-listening epics and more early 70s throwbacks like the anthemic "Running On Faith." Half the songs were supplied by hired gun Jerry Williams; George Harrison contributed "Run So Far" and guested on it; and a few tunes are ancient covers (Leiber-Stoller's "Hound Dog," reduced to good timey trivia; Ray Charles' "Hard Times," an extra-light R & B workout; Muddy Waters' "Before You Accuse Me"). There are exactly two Clapton originals, one co-authored with Mick Jones, and the other with Robert Cray, who guests on four tracks ("Old Love," a slow, classy blues that's still tepid and unoriginal). Other bigshot guests include Chaka Khan, Darryl Hall, and Phil Collins; the band is usually Nathan Watts (bass) and Jim Keltner (drums), with hordes of big-deal session players like Lani Groves, Darryl Jones, Pino Palladino, Greg Phillinganes, David Sanborn, Richard Tee, etc., etc. (JA)

Unplugged (1992)
It seems you just can't miss with these Unplugged things: every burned-out artist who's cut one has been rewarded with commercial and critical success. Really, though, this is the same laid-back blues-pop approach Clapton's been using for nearly twenty years, only with acoustic guitars. The track selection is mostly ancient blues ("San Francisco Bay Blues," "Rollin' & Tumblin'"), many of them previously recorded by Eric, and a few originals ("Signe"). When it works (the radio hit "Tears In Heaven"), it's charming; just as often, though, it's boring ("Hey Hey"). Worst moment is the version of "Layla," missing the signature riff and transcendent soloing that made the tune matter in the first place, and singing the chorus with painful emphasis on the second syllable, "Lay-LAH." Worst of all, it was a major hit with burnt-out baby boomers, forcing the rest of us to hear the remake everywhere we went. The band is old hands Fairweather-Low, East, Cooper, plus Steve Ferrone and Allman Brothers/Stones keyboard player Chuck Leavell. (DBW)
I couldn't agree more; "Tears In Heaven" is marvelous, and the new "Layla" is a hideous perversion. Earlier the same year, the band backed George Harrison on a live album. (JA)

Live At The Fillmore (The Dominos: 1994)
See our review of In Concert above. (JA)

From The Cradle (1994)
An album of 16 old-timey blues covers. Major sources include some leading Chicago bluesmen (Willie Dixon, Freddy King, Muddy Waters) and some earlier, more obscure writers (Eddie Boyd, Leroy Carr, Elmore James, Sonny Thompson). The arrangements are as traditional as possible ("How Long Blues"), and the purist atmosphere carries over to the booklet's proud proclamation that "This is a live recording with no overdubs or edits" - although it was filmed for broadcast on VH-1, making it clear what the priorities really were. Eric does prove himself to be an unsurpassed master here, both on the guitar and on the vocals. But cutting this kind of a record just makes him seem like a middle-aged music scholar, a role I think is better reserved for no-talents like myself. Any sane blues fan would recommend the original sources instead of this flawless musical dissertation, even though the guitar work on the heavy Chicago numbers really is some of Eric's best since Layla ("Five Long Years"; "Groaning The Blues"). The backing band includes Jim Keltner (drums), Andy Fairweather-Low (guitar) and Joe Cocker collaborator Chris Stainton (piano). (JA)

Pilgrim (1998)
A record that makes it seem like Clapton had never even heard of rock music. His first serious effort in more than a decade is a longwinded, impersonal blend of toothless Adult Contemporary and low-key 90s R & B. And it's his fault alone: co-producer/keyboard player Simon Climie has a bunch of writing co-credits, but Clapton wrote everything apart from just two covers (the hip-hoppy blues "Going Down Slow" and Dylan's utterly forgettable pop song "Born In Time"). The lyrics are tortuously clichéd ("River Of Tears"), the tempo drags on every cut, and the layers of keyboards, synth percussion, strings, and backing vocals by Chyna are like so much digital goo ("You Were There"). Everything's slick and faceless: a batch of slow-grinding funk testimonials (title track; "One Chance"; "She's Gone"); a nod at his mid-70s reggae period ("My Father's Eyes"); a pretentious hiphop/Al Green hybrid ("Inside Of Me," with an excruciating spoken monologue by Ruth Kelly-Clapton); a half-hearted, vaguely psychedelic up-tempo country lament ("Fall Like Rain"); a grungey, predictable blues ("Sick And Tired"); another super-sentimental acoustic ode to Clapton's departed son ("Circus"); and a sappy, deliberately Wonder-ful love song ("Needs His Woman"). Yuck-o. The players are Fairweather-Low, East or Palladino (bass), Paul Waller (programmed drums), Paul Carrack on several cuts, and mid-power guests like Steve Gadd, Luis Jardim, Greg Phillinganes, Joe Sample, Chris Stainton, and even Babyface. (JA)
The single "She's Gone" is an embarrassing ripoff of Sly Stone's "Thank You," and the slow blues, "Sick And Tired," has come under fire from anti-domestic violence groups for its lyrics about blowing a woman's brains out. (DBW)

Riding With The King (Clapton and B. B. King: 2000)
A duo record with blues legend B. B. King. There are several standards here like "Ten Long Years," "Key To The Highway," and even the old Sam & Dave hit "Hold On I'm Coming." Co-produced by Clapton and (yech) Climie; Nathan East and Steve Gadd are among the players. These days Clapton always does better with the blues than he does with pop, so this might be worth hearing. (JA)

Reptile (2001)
Clapton and Climie co-produce again, and in a kind attempt to keep Clapton's audience from puking to death, they try for a more traditional, lower-tech sound. But they can't resist using programmed drums on most tracks, and the record still has an over-practiced, zillion-track feel (Climie's "Broken Down"). Clapton's professional-as-ever guitar and vocal work don't do much to liven up the material (a cover of James Taylor's sleek and soulless string-sweetened 70s ballad "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight"). At least he wrote about half of it himself. Although the instrumental bossa nova title track is fun, a bunch of other stylistic forays don't really help, like a very faithful rendition of Ray Charles' soulful blues "Come Back Baby," and not one but two genteel 40s slow dance tunes ("Find Myself," an original, and "I Want A Little Girl"). He must figure his fans are all in wheelchairs or something. His weird polka-meets-R & B version of Stevie Wonder's "I Ain't Gonna Stand For It" seems overcalculated, pointless, and frankly ridiculous. He's also wallowing in the past: J. J. Cale's "Travelin' Light" is a carbon copy of "After Midnight," the mushy "Believe In Life" would have fit on any of his mid/late 70s records, and "Second Nature" is completely generic. The Impressions are all over the record, and they're so old-timey they distract from several cuts, including the routine Chicago blues cover "Got You On My Mind." The few rockers are mediocre ("Superman Inside"), and the closest thing to a high point is the quiet, pretty, bittersweet ballad "Modern Girl." A harmless but dull, sluggish, and scattershot addition to his enormous catalog, much like his better records from the 80s. The band is enormous and includes boy wonder blues guitarist Doyle Bramhall II, Fairweather-Low, East, Gadd, and (surprise!) Paulinho Da Costa; guests include Joe Sample, Paul Carrack, and Billy Preston (who does an imitation Wonder harmonica solo on the pleasant instrumental "Son & Syvlia"). (JA)

Me And Mr. Johnson (2004)
As if Clapton himself weren't ancient enough, by now his taste in music couldn't possibly be more out of date. Sticking with his recent formula of alternating a pop album with a scholarly blues album, this time he covers 14 of the 29 tracks 1930s ever recorded by Robert Johnson, easily one of the most influential blues players who ever lived. Typically, Clapton goes with the more obscure stuff: although Johnson is routinely covered by all sorts of artists (say, Cassandra Wilson, who did "Hell Hound On My Trail" and "Come On In My Kitchen"), only the Stones' versions of "Love In Vain" and "Stop Breakin Down" will be familiar to most people. Co-produced by Climie like usual, and although Johnson recorded solo with an acoustic guitar, the full-scale band is basically the same: Bramhall, Fairweather-Low, Preston, East, and Gadd, with Jerry Portnoy (harmonica). (JA)

Back Home (2005)
Another studio album of (sometimes) original material, including "Revolution," which apparently has a reggae arrangement and is not that "Revolution." There's a cover of "I'm Going Left"; "Love Don't Love Nobody" was done by the Spinners; and George Harrison wrote "Love Comes To Everyone," which originally appeared on one of his own solo records and featured a Clapton guest appearance. Talk about recycling! The usual production team here, which does not bode well: co-producer Climie, a core band of Bramhall, Fairweather-Low, East, and Gadd, and many, many other players, including Steve Winwood, Billy Preston, Vince Gill, and John Mayer. (JA)

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