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Eric and me

May 28, 2011

Eric Clapton and I go back a long way. We have, however, only seen each other twice. He will remember me most lately as the guy cheering in the seat over his right shoulder at the Royal Albert Hall on Friday night, roughly at a 45 degree angle to Steve Winwood.

The first time we met, however was a long, long time ago. Sometime between December 24, 1964 and January 16, 1965. That was when he was playing with The Yardbirds at the Hammersmith Odeon (now transformed into the Apollo). Eric was 20-years old; I was 12.

Now, in truth, I do not really recall Eric’s performance that day. It was part of something that sounds very quaint nowadays — a Beatles Christmas Show. At 12, I was there for the Beatles, who had recently released “I Feel Fine” and had yet to come up with “Help!”. I was also partly distracted by the number two act, Freddie and The Dreamers, whose version of “Who Wears Short Shorts” was highly amusing to a music fanatic of 12.

Eric and his Yardbird buddies were towards the bottom of the bill, as were a fabulous group of session men called Sounds Incorporated and someone called Michael Haslam, who according to his obituary might be more interesting than I knew.

Obviously, I now regret not paying more attention to The Yardbirds. I have their music, of course, and they were great. But, hey, it was a Beatles show.

Fast forward to the Royal Albert Hall the other night and Eric was in fine form. He and Winwood also go back a long way and they play like it. Buddies having a good time. No stress. No sweat. But absolutely magnificent playing.

To get nerdy for a minute, it was interesting to see a wide repertoire bring in the various personas of the two men. So we had “Gimme Some Lovin'” from Winwood’s Spencer Davis Group days and “Mr Fantasy” from the Traffic era. We had some Cream stuff from Clapton, of course, notably “Crossroads”, along with the songs both men shared in Blind Faith, such as “Can’t Find My Way Home”, “Presence of the Lord” and “Well All Right”. Along the way there was the beautiful accoustic version of “Layla” and a surprising “Georgia” that gave Ray Charles a run for his money.

Where you really saw things take off, though, was in “Voodoo Chile”, a nine-minute or so version of the Jimi Hendrix song. The excuse was that Winwood played organ on the original. But this time it allowed Eric to be Clapton — wailing away without apparent effort for minutes at a time with his fingers simply floating across the frets in good old Slow Hand fashion. Truly unusual and truly beautiful.

I wonder if we will meet again.


From → Music

  1. Juan permalink

    Nice. Wish I knew more about rock music so I could appreciate it better. I do know good writing, though, and this is good writing. Keep it up.

  2. Nigel Stephenson permalink

    Sounds wonderful. I saw Clapton (with Van Morrison guest-starring) in Belle Vue, Manchester, in 1976. Next day’s review said Clapton’s backing guitarist was the slicker player. Still a great gig.

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