Eric Clapton: Amazing Grace
In a world exclusive interview with MTV Unplugged producer Alex Coletti, Eric Clapton discusses the recording of his 1994 Grammy- winning album and the joys of playing acoustic guitar.
“I try to find the places I’ve been before,” Eric Clapton told an interviewer in the early Nineties. “To go back and find a phrase which has a meaning, that belongs to some part of my experience, is very valuable to me because it will put me in touch with something that may involve lots of thought processes that I had forgotten, which are still quite valid.”
Coletti believes that the unique intimacy afforded by the Unplugged format made it the ideal place for Clapton “to unplug his soul for us with such great dignity and grace.” The guitarist also used the warm environment of the show to “teach his listeners a lesson in music history, not only introducing a generation of MTV viewers to a world of country blues songs, but also demonstrating that a man with an acoustic guitar can seriously rock out.”
In a larger sense, Clapton’s achievement can be explained in terms of something even more powerful than anything described above: the power of love and memory. Rock and roll guitarists, like baseball players, welders and housewives, are often masters of the art of denial. Not Eric Clapton. He is a devoted servant of his memory, and he clearly remembers everything. His incredible performance on Unplugged was fed by some of his most powerful recollections—and loves. His set list tells the story: country blues tunes he played in his youth, reworkings of songs from Layla, his most passionately romantic album, new compositions about his lost son.
Hours after his Unplugged performance, Eric Clapton met with Alex Coletti on a darkened stage, and provided some background to the memories he had just celebrated so beautifully for millions of people.
ALEX COLETTI Eric, how did you come to compose the opening instrumental, “Signe”?
ERIC CLAPTON It was written on a boat of the same name last year. I was on holiday with my manager and we chartered Signe, a beautiful yacht. It was a difficult time in my life, and I was writing to heal myself. “Signe” was the first thing I started to write. It’s just a melody which I dedicated to and named after the boat.
COLETTI Why did you decide to perform Bo Diddley’s “Before You Accuse Me”?
CLAPTON That was one of the very first records I ever heard. I think it was on an album that also featured “Hey Bo Diddley,” “I’m a Man,” “Bring It to Jerome” and lots of other good things. I chose “Before You Accuse Me” because it’s a straight blues, and can be played any way you like, which is great. I play it live with electric guitar, and I thought it would be nice to try it on the two acoustics as well.
COLETTI It seems that whenever you decide to perform a cover version of a song, they become your songs—people forget the originals.
CLAPTON Well, I hope that’s the case. I heard most of the cover songs in this set when I was very young, and I’ve always wanted to play them. This was a great opportunity for me to pay homage to the things that originally influenced me.
For example, “Hey Hey” was written by Big Bill Broonzy, and it was probably the first blues song I ever heard. I used to play it in pubs when I was very young. I never felt that I mastered it, so I wanted to give it another shot.