Eric Clapton: Blues Power
GW What was it like, recording and living in New York while you were working on Journeyman?
CLAPTON I was there for three months, and I loved it. I like working in L.A., too, but you seem to get more done a lot quicker in New York, and the musicians you use there—like Richard Tee and Eddie Martinez—are so quick. Their attitude is so good, and there’s not a lot of bullshit. It’s just work, work, work. I was generally working till 11 at night and going to bed.
GW Were there other guitarists, besides those already mentioned?
CLAPTON Just George [Harrison]. He came in for a week, and we did five of his songs—some of his spare songs and some he’d written especially for the album—and ended up using just one ballad, “Run So Far.” It’s a [Traveling] Wilburys-type thing, because he’s very much a Wilbury at the moment. That was the only one of all of his songs that didn’t have his augmented chord in it, which drives me crazy. It’s lovely when it’s with him—you know the one I’m talking about—but when I do it, it’s a little bit wrong for me.
GW When we spoke last year, you said that the next album—your first new album since August— would probably be more of a straight-ahead rocker. Do you view this album that way, or did you change your mind along the way?
CLAPTON I think it changed a little bit in the making. Pretty early into the sessions we found that the material we were looking for would end up being like rock and roll material. When we did “Hard Times” I said, “This is the kind of album I want to make,” and Russ [Titleman, the album’s producer] said, “Well, let’s do that next. Definitely.” And I figured, to be fair to Russ, I had to go along with that, because to get him as my producer the first time out and limit him to something is not necessarily very fulfilling for him as a producer. Given the fact that he made that smash hit album for Steve Winwood, I wanted to give him his head, too. As part of our relationship, we kind of agreed that we would postpone a blues album until our next project. So that is concrete.
GW That’s been the rumor on the street, but along with it was a rumor that this was going to be your last Warner Bros. album and that you’d get out of that contract in order to do a blues album next time.
CLAPTON The thing was, while we were doing this album and talking about the blues album, I was saying to Russ that I didn’t think Warners would validate such a kind of limited-interest thing. He approached [Warner Bros. president] Lenny Waronker and told him that that’s what we planned to do, and that even if Russ didn’t do it for Warners, we’d do it for another label. And, I suppose because he sensed that I would leave the label, Lenny said, “Great idea. I’m all for it.” So I stay with Warners and do what I want to do in the meantime. But I think having left a partnership with Phil Collins, it was crucial that they got another fairly commercial album from me first.
GW It’s surprising, though, how much control Warner Bros. wields. In 1985 you explained that “Forever Man” and a few others were made—at their behest—after you’d delivered them your original version of Behind The Sun [Clapton’s 1985 album]. In the process they rejected “Heaven Is One Step Away,” which is one of the best recent songs in the Crossroads box.
CLAPTON Well, in hindsight, it’s worked out to everyone’s satisfaction. I had a lot of resentment at the time, and I still harbor a little bit, but to be fair I think they’re the record company with the greatest access to the people. They have the best distribution and best promotion in the world, so if I want to get my music out, and it’s not too much of a hardship to play ball with them, I’m quite happy to do it. And I do like Lenny and Mo [Ostin] a lot, because they are producers of music and they know what it’s about. And the fact that they did give me a go-ahead for the blues album kind of gave me faith in the relationship again.
GW But if Eric Clapton can’t go in and give them the album he wants to do without compromises, how would a less proven act fare?
CLAPTON But it was very character building for me to have to face that, and I am grateful for that situation. It lopped a lot off my ego and gave me a little taste of humility, which I may have been in great need of.
GW With this record and August [Clapton’s 1986 album], it sounds as if you’ve been listening to a lot of soul in the past few years.
CLAPTON I’ve been listening to a lot of Aretha [Franklin]’s early stuff—not out of a plan; just because it happened to be convenient and close at hand. I’ve actually got in my car that album that I played one track on, Lady Soul [featuring “Good to Me As I Am to You”], and I listen to that a lot. The way the band is arranged and everything is a great inspiration. There’s a great deal of simplicity there, and at the same time it’s really very well organized.
GW Even though Journeyman has a lot of different feels, including the old-time rock things, “Hound Dog” and “Before You Accuse Me,” it doesn’t really have a “Rita Mae” or “Ain’t Goin’ Down”– a full-tilt fast rocker. Was that a conscious decision, or were you not able to come up with one?
CLAPTON It wasn’t that we couldn’t come up with one; I just wasn’t writing that way. Yeah, it would have been nice. The closest you get to that is “Bad Love,” and I’m not even sure if that isn’t too fast. I was kind of staying away from belters, though I don’t know why. Until we added a couple of songs, it was very much a midrange- tempo album—a lot of slow tunes. Maybe I’m mellowing out a bit too much… I don’t know.
GW That is an “accusation” that the press has leveled at you as well as Winwood and Phil Collins.
CLAPTON I don’t see it, really, because the intensity is there at the same time.
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