Eric Clapton: Blues Power
In 1988, on the verge of his commercial and artistic rebirth, Eric Clapton paused to reflect on the music of his past and the invigorating force of his first love: the blues.
By the time Eric Clapton encountered the MTV generation in the mid Eighties, his short but profound stints with the Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith and Derek and the Dominos seemed a lifetime past. He had become a performer of hits like “Forever Man” and “It’s in the Way That You Use It,” a composer of soundtracks for The Color of Money and Lethal Weapon and the man who stole the show at the 1985 Live Aid concert.
The success of 1988’s Crossroads retrospective box set put his history back into proper perspective. At the time of this interview in late 1989, he had just released Journeyman, an album that marked the beginning of his commercial and artistic resurgence. For the album, Clapton was joined by longtime friend George Harrison, but it his work on it with blues guitarist Robert Cray that stood out. Trading solos with Cray on Bo Diddley’s “Before You Accuse Me” and playing funky slide licks on Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog,” Clapton sounded like both student and master, retaining the raw enthusiasm for the blues that he had in his youth while displaying the maturity of a bluesman with more than 25 years under his belt.
GUITAR WORLD Nearly all of the material on Journeyman came from outside sources.
ERIC CLAPTON I was really having a difficult time writing, this last year or two. Nothing came until halfway through the sessions. I had a week’s rest in England and going back to New York I caught the flu. I knew Robert Cray was going to be in, and suddenly I was faced with the fact that we didn’t have anything to do—which is how “Before You Accuse Me” came about. “Let’s do that. It’s simple and we both know it.” That’s Crazy [Cray] and me intertwining all through the song. He plays the second solo. Then I was in my hotel room just playing around with a riff, and it ended up being “Old Love.” Robert wrote the turnaround and the bridge. He takes the first solo and the ride at the end, and I kind of chip in here and there. I wrote “Bad Love” right at the very end, because Warner Bros., as is their wont, came in and said, “Well, where’s ‘Layla’?” [laughs] I methodically thought about it and said, “Well, I’ll get a riff, I’ll modulate into the verse, and there’ll be a chorus where we go into a minor key with a little guitar line. Then there’ll be a breakdown and I’ll put ‘Badge’ in for good measure.”
GW There are some nice, extremely long bends in the solo.
CLAPTON My fingers suddenly seem stronger than they’ve ever been. I find that I’m now bending, like, five frets—which is more than I normally do—and holding it. Bending up there and then getting vibrato, which is something I’ve never been able to do before.
GW There’s a lot of wah-wah on this record.
CLAPTON Yeah, I’ve always liked wah-wah, but I was scared of it for a while, because it became very fashionable in the Philadelphia sound and then sort of burned out. So I thought, Stay clear of this for a bit. I’ve always liked the Hendrix wah-wah stuff, and I was in the avant-garde of that, too, with “Tales of Brave Ulysses.” I bought my wah-wah in Manny’s in 1967, and I did “Tales of Brave Ulysses” in New York, I think, the same day—just experimenting with it.