Eric Clapton: Fit for Kings
At the dawn of the millennium, Eric Clapton and B.B. King pooled their legendary blues talents on Riding wih the King, an epic album 30 years in the making.
When Eric Clapton arrived in New York in 1967, he was the toast of the town. The rock community was buzzing about the British blues prodigy and his new band, Cream, whose slinky “I Feel Free” was fast becoming a staple on underground radio. Naturally, all eyes were on him and his wildly curly hair when he strolled into Manhattan’s Cafe Au Go Go to see his friend Al Kooper play with his new band, Blood, Sweat and Tears. For Clapton, it was a night to remember, but not for the reasons you’d think.
As fate would have it, in the club that evening was one of Clapton’s idols, B.B. King, whose shattering vocals and stinging guitar vibrato on songs like “Three O’Clock Blues” and “Ten Long Years” had made an indelible mark on the young virtuoso. When King introduced himself, the Englishman was beside himself. And when he invited Eric to join him in an after-hours jam session, Clapton later remarked, “It was like all my dreams were coming true.”
Over the next 30 years, the duo’s paths crossed many, many times. Each time, both vowed that someday they would get together in a studio and make one of their musical encounters official. However, with their hectic schedules it was easier said than done. Then, last year, Clapton decided to make good on their mutual vow. With King’s blessing, he booked time in a studio, hired a band and over a three-month period in Los Angeles the two blues legends ripped it up on a surprisingly varied set of contemporary and classic blues material, from King’s Fifties signature song, “Ten Long Years,” to John Hiatt’s hooky, pop rocker “Riding with the King.”
In the following 2000 interview, Clapton and King reminisce about the good old days and detail the events that led up to their historic, Platinum-bound pairing, Riding with the King.
GUITAR WORLD What do you remember about Cafe Au Go Go in 1967?
B.B. KING Good music, that’s what I remember. We was having big fun at the time. Musicians, in my opinion, were a little bit different from the way we are now. They used to get together and jam a lot and exchange ideas. I don’t see that much now, do you?
ERIC CLAPTON I don’t. And I don’t know where they would do it. Jam sessions happened a lot more in those days. People played together all the time in America.
KING Yeah, there were no “big I” and “little you” people at that time. Everybody was sort of liberal with their amplifiers, too. Everybody got a chance to hear the other one a bit. A lot of times now, you go in for a jam session, and, boy, if you ain’t got a powerful amp, you might as well go home.
CLAPTON Yeah, everyone played at reasonable volumes back then.