Eric Clapton: Crossroads
The years since this bittersweet triumph have seen Clapton venture back and forth between the poles of tradition and experimentation. On pop-oriented albums like Pilgrim (1998) and Reptile (2001), he’s dabbled with sampling and electronic beats. Retail Therapy, his 1997 technoambient collaboration with keyboardist/ producer Simon Climie released under the name TDF, is a further testament to his interest in stretching boundaries. But these developments have been overshadowed by Clapton’s deepening engagement with his first love, the blues. In 1994, he recorded an all-blues album, From the Cradle, on which he paid tribute to many of his musical idols. Six years later, he joined forces with one of those idols, B.B. King, for a delightful album of duets, Riding with the King. And in 2004, he devoted another full disc to the classic work of Robert Johnson with the heartfelt Me and Mr. Johnson.
But the Eric Clapton of the 21st century hasn’t just been interested in returning to his blues roots; he’s also been interested in revisiting several phases of his own past, and he’s done so in ways that are surprising and unprecedented. In 2002, he reunited with John Mayall for a live performance in celebration of Mayall’s 70th birthday; it was the first time the two had played together in over 35 years. Then, in 2005, Clapton got back together with Cream bandmates Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker for a series of magical shows at the Royal Albert Hall. Highlights of the group’s four-night London stand were released on a CD and DVD, and later that same year, the trio electrified audiences at a few more shows at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
Clapton’s trip down memory lane didn’t end there. In 2006, he teamed with J.J. Cale, author of such old Clapton chestnuts as “After Midnight” and “Cocaine,” to record a laid-back set called The Road to Escondido. More recently, he toured the world with a band that included Austin guitarist Doyle Bramhall II and young slide guitar master Derek Trucks, of the Allman Brothers Band. The latter association reconnects Clapton with the spirit of the late great Duane Allman, with whom Clapton made some of his most enduring music in the early Seventies.
Why all this looking back? A remark Clapton made to the BBC in 2005 on the occasion of his 60th birthday may offer a clue: “I find I’m always looking for something to put right,” he said. “Because there’s always something that I did wrong before that I have to make amends for.” Now 62 and secure in his position as one of the greatest guitarists to ever walk the earth, Eric Clapton wants nothing more or less than to set his own personal record straight. And as he continues to do that, he makes the millions of people who love his music very happy indeed.
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