The audience at Jerry Douglas’s February 11 set at London’s Royal Festival Hall were treated to a surprise guest turn from Eric Clapton on acoustic guitar, who joined the 14-time Grammy winner for a two-song cameo and tribute to Jeff Beck.
The Jerry Douglas Band was in town for the Transatlantic Sessions, when Clapton took to the stage with one of his many, many Martins – a 000-42 by the looks of it – and joined in the fun. And it was fun.
The fan-shot footage has excellent sound quality, the black and white giving it the look of some indie auteur's early work that has just been restored in 4K, the atmosphere off-the-charts. The video picks up just as While My Guitar Gently Weeps gets going.
Now, if Gallop were to poll guitarists on the first song that comes to mind when they think Clapton, that’s surely going to be jostling with Sunshine of Your Love and Layla for a spot on the podium. It is part of the very fabric of guitar culture, and yet, so often we hear it performed on electric guitar that this arrangement feels fresh, and a reminder that Clapton, for all the recent issues he has had with peripheral neuropathy, still has the stuff. He can still play.
The best was yet to come. Giving the audience a moment’s pause to catch its breath, Clapton took to the mic and, for a moment, like a competition winner, so delighted he was to be in the company of Douglas and his superlative band, he addressed the crowd: another song was coming.
“This is a real honor for me to be here,” he said. “I’ve been to see this show so many times, and our kids have grown up with this. My family’s out there. And it is wonderful to be here. I begged Jerry to come up here. [Laughs] But I really wanted to just do one thing, a traditional Irish Traveler’s song, a lament, for my friend Jeff, and it’s called Sam Hall.”
Clapton stays on the mic, playing fingerstyle. Now, this one is an easy one, all G and D and A, all open chords and an easy tempo, and all the better to let Clapton’s voice come to the fore. And it’s in pretty good shape, not quite Pacino but pretty darned gravely. Just the timbre you need for a lament.
Jeff Beck replaced Eric Clapton in the Yardbirds in 1965, playing his first gig with the group just two days after Clapton left. The two would collaborate numerous times over the years, including the above performance at Ronnie Scott’s.