Eric Clapton has revealed that he’s “not particularly proud” of his playing on The Last Waltz, citing an onstage mishap during The Band’s star-studded final performance that he says set him on “automatic pilot” for his guest slot.
He also re-watched Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz documentary and concert footage, only to decide he was less than satisfied with his own part.
“When Robbie moved on, I got everyone in my family in the room to watch it. I hadn't watched it for a long time,” says Clapton, who performed the Texas shuffle classic Further On Up The Road at the show.
“I was amazed at how young everyone looks... But my strap comes off right at the beginning of the song and so I go into some kind of automatic pilot. So I'm not particularly proud of my bit because I get the guitar solo and I immediately have to give it away to Robbie!”
Watching the footage of the track will get any guitarist sweating. The strap on Clapton’s Fender Strat is left perilously bent back upon itself meaning you’re just, quite literally, waiting for the axe to fall.
Nonetheless, Clapton recovers very capably and Robertson’s considerable onstage nous – honed after years of performing long sets in dive bars to Dylan gigs – means The Band man barely misses a beat in picking up the solo.
In that sense, the moment really highlights what Robertson always did best: off-the-cuff brilliance. Elsewhere in the same interview, Clapton discusses that very aspect of Robertson’s playing and notes it’s a lot harder than it looks.
"People underestimate what he does,” says Clapton. “They want to try doing it. The intros to songs, the little things that sound like they’re scrappy and off the cuff, which is part of his unique attractiveness to me – he sounds like he’s only just now working out that this will work.
“I'm sure it’s a lot more crafted out than that. I know him well enough to know he was really precise about what he did. It's so difficult to recreate that kind of on-the-edge of expression.”
We should have some sense of the challenge next month, as Clapton says he now intends to pay tribute to Robertson in his performance at the forthcoming Crossroads 2023 guitar festival in LA – an event the Band icon was due to play.
Robbie Robertson passed away aged 80 on August 9. His death led to an outpouring of tributes from the likes of Joni Mitchell, Martin Scorcese, Ronnie Wood, Ringo Starr and Stevie Van Zandt, among many others.