KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

Forty Year Friday – ERIC CLAPTON “SLOWHAND”

Artist: ERIC CLAPTON
Album: SLOWHAND

[Welcome to Forty Year Friday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1977]

Last year I wrote about Eric Clapton’s 1986 solid-but-far-from-a-masterpiece album, August, in my Thirty Year Thursday series. In that post I shared this brief summary of my early history with Clapton’s music:

During my pre-teens and teenage years, Eric Clapton was among my four or five favorite artists. Between his solo career and his work with Cream, Derek & The Dominos, Blind Faith and The Yardbirds (I wouldn’t discover his groundbreaking recordings with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers until my 20’s), his biting, lyrical & melodic guitar playing and that gritty, authoritative voice were an integral part of my daily musical diet. Thanks to Clapton I learned about blues, psychedelic rock, folk, reggae & many other genres, and even after hearing the artists who influenced him it was clear that he was as good as his inspirations: a jack-of-all-trades and master of all. Although his peak era was undoubtedly the ‘60s & ‘70s when he earned his reputation as a guitar god, along with the nickname “Slowhand” (apparently due to his early reputation for breaking strings and the audience going into a slow handclap as he replaced them, i.e. “Slowhand Clapton”), he kept a high profile throughout the ‘80s, with each of his albums featuring at least one rock radio hit.

As I was discovering the vastness of his discography (which was already impressive back then, less than 2 decades into his career), a few of his solo albums stood apart from the others: 1970’s Eric Clapton, 1974’s 461 Ocean Boulevard and 1977’s Slowhand. Across these three records he moved away from the guitar-playing heroics on which he established his reputation, preferring instead to focus on his more recent songwriting influences like Leon Russell, The Band, Delaney & Bonnie and J.J. Cale. He certainly delivered some impressive work on the 6-string, but more often than not it was in service of the song and not a pyrotechnic display or extended blues workout. All three of these albums remain among his most beloved and best-selling releases, with Slowhand arguably the pinnacle of his solo career based on the consistently strong songwriting, impeccable musicianship and production by legendary (then and now) studio whiz Glyn Johns.

A few of Clapton’s most popular songs form a mighty 1-2-3 punch to begin the album. His rendition of J.J. Cale’s “Cocaine” is a loping, laid-back rocker with an instantly identifiable riff, which became a hit in 1980 via a live version. The anti-drug message was probably lost on many fans, which later led Clapton to add the phrase “that dirty cocaine” into his performances. “Wonderful Tonight” is a tender ballad about his future wife, Pattie Boyd, who was also the subject of Derek & The Dominos’ “Layla.” It might be too sappy for some listeners but there’s no denying the melody or his heartfelt performance. The country/blues hybrid “Lay Down Sally,” with the irresistible refrain “I’ve been tryin’ all night long just to talk to you,” is as far as you can get from the electric blues and British pop of his early years. He actually sounds like he’s from the American south. Co-writers George Terry (guitar) and Marcy Levy (vocals), along with vocalist Yvonne Elliman, are equally integral to the strength of this track. He duets with Levy on their co-written rocker “The Core,” which was an FM radio staple when I was a teenager, and still one of my favorite Clapton songs. Its nearly 9–minute running time flies by whenever I play it. I wasn’t familiar with British folk/rock legend John Martyn until about a decade ago, so I had been unaware that the folky-pop of “May You Never” was written by him. I think I appreciate this cover version more than ever now that I’m a big fan of the original. Clapton’s raspy vocals are the perfect match for the relaxed arrangement of “Next Time You See Her,” which would have been a strong follow-up single to the Top 10 “Lay Down Sally.” It wouldn’t be an Eric Clapton album without a straight-up blues song, and “Mean Old Frisco” fits the bill. His rhythm section (drummer Jamie Oldaker and bassist/former Derek & The Dominos bandmate Carl Radle) provides a subtle, slightly-behind-the-beat groove which allows the song to breathe. Slowhand is rounded out by a couple of pleasant but minor songs, which leaves us with 7 winners out of 9 songs, all of which still sound great four decades after they were recorded.

 

[Next Friday I will be celebrating my 10th wedding anniversary, hopefully far away from the internet, so I’ll return in two weeks with another classic from 1977]

 

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31 comments on “Forty Year Friday – ERIC CLAPTON “SLOWHAND”

  1. 80smetalman
    May 26, 2017

    God, this takes me back. A friend of mine played this album to death throughout the summer of 1978. Some great songs on it.

    Like

    • I’m glad I gave you a happy flashback. I probably didn’t get this album until around 1980, but it was in heavy rotation for a while along with the other ’70s Clapton albums I mentioned in the post.

      Like

  2. Phillip Helbig
    May 26, 2017

    I had a forty-year Thursday last night: a concert by Foreigner on their 40th anniversary tour. While Mick Jones is the only original member, I think that the current lineup can lay claim to being just as good as any other; an excellent show. Amazingly, not too loud either.

    Like

    • Phillip Helbig
      May 26, 2017

      A decade better: 50 years. Fairport Convention are celebrating 50 years in the business this year; I’m really looking forward to their annual festival. I just came across a video on YouTube, an interview with Dave Pegg, who related how he had been in front of the stage with Robert Plant listening to one of the bands when a geezer tapped Robert on the shoulder, gave him his camera, and said “Excuse me mate, but could you take a picture of me and Peggy?” 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • I read that they’re releasing a Fairport box set covering their first 10 years with tons of rare & previously unreleased material within the next couple of months. That band knows how to celebrate anniversaries, that’s for sure.

        Like

      • Phillip Helbig
        May 29, 2017

        “I read that they’re releasing a Fairport box set covering their first 10 years with tons of rare & previously unreleased material within the next couple of months. That band knows how to celebrate anniversaries, that’s for sure.”

        I’m sure it will be available at the festival.

        In general, I’m dubious about box sets, especially the conventional type which contains a “best of” collection, B-sides, radio tracks, demos, etc. The casual listener doesn’t need the rare stuff, and the fan will already have all the “best of” tracks. Why not release just the rare stuff, like Jethro Tull did with Nightcap? A similar comment applies to expanded versions of classic albums. I’m not interested in the remaster, or stuff in high-resolution where no human on the planet can hear a difference between this and standard CD quality. Some stuff is interesting, though, but I feel cheated if I have to by the original album again. OK, one could argue that the material value of a CD or DVD is negligible, so why not put it in so that the first-time buyer has it as well? Still, it’s like the “best of” collection with one new track (which is certainly not one of the greatest hits and very probably not one of the best tracks, otherwise it would have been released before.

        Like

      • I love a well-compiled box set, even if it duplicates a lot of what I already own. I own between 200 & 300 of them so I’ve got all kinds; everything from simple 4-CD career retrospectives to boxes of rarities and many of those “complete albums” collections with the original albums in replica LP sleeves. In some cases the box set might be all I own by a particular artist, while others I get because I just want to have a keepsake from one of my favorite artists. You made a good point about Tull’s Nightcap, which is an excellent collection. Some artists don’t have enough rare stuff to fill a box so a 2-CD like that is perfect. As for high-resolution, even on my decent system I can hear the difference, but I usually don’t care. It’s nice to hear the highest fidelity possible, but I’m more of a “that’s good enough” kind of guy. That’s why I have a tolerance for questionable-quality bootlegs. It’s always about content for me.

        Like

      • Phillip Helbig
        May 31, 2017

        “As for high-resolution, even on my decent system I can hear the difference, but I usually don’t care.”

        Something is wrong here, just from the words. Assuming you have a decent system, shouldn’t that be “can’t” rather than “can”?

        I doubt that anyone can here the difference between standard CD quality and “better” quality.

        Of course, there might be other differences, not related to the technical quality, so of course one might be able to hear a difference, but not because of the quality.

        The question is how much quality is needed to record the sound faithfully. Sure, some people prefer vinyl, even for the sound (as opposed to gatefold sleeves). Some people prefer black-and-white, but one can’t claim it is a better representation of reality than colour.

        The way to test this is to take a source (live band, vinyl recording, whatever) and convert it in real time to CD format, then switch between the two. No-one on the planet can hear a difference (this has been checked with double-blind experiments, and confirms what we know about signal processing, physiology, etc).

        Part of the “vinyl sounds better” argument is just pure nostalgia. People associate vinyl with positive things. Part of it is due to the fact that some CDs were not optimally produced; in the early days this was due to carrying over stuff from vinyl production and later there was a problem with the loudness wars. But these have nothing to do with CD quality per se.

        Like

      • Hi Phillip. Nope, I knew exactly what I was writing. Believe it or not, I’ve been able to hear the difference between high-res audio & standard audio, even on my “decent” system. The example that comes to mind is Neil Young’s Greatest Hits, which came in a version with CD & DVD. The DVD audio (high-res stereo, not surround sound) had a fuller sound, like the stereo spectrum was a little wider. It wasn’t an earth-shattering difference but it was noticeable.

        I know a lot of audio snobs who will only listen to vinyl, or high-res digital audio, and anything less than those formats is “crap” to them. My taste…and tolerance…is much wider. I can listen to an audience-recording of a live show from the ’70s that’s been copied from various cassettes over the years, and play it back on a tape deck with slower or faster playback, and I’ll still enjoy it. For me the content is the most important aspect, not the media used to deliver it. Sure, I love a great surround sound mix of a classic album, or a nice slab of vinyl that’s being played for the first time, but as long as I’m listening to music I don’t care how or where.

        I agree with your assessment about the “vinyl sounds better” crowd. Yes, a well-pressed LP will likely sound better than its mid-’80s CD counterpart, but there have been so many advances in CD technology over the last 3+ decades that the difference is now negligible or even non-existent.

        Like

      • Phillip Helbig
        June 7, 2017

        “Believe it or not, I’ve been able to hear the difference between high-res audio & standard audio, even on my “decent” system. The example that comes to mind is Neil Young’s Greatest Hits, which came in a version with CD & DVD. The DVD audio (high-res stereo, not surround sound) had a fuller sound, like the stereo spectrum was a little wider. It wasn’t an earth-shattering difference but it was noticeable.”

        That doesn’t prove that it is because of the higher resolution, though. Are the mixes otherwise exactly the same? The mastering? The test would be to take the DVD and convert it in real time to CD quality then switch back and forth and see if you can hear a difference.

        Like

      • I have no interest in proving anything. I just comment on what my ears hear. To the best of my knowledge, the high-res audio files are simply higher-resolution versions of the recordings included on the CD. I know many people who use waveforms to “prove” their assertions that certain music sounds better or worse than others, but as I just said, beauty is in the ear of the beholder.

        Sorry if this is coming across as me being defensive, which is not the case at all. As always, it’s just a friendly conversation.

        Like

      • Phillip Helbig
        June 7, 2017

        “Sorry if this is coming across as me being defensive, which is not the case at all. As always, it’s just a friendly conversation.”

        Interesting that you used Neil Young as an example, since he has been claiming that even CDs are audibly inferior and promoting his own Pono system.

        To continue the conversation, here are some interesting links.

        http://drewdaniels.com/audible.pdf

        https://people.xiph.org/~xiphmont/demo/neil-young.html

        https://xiph.org/video/vid2.shtml

        http://forums.afterdawn.com/threads/test-24bit-96khz-vs-cd-resolution-audio.278314/

        http://archimago.blogspot.de/2014/06/24-bit-vs-16-bit-audio-test-part-ii.html

        http://www.kirkville.com/music-not-sound-why-high-resolution-music-is-a-marketing-ploy/

        http://www.moultonlabs.com/more/24_bits_can_you_hear/

        https://www.macobserver.com/tmo/article/digital-music-16-bit-44-khz-explained

        🙂

        Like

      • Neil is very picky about his audio. I think he’s a bit too obsessive about it and it’s kept him from releasing more unreleased gems from his vaults, but his quirks are what make him so unique. As for the links you provided, not sure I’ll have the time to review them. I barely have time to write & proof-read my own posts, as well as following my fellow bloggers, but if I ever find myself with some extra free time I’ll click through.

        Like

    • Hi Phillip. Sounds like you had an excellent night of music with Mick Jones and the boys. It’s hard to think of them as Foreigner no matter how good they sound (and from the footage I’ve seen over the last few years, they are quite good), but it’s always been Mick Jones’ band and he can call it whatever he wants.

      Like

      • Phillip Helbig
        May 29, 2017

        An interesting topic: when is a band no longer legitimate? Fairport Convention went through a period with no original members and was legitimate, but there are bands who would lose legitimacy if only one member left. This is more or less independent of who writes the songs.

        Looking forward to your blog posts on this topic!

        Like

      • Yep, it certainly depends on the artist and which member is remaining. In the end, as long as the music of a good or great band is being played for people to enjoy, who can complain?

        It’s a good topic for a blog post, but not my blog. I barely have time for these once-a-week posts right now.

        Like

  3. 1537
    May 26, 2017

    Nice review, I have a real soft spot for ‘Lay Down Sally’, I remember hearing it so many times as a kid.

    Like

  4. keepsmealive
    May 26, 2017

    Fantastic album, another one it’s hard to believe is 40. I noticed that Fender has released a Slowhand stratocaster in their special line of guitars…

    Excellent write-up, sir!

    And congratulations on your 10th wedding anniversary!

    Like

    • Hi Aaron. Although I’m not a guitarist I’ve always like the look of Stratocasters and the one on this album cover is particularly nice. Thanks for the anniversary wishes.

      Like

  5. Alyson
    May 27, 2017

    Eric Clapton was wasn’t on my radar in 1977 I’m afraid – I think I was just too preoccupied with more teen orientated fodder. He has made some great music however and I always want to know what it was about Pattie Boyd that inspired just so many songs – She must have been really something.

    Like

    • I’ve often wondered the same thing about Pattie Boyd. Between Harrison & Clapton, she inspired a lot of great music. And even though she left the former for the latter, the two musicians remained friends. Nothing personal, I guess.

      Like

  6. Alyson
    May 27, 2017

    Oh, sent too quickly as meant to congratulate you in advance on the 10th wedding anniversary – Have a great weekend and will check in again in two weeks time.

    Like

    • Thanks, Alyson. We’ve earned a break as we’re currently a month into our 6-month (or more) renovation, so the timing of this anniversary is particularly good. I’m also looking forward to a few days away from the internet. I’ll have my phone with me but hope to keep it in my pocket most of the time. Hope you’re having a nice weekend.

      Like

      • Alyson
        May 28, 2017

        Enjoy the break – Although I love the blogging and reading other blogs I have found myself spending far too much time on the internet of late so good to have some time away from it all sometimes.

        Like

      • Thanks, Alyson. The internet can be exhausting and it’s important to step away periodically. The timing for this particular break is perfect.

        Like

  7. deKE
    May 27, 2017

    Congrats on your 10th Anniversary Rich!
    Nice writeup on Slowhand as well. I know his singles of course but I never really took the plunge into his studio stuff.
    Though when someone like you writes about it I will certainly check it out….

    Like

  8. stephen1001
    May 28, 2017

    I believe 7 of 9 was a Star Trek character – nice to see the fraction resurface to describe the number of keeper tracks on this Clapton disc!
    Enjoy your anniversary next week, congrats!

    Like

    • So the character’s name was “7 of 9”? That’s a weird name, but I understand it’s Star Trek. If it’s a female character perhaps her real name was Sally (as in “Lay Down…”). 😀

      Thanks for the anniversary wishes. I really appreciate it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Phillip Helbig
        May 29, 2017

        Not The Original Series, but rather The Next Generation. Female character? You need to get out more. I’m not a fan of the later Star Trek incarnations (but do like the original series), but 7 of 9 is every geek’s wet dream. Google her. 🙂

        Like

      • I did a Google search on this character and I recognize the actress. Didn’t know that was her character’s name. I like to think me getting out on a regular basis is the reason I don’t know Star Trek that well. 😛

        Like

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