So here’s the thing about Eric Clapton: most of the high-end, lifer guitar players I’ve known over the years generally don’t think very much of the guy’s guitar playing at all, and aside from the album he did with John Mayall*, I guess I’d have to say I’m proud to count myself among their ranks.
(Not proud because I think Clapton is fairly meh, but proud that my shared attitude might be an indication via association that I’m actually a pretty good guitar player.)
That said, if you don’t go you won’t know, so on May 27th, 2008 I drove to Toronto and took in a Clapton show from the lawn of the Molson Amphitheatre. It was pretty early in the season but I don’t remember it being as cold as it probably was, so maybe I warmed up to Eric Clapton after all.
Robert Randolph opened, and what an obvious match he was. What weekend-warrior Clapton fan wouldn’t be thrilled by Randolph’s innovative blues playing on the ever-slippery and always-awesome pedal steel guitar? I don’t recall much of his set but I’m sure it was great.
Clapton came out and delivered a quality blues show top-to-bottom. The guy really is one of the greats of the genre, there’s just no denying it, and if I had one complaint over the course of the evening it was the slide playing that came from his sideguy during Layla, but that was mostly out of bitterness for not catching Clapton on his previous tour instead, when the great Derek Trucks would have been the sideguy playing all the slide parts. I don’t know who the guy I saw was but I know who he wasn’t, and he wasn’t Derek Trucks.
I must admit, it was a really good show, and I’m very glad I went. Sure, I could have done without Wonderful Tonight but who couldn’t? Otherwise it was great; Cocaine, Got My Mojo Working, Hoochie Coohie Man, Before You Accuse Me, heck, he even played Little Wing.
Why then did my overall opinion of Eric Clapton remain unchanged after this concert? Who knows, but it did. Maybe I’m afraid admiring Eric Clapton will make me less of a guitar player.
Which is reasonable I suppose.
Either way, I doubt I’ll go see Eric Clapton again, unless of course he comes to Bluesfest some time.
Who am I kidding? If Clapton comes to Bluesfest I’ll be there with bells on.
(This seems as appropriate as anywhere for this story: A bunch of years earlier a crew of four of us drove to Montreal to see Clapton. The show was sold out but we weren’t too concerned. We planned to wait until the concert started and then we would scoop cheap tickets from a desperate scalper. We arrived at the Forum just before showtime and I approached the lone scalper. He was selling tickets a little above face value so we stuck with our plan and killed some time sitting on a park bench across the street. Once the crowd thinned to nothing and the show had surely began we crossed back over to the scalper and asked how much tickets were going for now.
“Same as before,” he responded, thumbing the sizeable stack of tickets in his hand. “Sixty bucks a ticket.”
“But the show has started already,” I stated matter-of-factly, calling his bluff. “We’ll give you a hundred dollars for four.”
“Hmmmph…” The guy’s eyes looked us up and down. It was clear he knew our game, and we were about to learn his. “Well, they ain’t for sale no more,” he said with a shrug. Then he turned around and walked away, putting the stack of tickets in his pocket and not looking back.
I was dumbfounded and couldn’t believe the guy’s stupidity, not to mention his poor business acumen. It didn’t take me long to figure out how wrong I was about that.)
*The Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton album is fierce! Clapton sounds like a runaway freight train barely clinging to the tracks for the entire record, but cling to the tracks he does, and John Mayall is pretty stellar too. You should check it out if you haven’t.