There are many schmoes that have one or two hit songs with their labels subsequently releasing a “greatest hits” or “best of” collections. There may be no other rock musician in history that has a greater claim to either one of those phrases than Eric Clapton. When I was a wee lad, I developed a taste for electric guitar and the first two records I bought were Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix and Wheels of Fire by Cream. These classic albums were begat by blues cats like Freddie King, Albert King and Buddy Guy who begat a league of British white boys such as the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds and John Mayall. After performing stints with the latter two bands and leading Cream and Derek and the Dominos, Clapton begat legions of six string slingers and is arguably the most successful guitarist of all time. Now his label has begot a solid career retrospective that spans four decades.
Complete Clapton, is a 36-song collection that begins with a quintet of Cream songs including “I Feel Free,” an atmospheric synthesis of blues and hard rock that still sends shivers up my psychedelic spine. Having played all four of the other songs in cover bands, I can tell you my preference is for “White Room,” which was recorded in late 1967 and is the quintessential anthem of the power trio. It offers brilliant melody, poetic lyrics oozing super cool ambiguity and interlocking musicianship that stands the test of time.
Speaking of who begot who, Cream and Traffic begot the short lived Blind Faith and the result is the soulful spirituality of “In The Presence of the Lord,” which considering all the drugs Mr. Clapton was knocking back, is a lucid deliberation on faith and the musical possibilities of a well heeled wah-wah peddle. In between begetting supergroups, Slowhand found time to cover two very cool songs called “After Midnight” and “Cocaine” by the enigmatic J.J. Cale, which netted him two more smash hits. After working with Delaney, Bonnie and Friends, Clapton realized the possibilities of recording with great session musicians and this begot Derek and the Dominos. Nothing touches the soul like a flaming double lead guitar on a gut wrenching song about an unrequited love for your best friend’s old lady; and this was stunningly realized with “Layla,” which is quite simply a rock and roll masterpiece. The bluesy lounge version of this classic recorded during his MTV unplugged performance is also included in this package.
During the decades following his drug and alcohol problems, Eric Clapton cranked out hit songs like Mrs. Fields bakes cookies and all his biggies are offered up on this collection. For my cookie dough, I like the percussive “Forever Man,” a good mix of soul and blues that features some great drumming by the late Jeff Porcaro. I’m also partial to the pretty acoustic pop of “Change the World,” a song that yielded a mega hit and one of Mr. Clapton’s finest vocal performances. To round out the collection, EC comes full circle with “Sweet Home Chicago” and “If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day.” These songs are classic double shuffling Chicago and delta blues played with profound respect by a musician who has practiced his craft for nearly half a century and continues to amaze his fans.
PS: The last two songs mentioned were written by Robert Johnson, who went down to the crossroads, made a deal with the Devil and begat pretty much everyone mentioned in this review.