I was an Eric Clapton fan. Was. He was the first international big-name act I saw and it was amazing.
On a good day I’m still happy with most of that first decade of work he did – I have a soft spot for his first solo album, I’m a fan of Cream, Derek & The Dominos, Blind Faith, Delaney & Bonnie, his guitar solo on While My Guitar Gently Weeps, his playing on the Doris Troy record and his time with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. I don’t think anyone could argue that there was something special about his sound. I’m not saying he was the best. But he was one of the best. One of the most influential players.
By the time of the mid-70s all he wanted to do was be J.J. Cale so he covered a heap of Cale’s tunes.
In 1990 I saw Eric Clapton live and it was one of the best shows ever, for what it symbolised, the start of my gig-going, and a chance, then, to see a hero – at the time when he was still a hero. I saw him again just under a decade ago, as work this time, a job, an assignment, and it was still pretty good. Because he favoured the Cream/Dominos material; it was Clapton looking back. You go to see his live show to hear the old hits.
There was a time when I would still buy Eric Clapton records. I even bought 24 Nights, the concert album from the early 1990s for a second time recently, although I really didn’t need to do that.
But the recently released Forever Man, a 3CD set documenting his ‘best’ material over the last 30 years really is a stinking mess.
Now Clapton, likely, had very little to do with this – a record company cash-grab attempt, compiled because there’s not going to be any new-new material from EC any time soon. And fair enough too, Old Sock was the end, final proof of a spent force I would have thought. (Actually, we talked a bit about this on the first episode of Sweetman Podcast, with Darren Watson).
Forever Man is one of the oddest hits compilations I’ve ever encountered. I get that it’s a label feathering its own nest, protecting, preserving its own stock – but it exposes Clapton as the giant bore he’s been across three decades. He made his name in the first decade, then had a few hits and drifted into a type of purgatory across his second decade. But then, since 1983 he’s produced awful-sounding records with only one or two (mild) exceptions.
People might rush to defend and mention a small handful of blues albums (and only 1994’s From The Cradle, a 23-year old album, deserves any kind words). The Cappuccino-blues of his Robert Johnson tributes, and “unplugged” concerts/albums were polite at best. Still dull. Still nothing special.
But the worst of his output between 1983-2013 really isn’t that much different from this alleged ‘best’. They’re almost one and the same. I say that as someone who owned every record represented on the 3CD set, Forever Man.
What was I thinking?