Birthday Wishes

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Today, God is 70.  You might think that God was just a tiny bit older than that, or that maybe He/She/It was in fact ageless.  But you’d be wrong.  He was born this day in 1945 in Ripley, England.

I’ve posted before about why Eric Clapton deserves to be called God.  His prowess with the guitar is unquestionable and unassailable.  It’s not the most flashy style, technically speaking (his other nickname is Slowhand, for goodness sakes), but the sheer emotion behind his playing makes up for his lack of fancy licks and riffs.  (It should also be noted here that the riff Clapton is most famous for, the opening of “Layla” was actually created by the late, supernaturally great, Duane Allman.  As a throwaway.  That’s the story I heard, anyway.)  He is just solid.

I love Clapton in all his forms and genres–Rock, Pop, Blues, whatever.  Not only can he play it all, he plays it all better than all but a select few.  Allman & Hendrix were probably better; Page, Beck, and a few others are very nearly his equals.  Everyone else is just an also-ran.  I probably could’ve picked one of his more iconic songs to post for his birthday today, but I decided to go with one of the one’s I love the most.  “She’s Waiting” is from Behind the Sun, what was in effect his divorce album even though I think his official split from Patti Boyd came a few years later.  It’s one of the best all-around albums from his entire career, and this is one of the best tunes from it.  Enjoy!

1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die: Over Under Sideways Down

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Installment number one of this feature is a good one.  In the book, the recordings are listed alphabetically, and it seemed counterproductive to just go through the book in order.  (Also, I’m not so sure that’s how Tom Moon intended for it to be used.)  So I riffled through the pages a couple of times, stopped, and slapped my hand down.  It landed on this 1996 album by the Yardbirds.

Moon notes that Over Under Sideways Down (released in the U.K. as Roger the Engineer) was the first Yardbirds album conceived as an album instead of just a bunch of singles collected for release.  It’s bluesy and rocking, with just a bit of psychedelia.  Fairly typical for the era, actually, but executed with more skill and verve than many of the other, forgotten British bands of the mid 60s.

The Yardbirds’ biggest claim to fame, besides the awesome single “For Your Love”, was being the launching pad for three of the greatest Rock guitarists ever.  Eric Clapton was their first lead, but he quit in a Blues purist huff when the band moving away from, well, pure Blues with songs like “For Your Love.”  (I think he did okay for himself.)  Jeff Beck was Clapton’s replacement, and was joined soon after by his friend Jimmy Page, then a well-known session man.  The band was in the middle of a U.S. tour when they fired Beck, in spite of his massive talent, for being a bit of a flake.  (Like Clapton, Beck did pretty well for himself after leaving the band.)  Page took over as lead guitarist, but the band was doomed.

The Yardbirds broke up for the same reasons a lot of bands do: different ideas about their musical direction (differences that can be heard clearly on Over Under Sideways Down). Lead singer Keith Relf and drummer Jim McCarty were leaning toward something less heavy, while Jimmy Page had some hardcore hard Rock visions.  Manager Peter Grant and Page had a looming tour in Scandinavia and no band, since bassist Chris Dreja had also left.  They held auditions, and ended up hiring a young unknown singer named Robert Plant who recommended his friend John Bonham on drums.  John Paul Jones, another well-known session man, rounded out the lineup.  They toured under the moniker of The New Yardbirds in 1968, but I think we all know how the rest of the story turned out.

Even with all that historical baggage, Over Under Sideways Down holds its own as good music.  If you’ve never listened to the Yardbirds before, this is as good as place as any to start.

 

Happy Birthday, God!

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The fact the Easter is tomorrow has absolutely nothing to do with this post; it’s just a freaky coincidence precedented by the fact that Christianity simply hijacked a pagan holiday to commemorate the death of their savior (that’s why Easter is always on different dates–it follows the moon, just like whatever pagan holiday it used to be).  No, today’s (first*) post is to celebrate a different kind of religion.

No, not the return of Doctor Who, although the second half of season seven is premiering tonight, with a new companion.  (Although I just read this over at IMDB, and I got all aflutter.  Ten and Rose!)  Now let’s get on with the celebrating, for today is Eric Clapton’s 68th birthday.

Yeah, there are better examples of his playing out there, but this is one of my favorite Slowhand tunes.  It’s got a neat chunky rhythm and a nice little solo.  It’s from his 1985 release Behind the Sun, which was his divorce album and features contributions from a number of popular musicians (most notably Phil Collins, who could still rock the drums then and was at the absolute height of his creative powers).  This song is a man reminding someone that his lady is going to dump him for someone better if he doesn’t change his lousy behavior: “You’ve been abusing her for far too long, think you’re a king and she’s your pawn.  Get ready now, cause pretty soon she’ll be gone and you’ll be on your own.”  At this point in his life, Clapton might well have been singing to a mirror.  His marriage to Patti Boyd was in tatters; Boyd actually left him during the recording of Behind the Sun for a “trial” separation.  This particular track exemplifies the peculiar mood of this album–sadness, chagrin, grief, regret.  There’s even a weird sort of elation to a lot of the tracks, like the burden of uncertainty was finally being lifted from his shoulders.

That’s sort of Clapton in a nutshell.  He’s a bluesman with pop tendencies, who puts all his heart and soul into his music.  He might be all over the map, but you know that whatever you get, it’s going to be genuine.

 

*There’s another post right on the heels of this one, sad news that hit the music world today.

“I’ve Got a Rock ‘N Roll Heart”

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I was having some trouble choosing a song tonight, so I paused the computer, skipped about 25 songs, and hit play.  Seems like I hit the perfect choice.

I really do have a rock & roll heart.  I don’t really care one way or the other about ’57 Chevys, but play me some electric guitar, and I will probably follow you anywhere.  It’s the first place I found where I could ever really be myself, the first thing I could ever call mine.  I’ve mentioned before that I’m not very musical in terms of talent (but I wield a pretty mean pen/computer keyboard).  But music has always felt like home for me.  Some of my earliest memories revolve around listening to music.  One of my favorite toys when I was tiny was this Fisher Price record player.

       My first music collection–image from Alivias Toys

The little plastic records played classic children’s songs.  I seem to remember “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” getting a lot of play.  Music has always been present in my life.

When I discovered rock & roll, I was hooked.  The Beatles, Elvis, Chuck Berry. . . . you name it, I’ve probably at least tried to listen to it.  I tend to shy away from the pompous and self-important.  I’m not usually a big fan of whatever’s hot at the moment.  And very often, I slip away from rocking and rolling to listen to some sweetly introspective acoustic.  But I always come back.

Eric Clapton gets criticized a lot (sometimes rightly) for his pop tendencies, but he really hit all the right notes with this song, literally and figuratively.  I don’t need a new theme song, but this is one of those songs that describes me to a T.  “Here’s what you’re gettin’, and I don’t want to change.  I get off on ’57 Chevys.  I get off on screaming guitars.  Like the way it gets me every time it hits me, I’ve got a rock ‘n roll, I’ve got a rock ‘n roll heart.”

 

Why Eric Clapton is God

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So I forgot that a couple of days ago I was going to prove why Eric Clapton is God.  Hard rockin’ chicks distracted me.

Eric Clapton is generally #2 on most greatest guitarist lists, right after Jimi Hendrix (who defies all attempts at human definition. . .  which is why I think he’s an alien).  Sometimes the polls will put Duane Allman ahead of Clapton (I refuse to argue with that; after all, Clapton’s most famous lick, from “Layla,” was actually Duane’s.)  The general consensus is that Eric Clapton is one of the best rock guitarists that has ever, or will ever, live.

But why.  Technically and mechanically, he’s really, really good, but he’s not the master that Hendrix or even someone like Jimmy Page is.  His solos are excellent, clean and clear, not a single wasted note.  Ever.  Clapton is the consummate bluesman*; his style is economical without being cheap.  As a songwriter and song-adapter, Clapton is more than competent.  (I will be the first to admit, however, that his original songwriting has suffered in the last decade or so; happiness does that to a musician.)  But there are many, many guitarists that can write a decent tune, many of them better than Clapton.  And although I’ve never seen him in concert myself, I’ve seen enough clips to know that his stage presence is kind of static.  So what the hell makes him so special?

Well. . . .

This clip is from the tribute Concert for George, performed and recorded exactly a year to the day of George’s death.  (For anyone who has spent a long time under a rock: Eric Clapton and George Harrison were very dear, close friends.  Eric fell in love with George’s wife Patti Boyd.  Patti eventually left George for Eric, although they also divorced some years later.  Eric and George remained dear, close friends until George’s death.)  If possible, please momentarily discount the magnificent Indian orchestra accompanying Clapton and zero in on him.  It’s not flashy; I don’t know if he wrote his own part.  All I know is that he puts every ounce of his soul into these moments.  You feel all the love and sorrow that he feels, all the joy and gratitude.  It moves me to tears every damn time I hear it.  No matter what he is playing, Eric Clapton puts his whole self into it.  The guitar is not an instrument in his hands.  It is his hands.  He is the guitar, he is the music.

That’s why Clapton is God.

*A piece of advice must be noted here: be careful what you wish for.  As a young adolescent, Clapton wished to be the best bluesman ever.  But what he failed to understand is that to play the blues is to live the blues.  Between his addictions, romantic entanglements, and the deaths of many loved ones, Clapton has lived through more tragedy than most of us will ever know.  But he is one of the best bluesmen ever.