Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?
Haven’t done one of these in a few years. Amazing just how sad Clapton’s early career was (if you can think of it that way)—a man wanting to perform but trying to evade the stardom, deaths of several good friends, a love affair that crumbled, bands that couldn’t hold it together. Amazing he didn’t drink himself to death. Regardless, here’s a record I think often goes overlooked, and one of my very personal favorites. By the way, I chose the alternate album art for Blind Faith because I’m not into naked prepubescent girls.
BLIND FAITH – Blind Faith (Atco ’69): This infamous and fairly-forgotten band was finished before they even started: out of the ashes of Cream and Traffic came prime Eric Clapton and babyface Steve Winwood, the first seeking to escape the creep of superstardom and a trio at odds with each other, the second ditching his own group over creative differences he’d later reconcile. But these factors plagued Blind Faith as well; Cream drummer Ginger Baker signed on once he found out about the venture at the behest of Winwood and woe of Clapton, hype about EC’s new project spread like wildfire, and the differences amongst the musicians only deepened when Clapton decided he better enjoyed the aesthetic of their opener Delaney & Bonnie & Friends (off whom he would syphon several members to form Derek & the Dominos). Too bad label pressure and a sold-out tour date preceded their ability to record enough material for their own comfort, and a shame they dissolved before they could be anything more than the world’s first ‘supergroup,’ because they could have been Really Great, and could have, given the time, produced a Great Album, though it may not be readily apparent in the thirty-odd minutes you get here. Discount throwaway Buddy Holly cover “Well All Right” and Baker’s fifteen-minute faux-jazz “Do What You Like” and you have a solid record regardless of the short running time: even if “Sea of Joy” and “Had to Cry Today” aren’t your cup of tea (though they certainly are mine as far as self-indulgency goes), there’s no doubting the brilliance of “Presence of the Lord” or “Can’t Find My Way Home,” the first great song Clapton would pen and the only great song Winwood would ever write. In a time when bands were getting louder, when Clapton was expected to shred, when Baker was supposed to bang, and when Winwood was presumed to holler so loud his voice could crack glass, Blind Faith was unusually restrained, not quite the folk-rock of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Déjà Vu yet nowhere near the excesses of Wheels of Fire. For anyone curious just how inexperienced this outfit was, watch any bit you like from the 2006 DVD London Hyde Park 1969, where over 100,000 gathered to watch the free debut concert of the fledgling band-that-didn’t, and witness not only shaky performances but a bewildered and indifferent crowd, clearly a mass of people expecting the Second Coming for no reason other than the band members’ pedigrees told them so. Which, in the end, makes Blind Faith perhaps the most aptly-titled band in the history of rock ‘n roll. A MINUS
DEREK & THE DOMINOS – Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (Atco ’70): All right, all right, let’s get the shit out of the way upfront: Clapton conceived the whole shebang for Patti Boyd, his best friend George Harrison’s wife at the time and with whom Clapton had fallen madly in love; the legendary recording sessions were drug- and booze-fueled beyond comprehension; the album was initially received mildly, which bummed Clapton hard, but when people figured out it was Slowhand, the fame he sought to escape once again reared its head; the dissolution of the band and the attendant fates of many of the members (bassist Carl Radle drank himself to death, drummer Jim Gordon was an undiagnosed schizophrenic who bludgeoned his mother to death with a hammer, and part-time member Duane Allman died in a motorcycle accident before the album was released) has led many to label the band cursed. Hard to push all this aside when viewing the album retrospectively, and the history of the band—that several were members from Delaney & Bonnie who split at the chance to work with Clapton—and the way the album came to life is a fascinating animal all its own. But I’d bet my money most aren’t attracted to “Layla” because of the tragedy surrounding it—it’s because of Clapton’s crisscrossing and mesmerizing guitar riff, his impassioned vocals backed by the ever-wailing Bobby Whitlock, and Gordon’s ethereal instrumental break that starts the second half. Most important to remember, however, is that Layla functions best as a whole: for a 77-minute double LP, there’s not one weak song here, cover or original, slow or fast, bluesy or groovy. “Keep On Growing” has a rattling slide guitar backed with an infectious, bouncy riff. “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” and “Have You Ever Loved a Woman” testify to their blues-shuffle knowhow. While no means the peak pleasurable moment, the band’s genius spontaneity was so natural that the fade-in to “Key to the Highway” has been forever captured because superproducer Tom Dowd started recording when the boys were just farting around. “Anyday,” like so many others here, somehow successfully mixes the pain of unrequited love with the joy of being in love at all, a magnificent combination of combating emotions too few love albums pull off. And that’s what makes this one of the greatest albums of popular music—Clapton’s ability to communicate a paradox comprehensibly, the band’s talent in bringing those raw passions to life, and the album’s status as not something just produced by the artists, but lived. Lived hard. A PLUS