Pass it Around
"If I made records for my own pleasure, I would only record Charley Patton songs." - Bob Dylan
Derek An Essay by Jim Linderman Thirty Gigs in the United States and Notes Off the Neck
I heard a story that after all those years of practice, toil, drugs and turmoil, Eric Clapton, once known as God, has finally settled down with a former waitress from (and in) Ohio. I hope so. I am certainly no Clapton myself, but I've settled down in the Midwest too, and the pace befits me. I pray, and I believe it would befit Mr. Clapton as well.
There are Clapton connections with Dylan, of course, but then there are connections with Dylan and virtually any musician of my age. That isn't my point here, but it is a Dylan blog after all. And since both are blues-based musicians, despite their race and backgrounds, why not put this brief essay here.
Clapton has been a wonderment to me for decades. He is one of those astounding talents it has been a pleasure to share the last century with, and as much of this one I am allowed. He is Muhammad Ali, Tiger Woods, Al Pacino and Willie Nelson. All so good at what they do, or did, that they are light years above and beyond all others. All idols and all fortunately creating their magic while I was here to enjoy it. Great things to be grateful for.
There is a box full of box sets, or course, and all are good. Among his contemporaries, He is probably the only one who has never released a stinker. That reflects both his considerable skill and his considerable good taste. A musician's musician as much as a crowd pleaser, he has balanced the ignorance of popular culture while pursuing his artistic devotion, and always with style. Style as a gentleman, style in the threads he wears and performs in and even style as a troubled soul hiding in addiction in a mansion,…I have no idea how he found the time to live such a life. Style helping Curtis Mayfield after a playground fell on him while performing for his neighborhood. Style organizing a tribute to a fallen Beatle. Style in a suit at Lincoln Center with Wynton Marsalis. Style sharing his grief with the MTV generation.
I wasn't one of those "dig the Yardbirds" kids. I KNEW of Clapton, of course, through Cream, which played in the background as I went through the childhood rigors of learning to shoot pool, play poker and smoke hash. I didn't know why they named a song "Toad" or that their best song came from a black man named Skippy who recorded it in 1931. I learned that later, and I learned to admire Clapton all over again around 1981.
I was sitting in front of a leased color television. A "rent-to-own" television which means you put down no down payment, but paid the shysters enormous interest payments for so long, you could have purchased three sets by the time it was yours. I do not remember what I was watching, but I do remember a cameraman having the smarts to focus on Clapton's fingers for just about a full 60 seconds while Eric was playing a solo. I do not remember the show or the song, but I remember it was one of the few times in my life my jaw dropped from awe. I don't mean that as a tired phrase of admiration or surprise…my chin literally fell, I leaned in and I was astounded. His fingers were a liquid blur, and the notes were so pure, so fast, so accomplished and precise, yet played with such a remarkably disciplined abandon, it simply did not seem possible.
A few years went by and I grew up. I had the luxury and the income to follow my own muse, and sooner or later I rediscovered Clapton. Another go-round…but this time I was serious and studied. I bought them all. I learned who J.J. Cale is. I figured out white reggae. I wore my hair like Clapton and wore his glasses. I sympathized with his desire to join The Band in Upstate New York…and I found the bootlegs.
Much has been made of "The Greatest Tour in Rock and Roll History" with candidates the Stones in the early 1970s, Dylan 1966, Early Who, The Allman Brothers just before Duane was hit…you can pick one and you have your own. For me, consistently since I first heard them (and a privileged thrill) is the tour Eric did as Derek for a brief time at the peak of the peak. Derek and the Dominos, a mishandled debacle which performed around thirty US gigs, I guess, before Eric retreated into a haze for a while.
The era is preserved for most fans in "Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs" and the subsequent Live at Filmore discs. If you want to see a brilliant piece of music documentary, see the all-too brief section in which producer Tom Dowd remembers the time. Everyone knows Layla. It wasn't a really a staple of the short lived group, but it was patched together then and has persisted. You can read the story HERE on wiki. Suffice to say, the band lasted not much longer than Duane Allman…and since Layla initially stiffed, the song wouldn't become part of Clapton's shows until another incarnation. As Tom says, "those are not notes that are on the instrument."
A long-winded introduction to the purpose of this post, which is the majesty of discovering Eric Clapton guitar solos from 1970 and 1971. He has always been great, of course, and SO great I was disturbed once to see him on a documentary lament his fingers were less nimble now…but the brief period with the Dominos transcend great. Think Ali roping a dope, Tiger on the 18th green with a fifty-footer, Wille shilling "Night Life" and "Crazy" for 500 bucks in a bar in Nashville. Think Pacino in American Buffalo as he storms on the circular stage spitting out "Fuckin Ruthie" and prepares to stun lucky ticket-holders in American Buffalo. Think the best of the best Coltrane solos…so complex they don't seem possible.
Thirty shows in the United States by Derek and the Dominos. All from October to December 1970. You can see them listed HERE. Unfortunately, you can not hear them all. Not even close.
In 1970, there were two options. Give some weed to the soundboard guy, or sneak in your cassette recorder. Consequently, the few shows which exist on tape at all frequently have yahoos shouting, feet scuffling and, well…the unwashed masses at a rock and roll show. Concerts may be complete or not, songs missing…Even in the 1970s there was the dust of history.
I find myself leaning in still, but now to hear. The disc shown above is a four disc set known as "Assorted Rock and Roll" and it includes considerable portions of four shows performed, and all in horrible, horrible sound. Despite it being a "Scorpio" bootleg, unknown criminals with a reputation for being "outside the law" but honest. But among the dust of history, there are runs up and down the neck of a guitar you will not believe. The stoned folk sitting on the floor realized it, or some did…and if you can find these and study them, you can realize it now.
My vote for (one of ) the greatest rock tours in history.
Ebooks ($5.99) and books by Jim Linderman HERE