Posts Tagged ‘Eric Clapton’

“Roger the Engineer” by the Yardbirds (1966)

Album-oriented rock still was a long way off when the Yardbirds’ career got into full swing in the mid-1960s.

The band issued a string of hit singles that consolidated their status in their native Britain and the United States, classics like “For Your Love,” “Heart Full of Soul,” “Evil Hearted You” and “Shapes of Things.” Much of that material was compiled for two U.S.-only LPs, “For Your Love” and “Having a Rave Up With the Yardbirds,” which further enhanced their American reputation, particularly among fledgling guitar players who taught themselves to the riffs of Jeff Beck and Eric “Slowhand” Clapton.

In the summer of 1966, the Yardbirds finally released their first U.K. studio album, simply titled “The Yardbirds” but popularly known as “Roger the Engineer” because of the caption on drummer Jim McCarty’s distinctive cover portrait. Also confusing the issue is the name the album was given outside Britain: “Over Under Sideways Down,” after an LP track that became a hit single.

“Roger” turned out to be the only Yardbirds U.K. studio album, at least until the 21st-century version of the band released a CD called “Birdland” in 2003. The LP “Little Games,” featuring Jimmy Page on lead guitar, was a U.S.-only release in 1967.

Meanwhile, the overall Yardbirds discography has grown exponentially over the decades, with much of the band’s early material seemingly out there in the public domain for anyone who wants to slap together a collection for marketing purposes.

And so for music enthusiasts looking to dig into Yardbirds material, “Roger the Engineer” is a logical place to start. Not only does it represent the band’s most consistent full-length release, but it’s a damned good representation of the transition from garage rock to psychedelia.

Yardbirds bassist Paul Samwell-Smith co-produced the album, foreshadowing his transition from playing music to studio work. His bass guitar is the dominant instrument for the opening track as he provides the octave-scale hook for “Lost Woman.” At least, that’s until Beck fires off a scorching lead in the middle section, setting a precedent for much of the rest of the album.

“Over Under Sideways Down” features a fuzzed-guitar motif – Beck was a pioneer in getting that type of sound out of this instrument as vocalist Keith Relf provides a narrative worth of the band’s home of Swinging London:

Cars and girls are easy come by in this day and age
Laughing, joking, drinking, smoking ’til I’ve spent my wage.
When I was young, people spoke of immorality
All the things they said were wrong are what I want to be

The song represents the last major singles triumph for the Yardbirds: No. 13 on the U.S. charts and No. 10 in the U.K.

Beck spells Relf on lead vocal for “The Nazz Are Blue,” and although Jeff doesn’t sound particularly comfortable in that role, he started his solo career as a singing guitarist with the British Hit “Hi Ho Silver Lining.” As for “The Nazz,” it’s in a fairly standard 12-bar blues format, with Beck providing his usual stellar guitar. The song served as the impetus for the names of at least two American bands: Todd Rundgren’s band out of Philadelphia, which recorded three albums as the Nazz, and another group from Phoenix, until the members started calling themselves Alice Cooper.

“I Can’t Make Your Way” is an upbeat ditty that extols the virtues of living beyond the pale, so to speak: “Taxman, rent man, they all chase me, I ain’t home when they come around/Got no money, live my life free, that’s the best way I have found.”

Another Beck showcase is “Rack My Mind,” another blues-based, woman-done-wrong song driven by a memorable bass line. His guitar really comes to the forefront during the slowed-tempo middle section.

The brief, sparsely accompanied “Farewell” has Relf musing about the ills of the world throughout the days of the week, concluding on Sunday with the ominous: “On Sunday back inside my room, I draw the blinds, ’tis afternoon/I let my mind find its own ways, farewell to future days.” Who said the ’60s were all about flowers and sunshine?

“Hot House of Omagarashid” has the Yardbirds veering off into experimental territory, with rhythm guitarist producing a rhythm by shaking something called a wobble board and the band plunging into another bass-driven tune, this one enhanced by various members chanting an infectious “Ya-ya-ya!” lyric. The mono mix of the song features one of Beck’s most searing guitar leads.

“Jeff’s Boogie” pretty much is what the title indicates: Beck providing a workout to an instrumental line that strongly resembles Chuck Berry’s “Guitar Boogie.” He also throws in a few quotes from “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” perhaps as a nod to Buddy Guy.

The Yardbirds show their heavier side on “He’s Always There,” a lament about trying to hit on a girl when her boyfriend won’t leave her side. Beck’s playing is somewhat reserved until the outro, during which he plays a blazing guitar as Relf and others sing the song title repeatedly.

“Turn into Earth” is a foray into Gregorian chant territory, along the lines of the highly successful “Still I’m Sad.” Relf returns to the lyrical doom and gloom of “Farewell”:

Distant dreams of things to be
Wandering thoughts that can’t be free
I feel my mind turning away
To the darkness of my day

“What Do You Want” is the Yardbirds in rave-up mode, jamming to a catchy tune as Relf puts forth another lament about a fickle woman. As with many of the “Roger the Engineer” songs, this one is available in some collections in its instrumental form, again showing why Beck was regarded as one of the top young guitarists of the era.

The album closes on a foreboding note with “Ever Since the World Began,” a minor-key dirge that abruptly shifts to a much livelier tempo. Lyrically, it’s yet more familiar territory a la “I Can’t Make Your Way”: Band members chant, “I don’t need money,” as Relf expounds in a root-of-all-evil theme.

Most reissues of “Roger the Engineer” have included two additional songs, the single “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” and its British B-side, “Psycho Daisies.” Both feature the short-lived lineup of Beck and Page sharing lead-guitar duties.

The A-side may mark the pinnacle of the Yardbirds’ creativity, but unfortunately it stiffed on the charts, peaking at No. 30 in the U.S. and No. 43 in the U.K. “Happenings” also represents an early collaboration between Page and John Paul Jones, who played bass.

In the United States, the B-side was “The Nazz Are Blue.” Rundgren must have bought the 45; not only did he name his band after one of the songs, but he covered the other on his “Faithful” album in 1976.

After “Roger the Engineer,” the Yardbirds’ commercial appeal declined significantly, and the band broke up in June 1968. Page put together another group to fulfill some contractual obligations, and so Led Zeppelin played its first several gigs billed as his previous band.

If he, Jones, Robert Plant and John Bonham played any “Roger the Engineer” material together, it has not been recorded in any Led Zeppelin histories.

“Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton” by John Mayall (1966)

Contrary to legend, Eric Clapton didn’t have quite a household name when he decided to leave the Yardbirds in 1965.

The band had experienced some success around the nascent London blues circuit, but the members and their management eventually learned they’d have to extend their repertoire a bit if they were looking for major success.

And so came “For Your Love,” the Yardbirds’ breakthrough hit. The primary instrument is the harpsichord, played by freelancer Brian Auger. Clapton’s guitar appears only in the bridge, and even then it’s kind of buried in the mix under Keith Relf’s multitracked vocals.

Keep in mind that “Slowhand” still was a teenager at the time, and he was none too happy about his role in the band being usurped. And so he bailed out, making his spot available for another teenage guitarist, named Jeff Beck. The rest, as they say … well, who needs to spout clichés?

The B-side of “For Your Love” was an instrumental called “Got to Hurry,” which probably contained the most accomplished lead guitar heard to date in the United Kingdom: Clapton’s fretwork screams out against a relatively routine 12-bar-blues backing, begging for discerning listeners to take notice.

One of those listeners was John Mayall, who’d been cultivating his own version of the British blues to a modicum of success. His Blues Breakers backed up John Lee Hooker on a U.K. tour, and his band’s single “Crawling Up a Hill” made a bit of noise on the charts.

Mayall snatched up Clapton for the Blues Breakers, and they promptly cut a couple of tracks for a 45. The A-side, “I’m Your Witchdoctor,” while not a hit, gave knowledgeable listeners a bigger hint about Clapton’s guitar capabilities.

Clapton and Mayall cut another single, just the two of them: “Lonely Years” backed with the Eric-penned instrumental “Bernard Jenkins,” before the guitarist decided to go hang out in Greece and play in a band called the Glands. He eventually returned to the fold after Mayall briefly brought in a replacement guitarist named Peter Green.

Mayall, Clapton, bass player John McVie – yes, where half of the name “Fleetwood Mac” came from – and drummer Hughie Flint then went about laying down tracks for the bandleader’s first studio album. Recorded in March 1966 with Clapton playing a 1960 Gibson Les Paul, “Blues Breakers” – also known as the “Beano” album, because that’s what Eric is pictured as reading in the cover – amply demonstrates the prowess he already commanded just shy of his 21st birthday.

The album opens with a cover of Otis Rush’s “All Your Love,” during which Clapton doubles on the song’s signature riff while weaving sinewy leads around the main theme. During a mid-tune rave-up, he shows why his nickname “Slowhand” is anything but derogatory.

One of Clapton’s biggest influences in his early days was Texas six-string giant – in physical stature, along with instrumental ability – Freddie King, and Slowhand rips up the classic instrumental. In doing so, he provides the first hint that British guitarists might just be able to keep the pace with their American counterparts.

The Mayall original “Little Girl” follows, and while its lyrics are a bit hackneyed, the song boasts a killer riff and more stellar Clapton fretwork. Mayall also takes credit for “Another Man,” which actually is a traditional blues and serves as a showcase for his harmonica work. (For an acoustic guitar workout, check out the version of the song on Jorma Kaukonen’s “Quah.”)

The languid blues “Double Crossing Time” features Clapton playing a lead that lays the groundwork for his work with the band he’d help form later in 1966, Cream. The first side of the LP wraps up with a spirited version of Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say,” although much of the track is taken up by a relatively pedestrian Flint drum solo.

The horn section on “Key to Love” foreshadows Mayall’s work circa 1968-early 1969, and “Parchman Farm” is a harmonica-driven take on the oft-covered Mose Allison tune. (Two years later, Blue Cheer would do a proto-metal version for “Vincebus Eruptum.”) At nearly 6 minutes, Mayall’s “Have You Heard” is the longest track on the album, and it gives Clapton plenty of opportunity to further hone his blues mastery.

The next two songs became stapes of the Clapton catalogue: “Ramblin’ On My Mind,” in which he performs his first lead vocal while bringing the legend of composer Robert Johnson to the musical masses, and James Bracken’s instrumental “Steppin’ Out,” which later stretched out to epic proportions during Cream concerts.

“Blues Breakers” wraps up with harmonica master Little Walter’s “It Ain’t Right,” which ostensibly features Mayall but has Clapton underpinning the song with furious riffs throughout.

The album climbed to No. 6 on the U.K. charts while inspiring the notorious “Clapton is God” graffiti around London. By that time, he was well on his way to becoming an ex-Blues Breaker, combining forces with Jack Bruce (also a Mayall alumnus) and Ginger Baker on a project that further entrenched him as one of rock’s top few guitarists.

Mayall became renowned as a bandleader whose sidemen went on to carve their own niches in rock history: Green, McVie and Mick Fleetwood with Fleetwood Mac; Mick Taylor with the Rolling Stones; Andy Fraser with Free; Jon Hiseman, Tony Reeves and Dick Heckstall-Smith with Colosseum; Flint with McGuinness Flint; Keef Hartley with the Keef Hartley Band (which played at Woodstock); Aynsley Dunbar with the Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation; and Jon Mark and Johnny Almond with Mark-Almond (not the Soft Cell guy!).

At age 79, Mayall still has a heavy touring schedule, with numbers from “Blues Breakers” included, of course.

“Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs” by Derek & the Dominos (1970)

Superstardom may have seemed inevitable for Eric Clapton, but for a while he did his best to avoid it.

Having gained international fame through his work with John Mayall’s Blues Breakers and especially Cream, Clapton seemed to want to ratchet it up a notch after the latter band splintered. Joining with Traffic’s Steve Winwood, Family’s Ric Grech and Cream associate Ginger Baker, Clapton formed Blind Faith, for which the term “supergroup” was coined.

That project didn’t work out as well as expected, so Clapton decided to ditch the spotlight and play guitar for an American husband-and-wife team, Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett. Then there was the show he played as part of John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band on Sept. 13, 1969, as captured on the “Live Peace in Toronto” album and D.A. Pennebaker’s “Sweet Toronto” movie. Proceedings go well until Yoko starts doing her thing all over the audience, as John so aptly puts it, but it’s kind of fun to watch the guys flailing away on their guitars as she caterwauls.

Back to Delaney and Bonnie: Clapton liked the other members of their band so much that he drafted them to play on his first solo album, “Eric Clapton,” recorded November 1969 through January 1970. Then bassist Carl Radle, keyboard player Bobby Whitlock and drummer Jim Gordon teamed up with Clapton to tour as Derek & the Dominos, which represented an attempt to keep a low profile.

Other “Dominos,” including George Harrison, went into the studio to record a couple of songs for a single, “Tell the Truth” and the lascivious “Roll It Over.” The single was released but quickly withdrawn, and the four regular members of the band subsequently traveled to Miami to work with producer Tom Dowd on a full album.

Dowd happened to also be working on the Allman Brothers Band’s “Idlewild South” at the time, and he invited Clapton to check out the Allmans at a Miami concert. Members of both groups headed back to Criteria Studios for an all-night jam session, and Clapton promptly invited Duane to sit in on laying down tracks for the album.

The result generally is regarded as the pinnacle of Clapton’s half-century of recording, a combination of original songs and blues covers, most drawing on the theme of unrequited love. Of course, much of that stemmed from Clapton’s own unrequited love for Harrison’s wife, Patti, the “Layla” of the album’s classic title track.

At first glance, “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs” seems sprawling, with its 14 songs spread over two albums in its original incarnation. And some critics at the time thought they detected some filler among the compositions.

That might be true for the album’s closer, “Thorn Tree in the Garden,” which is Whitlock’s song. Otherwise, “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs” stands as a statement by musicians putting on a clinic.

Several of the originals – “I Looked Away,” “Bell Bottom Blues,” “Keep on Growing,” “Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?” and a slowed-down “Tell the Truth” – have become classic-rock standards, while the covers as just as scintillating, especially Big Bill Broonzy’s “Key to the Highway.” On the album, the song fades in, as the engineers didn’t quite capture the beginning of what started as an informal jam.

Clapton had been performing Billy Myles’ “Have You Ever Loved a Woman” since his Blues Breakers days, but the song takes on particular poignance in the “Layla” setting, nailing the Eric-Pattie relationship: “all the time you know she belongs to your very best friend.”

The LP’s fourth side opens with a hard-edged cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing,” which was was recorded right around the time of Jimi’s death. And the call-and-response vocals of Clapton and Whitlock are put to effective use on Chuck Willis’ “It’s Too Late,” as witnessed in the band’s appearance on Johnny Cash’s TV show.

The Clapton-Allman collaboration culminates with “Layla,” with its blistering dual-guitar attack leading in to Eric’s definitive tale of woe. The song eventually segues into a piano coda, composed and played by Gordon with the guitarists adding their flourishes.

The album reached No. 16 in the United States but failed to chart in Britain, probably because of Clapton’s muted presence. Thanks to the title track’s re-release as a single a few years later, “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs” eventually went gold. Twenty years after its recording, it was released as a three-CD “deluxe package” featuring two discs of instrumental jams and outtakes, the first of its kind and still one of the best.

As for Derek & the Dominos, they toured the U.S., then started working on a second album before the inevitable breakup. Clapton went into a drug-induced seclusion for a couple of years before finally producing the top-selling “461 Ocean Boulevard,” his solo masterpiece.

Radle rejoined Clapton for that album and was part of his band through the ’70s. Carl died in 1980 from a kidney infection.

Whitlock recorded four solo albums in the ’70s before spending much of the next two decades out of the music business. He returned to recording, performing and songwriting in 1999.

Gordon remained a sought-after session drummer, playing with the likes of Lennon, Harrison, Traffic, Steely Dan, Alice Cooper and Frank Zappa. Unfortunately, he developed schizophrenia and was eventually was convicted for the 1983 murder of his mother.

Allman was riding his motorcycle in his hometown of Macon, Ga., on Oct. 29, 1971, when he ran into a flatbed truck carrying a lumber crane. He died a few weeks short of his 25th birthday.

He never knew what his collaboration with Eric Clapton would mean to rock music’s legacy.