This YouTube clip of Eric Clapton performing the song with the Allman Brothers Band — in recognition of Duane Allman, one of the essential members of Derek and the Dominos — is pretty darned good. But then, I could listen to Eric Clapton play just about anything and still be a happy camper.
More than a year ago, my iPod unexpectedly died on me. I didn’t have any of my iPod songs or playlists on iCloud, nor did I have my iPod playlists on iTunes.
This was a disaster of the first order, because I love to listen to music. I crave music, and I had created playlists to suit my every mood. Suddenly, all of my carefully crafted playlists were . . . gone.
After a solemn ceremony and reassurance from the Genius Bar that I truly was screwed, I bought a new iPod and decided to start all over — going through every song on my iTunes library, from A to Z. I’ve been doing it for more than a year now. Along the way I deleted songs that were duplicative, or songs that I didn’t like. Those that remained were placed into new playlists. My progress was delayed when our old iMac also quit on me, but I kept at it.
Tonight, after more than a year of work, I finished culling the iTunes library and rebuilding the iPod. I went through an original library of more than 15,000 songs and chopped it down to a mere 7716, starting with Take on Me by a-Ha and ending with Love Song by 311. I’ve got baroque, and Motown, and holiday music, and Ashokan Farewell, and Sharp Dressed Man, and Jeff Beck’s Freeway Jam. I’ve got it all in my little bit of metal magic that’s smaller than a pack of cigarettes, and I’m ready to face the world again.
I’ve still got work to do, adding new songs from time to time, tinkering with the playlists, and perhaps creating a few more that I might discuss in the future. But tonight I’m done with my year-long project, and I feel like celebrating. Time to unhook the iPod and listen to Derek and the Dominos’ Key to the Highway.
Today is Eric Clapton’s 65th birthday. When I heard that as I drove to work this morning, it made me stop for a moment — and then the memories of all of the Eric Clapton music I’ve heard and loved came roaring into my mind and I was sucked back to my teenage years and the right rear bedroom on the second floor at 2440 Buckley Road in Upper Arlington, Ohio.
You see, I’ve loved Eric Clapton’s music since I finally got my own room as a teenager. In that room I had a cheap stereo system with two tiny, blue felt-covered, plastic speakers that I mounted on the wall (poorly), and on that cheap system I played Eric Clapton’s records constantly and at maximum volume. I had several double-record greatest hits albums — one called, I think, History of Eric Clapton and another called Clapton’s Greatest Hits — as well as what I still think is the greatest teenage boy air guitar album ever made: Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. Clapton’s career had a hiatus of sorts after that legendary album, then he came back with 461 Ocean Boulevard and a terrific live album called E.C. was Here. I bought and played and loved all of his records then, and I continue to love his stuff now. Clapton helped to introduce me, and no doubt entire generations of music fans, to blues music, which he played faithfully yet with his own indelible stamp.
Clapton, who was known to some as Slowhand, had an amazing career by the time he was 30. As a kid he played with John Mayall’s Bluebreakers and the Yardbirds, and then he formed two of the earliest rock “supergroups,” in Cream and Blind Faith. He played with the Beatles on While My Guitar Gently Weeps, and George Harrison wrote Here Comes the Sun in Clapton’s garden. By 1970 Clapton was the quintessential guitar hero who set songs alight with incredibly fast, liquid guitar chords that hit you deep in your gut. He collaborated to extraordinary effect with Duane Allman on the Layla album, played on The Band’s The Last Waltz, has performed and recorded with a variety of blues greats and countless other rock artists, and has continued to make terrific acoustic and electric music up until the present day. His concerts — and I was privileged to see him perform once, in upstate New York in the ’70s — are legendary for the quality of their music. His official website reports, incidentally, that he will be in concert again this summer in Europe.
It’s hard to pick my favorite Clapton songs. There are so many of them — Cream’s extraordinary Crossroads and massive, pounding Sunshine of your Love, the delicate recording of Can’t Find My Way Home by Blind Faith, Let it Rain, Farther on up the Road and Drifting Blues from E.C. was Here, the excellent and note-perfect Worried Life Blues and many other songs from his The Blues double-CD set, his acoustic Layla on MTV’s Unplugged, and a number of songs on his recent CD with J.J. Cale, The Road to Escondido. For my money, however, the crowning achievement of his career was the Layla double album and his astonishing playing with Duane Allman — on Layla, on Have You Ever Loved a Woman, on Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out, and, most brilliantly, on the 9-minute, 41-second opus, Key to the Highway, a sinuous conversation back and forth between Clapton’s alternately sharp and ragged guitar and Allman’s slide, each trying to top the other in inventiveness and craft. I think it is one of the great rock recordings ever made.
It’s really kind of stupid for someone like me to write about Clapton, because his music says so much more than words can. And so, in honor of E.C.’s birthday, here is a more fitting tribute — a video of a 2001 acoustic performance of Key to the Highway: