The Angelo Mysterioso of Clapton
In mid-May, half the music press in the world literally went crazy when they discovered in the credits of Eric Clapton's new album, I Still Do, a certain Angelo Mysterioso, a pseudonym that had supposedly gone to the grave with George Harrison [who, of course, always wrote it with the article in front, L’Angelo]. Slowhand denied it; then he denied he had denied it; after that it was said to be Dhani, the son of the late great Beatles guitarist, but then that was denied, too. The people in on the secret have sworn to never reveal the true identity hiding behind the acoustic guitar and backing vocals on I Will Be There. But they're all mistaken because the true secret weapon of the record is named Glyn Johns, the hand rocking the cradle behind the glass control room window of the recording studio.
Another rock grandfather, the 74-year-old Johns is the one truly responsible for making a handful of uninspired cover versions (with two memorable exceptions) and a pair of original songs by Clapton recapture the ambiance of the Slowhand album that he also crafted as producer nearly half a century ago. That is the only way to understand the magic given off by the 23rd album from the living god of the guitar.
A quick glance at the track record of Glyn Johns makes everything perfectly clear: Sticky Fingers, Who’s Next, Desperado… Rolling Stones, Who, Eagles… the list of bands he worked with on some of their career highlights starts up with Led Zeppelin and continues with Bob Dylan, Linda Ronstadt, The Band, The Clash, Ryan Adams, Steve Miller Band, Small Faces, The Easybeats, Blue Öyster Cult, Emmylou Harris, Midnight Oil, New Model Army, Joe Satriani, Rod Stewart, Joan Armatrading… Clapton recorded Cocaine and Wonderful Tonight with him, and the 40th anniversary of the latter LP proved to be the perfect excuse to join forces again.
The secret for Johns is his ability to find the right sound to fit the personality of each musician or band that he worked with. On Sticky Fingers, recorded almost at the same time as Slowhand, the Stones required a razor-sharp, aggressive sound; Clapton, by way of contrast, sounded like he was sitting on the front porch of his mansion with a cup of tea.
Forty years later, that cup is still there. So is Clapton, as the title of his disc reminds us, perhaps a nod, laced with black humour, to the recent string of deaths, most of them old friends of his like L’Angelo Mysterioso.
Clapton still does and his guitar -any one of them- does, too. That is the second message delivered by I Still Do, lest anyone forget that he still is a maestro, THE MASTER in capital letters, but at 71 years of age, it doesn't matter that much to him now and he only wants to enjoy his slowhand. Make good use of time that he knows is slipping away.
It's apparent on the two best songs of the album, the opener Alabama Woman Blues and Stones in My Passway. Leroy Carr and Robert Johnson are the two classic bluesmen who Clapton rejuvenates and even Glyn Johns apparently slipped up in the best way possible and grabbed the sound he used for Sticky Fingers.
And instead of a cup of tea, someone finally brought a beer.