Album Review: Eric Clapton - Slowhand (1977)
By Tom MacIntosh
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Eric Clapton, a name synonymous with God, at least in the blues/rock world of artists; “Clapton is God” was once sprayed all over his homeland, England. So ‘legend’ is cheap change next to that, but for a man whose career has spanned 5 decades, playing his fabled ‘Blackie’ a ‘56-’57 Composite Fender Stratocaster (including on this release), having lived the various styles afforded him while in the Yardbirds, Cream, John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, Blind Faith, Delaney & Bonnie, and Derek & The Dominos, and then a solo career, this album Slowhand, reached #2 on the Billboard album charts, and would become the highest charted album for 20 years.
The album shows another side of Clapton, a more subdued reflexive fellow, after a lengthy break recovering from a heroin addiction, this was a ‘comeback’ effort, and proved to be a lifesaver. It was a nice balance of his blues/rock roots, Mean Old Frisco, and the country shuffle Lay Down Sally, to some sweet pop on one of the record’s hits Wonderful Tonight.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s start with the opener, Cocaine, a historic classic penned by J.J. Cale, which begins on an iconic groovy riff, copied by legions of guitarists the world over, and still is. Both a pop/rock sensation and a cult classic at once, (it was banned in Argentina for fear of encouraging drug use among the youth), but according to Clapton it was actually an anti-cocaine message, (the jury is still out on that). Coke use went up during those years, but you can’t pin all that on this outstanding number. Track 2, Wonderful Tonight was to sex as Cocaine was to drugs: addictive. A sweet ballad, a waltz at weddings on a global scale, yet it was panned by purists of the Yardbird, Bluesbreaker days, who saw it as a sell-out for commercial gain. Either way, it’s a lovely song about love.
The album’s 3rd hit was Lay Down Sally, which opens with a neat little riff for a few bars, then a chugging drum by Jamie Oldaker and a Carl Radle bassline that takes you along this toe-tapping ride. The song was co-written by Marcy Levy, who also provides smooth vocal harmony to the song. She also co-wrote The Core and takes over lead vocals with Clapton right behind, his voice and deft riff work light this number up, especially the sax riff punch by sax master Mel Collins, which goes on riffing to Clapton’s solo, and a counter-riff sax is layered over to make this number complete, the cherry on top. Next Time You See Her sounds more Nashville than blues, with the soft-spoken Clapton singing “And if you see her again, I will surely kill you”, something you would never expect from him to say which juxtaposes the sweet melody of the song, but maybe that was the intent. May You Never slides along a country road as well, “May you never lose your woman overnight…” a very basic beat, a very ‘country’ sentiment, and serves more of a filler than anything else. Track 8 is Mean Old Frisco, a well-worn blues number which gets Clapton back to his roots with some splendid slide work, and a touch of honky-tonk piano over its laconic lament, yet again about losing the girl. Country songwriter Don Williams’ influence is even more felt on We’re All the Way, a soft ballad which again, was loved by lovers and hated by blues puritans. The album’s closer is the instrumental Peaches and Diesel, which should have been called just Peaches, for it sounds like something you hear while shopping at the mall on a sunny afternoon; elevator ‘musac’, which is unfortunate for a player of his calibre.
Nonetheless, Eric ‘Slowhand’ Clapton was and still is the real deal, an icon, a legendary artist who has been through it all and back, whose influence has been felt far and wide.