It’s been so long since I wrote a whole album of songs about Eric Clapton that I hardly remember why I did it in the first place. I guess the idea germinated when I was living in Seattle and teaching guitar there. I had a whole spate of middle-aged dudes, successful white-collar types, coming in and confessing their love for Old Slowhand. I started wondering what my students saw in him. I think they liked his boring music and bought into the Clapton-is-God hype. But I think they also saw a kindred spirit–a schlubby white guy with a guitar, neatly put-together with nice clothes and a tidy haircut–and they dreamed.They related. So, I wrote a song about it, and the original thrust of my song was that you, desk-jockey, actually have far less in common with Slow Oldhand (who, after all, was a ’60s icon) than you think. “It’s not very likely that he shares your point of view,” I sing in the refrain.
I’m not immune to Clapton’s good points. I like “Bellbottom Blues” and “Lay Down Sally.” “Presence of the Lord” is just the kind of thing you’d come up with if you didn’t write “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” but wish you had. His version of “I Shot the Sheriff” is unjustly maligned; it’s pretty good! Bob Marley was courting a wider audience with his cleaner, warmer original. If anything, Clapton’s grittier version sounds more like a Studio One classic.
But I have always found Clapton’s guitar playing dull, dull, dull. As the ’70s wore on–and, no doubt, heroin began hollow him out–he took on the style of B.B. King in Las Vegas: by-the-numbers, pentatonic-scale wankery. (I have a friend who can play Clapton-style licks at me until I am clutching my sides with laughter.)
Shortly after that, I began having thoughts about the music of the ’60s and ’70s. I hit upon the idea of using stations of Clapton’s life as a way to write about that period, the creche of the sort of art-rock I had been writing and performing since the ’90s. When I researched him and discovered he was kind of an asshole and probably a racist, I had a volte-face and thought, “You know, those desk-jockeys might have been onto something.” They may indeed share a point of view with Clapton.
On 7 Songs about Eric Clapton, I include songs about Robert Johnson and one about guitar teachers and one about Pattie Boyd, stirred in with others about heroin addiction and the mad zeal of irrational fandom. Does that about cover it? Well, it was enough for me. So, my band Constant Velocity toured the Midwest playing it and then recorded it.
Have I piqued your interest? Well, now my offer to you. I will donate all of the proceeds of the sale of this album over the next week to the Act Blue thermometer that splits the funds between all of the eventual candidates. But if you’d prefer not to have Great Art in your life then you could just contribute directly. I suppose.