Eric Clapton, the guitar hero's guitar hero, is on his way. Fresh from touring the Far East, Ol' Slowhand will kick off a short North American run tonight in Vancouver, B.C., followed by an appearance at Seattle's KeyArena on Saturday. Los Lobos will open.
The 65-year-old performer is, of course, one of the most legendary figures in rock and blues. As a member of the Yardbirds, John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith and the short-lived Derek and the Dominos in the ’60s and early ’70s, he awed legions and convinced followers that “Clapton is God.” The slogan was famously spray-painted on a wall of the London Underground.
Then with 1970s “Eric Clapton,” he launched a solo career that’s yielded 19 albums, 17 Grammy Awards and four decades worth of hits. He’s the only guy to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame three times, for the Yardbirds and Cream, then again as a solo artist in 2000.
And Rolling Stone magazine ranked him No. 4 on its 2003 list of “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time,” behind Jimi Hendrix, Duane Allman and B.B. King.
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“Even when he jammed on a tune for more than a quarter-hour with Cream, Clapton soloed with a daggerlike tone and pinpoint attention to melody,” Rolling Stone raved.
"The solo albums that followed ‘Layla,’ his 1970 tour de force with Derek and the Dominos, emphasize his desires as a singer-songwriter. But on the best, like 1974s ‘461 Ocean Boulevard’ and 1983s ‘Money and Cigarettes,’ his solos and flourishes still pack the power that made him ‘God’ in the first place,” the magazine said.
This winter, Clapton is touring in support of, well, “Clapton.” His latest solo effort, released in September, emphasizes vintage blues, R&B and gospel remakes. Its only original track is “Run Back to Your Side,” a song penned with co-producer and fellow blues guitar whiz Doyle Bramhall II.
“It’s an eclectic collection of songs that weren’t really on the map,” Clapton said in an interview posted on his YouTube channel. “This album wasn’t what it was intended to be at all. It’s actually better than it was meant to be because, in a way, I just let it happen.”
The record features cameos from the likes of Blind Faith band mate Steve Winwood, Sheryl Crow, Wynton Marsalis and Derek Trucks. But live, Clapton has been playing with bassist Willie Weeks, keyboard player Chris Stainton, drummer Steve Gadd and backup singers Michelle John and Sharon White.
Based on recent reviews and published set lists, expect Clapton and his supporting cast to deliver buddy J.J. Cale’s “River Runs Deep,” Hoagy Carmichael’s “Rockin’ Chair” and Harry M. Woods’ “When Somebody Thinks You’re Wonderful” from the new album during the seated, acoustic part of the show.
Clapton has been kicking performances off with blues standard “Key to the Highway,” a cut that appeared on Derek and the Domino’s classic “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs” in 1970.
It sets the tone for a performance that likely will emphasize the bluesier and more mellow side of Claptons’ repertoire, with nods to Muddy Waters (“Hoochie Coochie Man”), Bo Diddley (“Before You Accuse Me”) and his idol, Robert Johnson (“Little Queen of Spades”).
Sure, “Layla” and “Cocaine” will be there for fans who want to rock out with the big hits. But anyone craving some Cream might leave disappointed.
Here’s a sample set list from his Feb. 16 show in Singapore, taken from fan site WhereIsEric.com :
“Key To The Highway”
“Going Down Slow”
“Hoochie Coochie Man”
“I Shot The Sheriff”
“Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out”
“River Runs Deep”
“Same Old Blues”
“When Somebody Thinks You’re Wonderful”
“Little Queen Of Spades”
“Before You Accuse Me”
“Further On Up The Road”