What DO You Mean You Don’t Already Own It? Eric Clapton’s From the Cradle
When you trace back blues history you find that everyone learned it from someone else. In the modern age it has mostly been from records, rather than directly, and this weeks record was ‘that’ record for me. The one I learned from, the one I played so many times jamming along that I could probably still reproduce massive chunks of the guitar playing verbatim, even 20 years later.
There’s a certain irony to that, because the record in question, From the Cradle is Eric Clapton’s personal tribute to the music that he did the same thing with, the music that he learned from, the music that inspired him in his youth. It’s a collection of lovingly reproduced classics, drawn from the catalogue of Elmore James, Freddie King, Lowell Fullson and Muddy Waters. It’s packed with songs you know, like Hoochie Coochie Man, Tore Down and Hurts Me Too, in familiar arrangements, but with Eric playing the best blues he had in decades. It was even recorded live, all the musicians in the same room, playing together, just as it would have been in the old days.
Clapton was on a rich seam of playing at this point, he’d left behind the poor records he made with Phil Collins as producer and made a good one with Russ Titleman in the chair, Journeyman. He followed that with Unplugged, the biggest commercial success of his career and a record that hinted that he could make a record of traditional blues and have it be a success. The real fans had been clamouring for it, there hadn’t been any pure blues since the Bluesbreakers, but there had been hints on disc, and the live shows still had real fire on the blues tracks.
It was this record that took that fire back to the studio again, it’s more mature and controlled than the Bluesbreakers, but it’s thirty years later and Eric had changed. The fire hadn’t though and the playing, especially on the slow numbers like Groaning the Blues and Five long Years, is incendiary. He’s singing better than ever too, trying to match up to his heroes brings out the best in him. It all comes together on Someday After a While, it’s a peerless performance, visceral, cutting and possibly the best blues playing of his entire career.
This record may not be the most original, it may not be as historic as the records it draws from for it’s material. It is still important, because it showed that Eric still had ‘it’ and it helped inspire and educate the next generation of blues artists.