It’s the solos you want to watch for.
Eric Clapton’s initial solo LP was a disappointment.
Cream broke up and Clapton played, alongside Dave Mason, late of Traffic, with Delaney & Bonnie, to the point an album was ultimately released, “On Tour,” which featured the initial recording, the most famous recording, although not the best recording, of Mason’s “Only You Know and I Know,” alongside the Bramletts and Clapton’s “Comin’ Home,” featuring Eric’s unmistakable wailing. But most people were unaware. This was 1970, before there was FM underground rock in all markets, where to go big you needed a track to cross over to AM, which is what happened with Cream with “Sunshine of Your Love” and “White Room.”
Then, in the spring, both Clapton and Mason released their initial solo LPs. “Alone Together” was an instant classic, with its cover, rainbow vinyl and tunes, along with the definitive take on “Only You Know and I Know,” a bit quieter, with an acoustic guitar prominent in the mix. Clapton’s self-titled solo debut focused more on his singing than his playing, and in retrospect it’s his best solo work, but without that instant crossover hit on AM, it was purchased by fans of the man and played on what FM outlets there were, but it wasn’t until the following year, when Eric hooked up with Duane Allman and a hotshot band of his own that his tracks became ubiquitous once again.
Yes, “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs” is Clapton’s best post-Cream album, however we must credit it to the group, the Dominos, as opposed to solely Clapton himself. Then again, it contains lengthy masterpieces, not only the title track but the first version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing” that most people heard, along with “Anyday”… “Layla…” was the right album for the right time. But it still took time to grow, but it and its compatriot double album work by the Allman Brothers, “At Fillmore East,” helped cement the FM firmament, albeit with an emphasis on heavier music than what had come before.
But first there was the self-titled solo LP.
In retrospect, it looks like a smash. It contains “After Midnight,” but it was years later that Michelob made the track ubiquitous, and “Blues Power.” But it also contains my favorite cut on the LP, “Easy Now,” and…”Let It Rain.”
“Let It Rain” was the initial killer. Not the track that got instant airplay, but the one if you owned the album you glommed on to, that delivered what you were looking for, that you played over and over again.
When Clapton reappeared after the Dominos, his sound was in many ways different, the extended hit off “461 Ocean Boulevard,” “I Shot the Sheriff” brought reggae to the masses, albeit in an inferior fashion. “Mainline Florida,” the closing cut, delivered the sound of yore, but you had to buy the LP to hear it, that was never the song played on the radio.
And after conquering heroin and the hinterlands catching up with the metropolises, Clapton was seared into the brains of America, if not the world, as the foremost practitioner of the guitar. People paid attention to everything he did, and FM radio was complicit, there are songs like “Lay Down Sally” that I haven’t listened to completion in years, having been burned out on them via overplay on FM, not only in the seventies, but the eighties too.
Which leaves us with the solo debut. It eventually sold in prodigious numbers, but it took a long time. And as a result of boxed sets and now streaming, people are aware of it, but tracks like “Easy Now” and “Let It Rain” are overlooked at best, especially the former, the latter is seen as a secondary work, if it’s thought of at all.
But if you were of age, if you were there back then, if you were a rock fan, if you bought all the albums, you know every lick of “Let It Rain” by heart, and you immediately want to click this cover to hear it.
On the surface it appears an odd pairing, the Doobies and Frampton, but they must have been on tour together, some time, that’s how I explain it. And I must say, after the initial riff, I was a bit underwhelmed, but then came the SOLOS!
I was thrilled to see Billy Payne playing along. I’m glad he’s found a home with the Doobies, too many of these aces have fallen by the wayside. And I always loved his compositions with Little Feat, but after Lowell died there was too much Paul Barrere, who occasionally delivered, but he was the third best songwriter in the band, and with Lowell gone, so was most of the magic.
But you’re truly wowed when Frampton comes alive.
First you get John McFee on pedal steel, at 1:33, displaying the virtuosity that’s made him the glue in the Doobies, also playing guitar and fiddle and… But at 1:40, Frampton’s there with the Phoenix, his recovered Les Paul, the one he played on “Comes Alive,” and you’re positively stunned that it’s the exact same sound from that album, illustrating how every guitar’s sound is unique. Furthermore, this is a demonstration of Frampton’s skill, which was too long overshadowed by his looks and commercial success.
But then, after a recitation of the chorus, there are more solos. And at 3:08 Tom Johnston channels that iconic Doobies sound, you know, the one that burned up all the airwaves back in the seventies, he’s got his own unique style, back when that was the important thing, as opposed to how fast you can play.
And then Frampton answers Johnston’s work, he ups the ante in response.
And then comes Payne, with understated key work.
And then Pat Simmons alone, representing the other half of the iconic Doobies sound, it was the yin and the yang of Pat and Tom that was the special sauce that made the band’s sound so satisfying.
And somewhere in this axe fest, you realize everybody’s having fun. That’s the difference between yesterday and today, the moments on stage interacting with your brethren, being inspired, playing, that was why you did it. Sure, you liked the girls and the money, but they were secondary, it was the music that set your mind free, that lifted your spirits, and it translated to the audience, which is why these classic rockers and their spawn playing real instruments do such incredible live business. The Spotify Top 50 deliver a show, these people deliver a CONCERT!
And there’s a through line. You know that every one of these players was sitting in their bedroom spinning that initial Clapton solo LP, they devoured it, they unpacked it, they were inspired by it.
Just like you and me.