Dirty City feat. Eric Clapton

Clapton and Winwood are hitting the stage at Madison Square Garden Monday night. Would I have a problem being there? Not at all. But I did see Blind Faith, back in ’69, the first time around, before the record even came out. I’ve got a tape of the show on my wall. If I try to play it, it’ll probably fall apart. But I still play the cuts from the first side of that record, primarily "Can’t Find My Way Home". Have you seen Winwood perform "Can’t Find My Way Home" recently in clubs? That’s where you’ve been able to catch him, playing music from his last studio release, "About Time", as well as so many classics. But the classics are the frosting, it’s when he plays the new material that you ooh and ahh. Well, except for when he catches fire on "Dear Mr. Fantasy". Amazing he can spit out those notes, since he’s most famous for playing the Hammond organ.

Steve Winwood went indie before the rest of his brethren. But rather than do a deal with Wal-Mart, or some newspaper, he went with the outfit responsible for the String Cheese Incident, Madison House. The match wasn’t perfect. Because Winwood isn’t indie enough, not musically. He just wanted to try something new, unburdened by the bullshit of the commercial system. And whether or not the experiment succeeded financially, musically…it was a triumph.

Is "Dirty City" the triumph of "About Time"? Unfortunately, no. It doesn’t test limits so much as tread familiar territory. It’s "Shoot Out At The Fantasy Factory" to "Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys". Not classic, but something we played the grooves out of anyway.

I want you to do me a favor. Go to www.stevewinwood.com/ Wait a second, until the music begins to play. And let it play. It goes on for almost eight minutes, and it’s not until about four minutes in that the track gets really great.

Oh, a groove is laid down. Steve’s smoky pipes testify to the fact that he’s lost not a single step. And the guitar has that edgy, electric feel that permeated the late sixties and early seventies. And there’s the Latin percussion, that was evidenced on all those Traffic albums. The words are even good. But then, at 4:15, Little Stevie starts sitting on the organ keys. The rhythm changes, he almost starts to scat. You feel your blood start to pulse. You’re getting ready to give him all your lovin’. Then, at 5:40, this guitar starts flying in atop the entire number. Like you’re sitting at Santa Monica Airport, and all of a sudden a Gulfstream descends from the clouds and DEMANDS your attention!

That Gulfstream, that electric guitar, belongs to none other than ERIC CLAPTON! And he’s wailing in an inspired way that mesmerizes you just like when you heard him with John Mayall, when he was supporting Jack Bruce, when he was playing with Delaney & Bonnie all those years ago. Eric’s gone on record that he wanted to join the Band, that he wanted to be a sideman after the Blind Faith debacle, and listening to this you can understand why. When the spotlight’s not on him, when he no longer has to carry the weight, when he’s unfettered, he can FLY!

Guitarwork isn’t about razzle-dazzle, otherwise Yngwie Malmsteen would be God. It’s about how it affects you. And when you hear Eric Clapton backing up Stevie Winwood here, you’re reminded of all those nights at the Fillmore, when the song was just the blueprint, a place to jump from.

Eric did his best work collaborating with Gregg Duane Allman. He’s returned to form here. But credit Winwood for inspiring him. Jerry Garcia and the Dead might get all the credit as the progenitors of the jam band scene, but you can’t deny the influence of the Englishmen, who filtered Delta blues into something new, into rock and roll.

These players might be aged, but this is not history, this is brand new. You’ll be sitting in front of your computer thinking there’s nothing special about the track, and then, just as your mind starts to drift, pondering what you’re going to have for dinner, you will be called to attention. You will be made to PAY attention. By the incredible interplay of these musicians. This isn’t about fame, this isn’t about money, this is a calling, imbued with a religious fervor that makes us believers.

This is a read-only blog. E-mail comments directly to Bob.