Easy Now

Somehow Eric Clapton has become known for a quiet song about his deceased son and a lame, slowed-down version of "Layla".  One has to give him credit for his longevity on his 64th birthday, but the fumes he’s living on are not three-dimensional.  Not that we need to blame him so much as his audience.

When Eric was God, most people didn’t know who he was.  By time Cream announced it was breaking up and embarked on its victory lap the masses had been alerted, but they were celebrating what had already been, and Clapton had his mind on something new.

Like Blind Faith.  And Delaney & Bonnie.

In retrospect, the finest moment on Blind Faith’s one and only album belonged to Stevie Winwood.  "Can’t Find My Way Home" is a rock classic that has lost nothing in the ensuing forty years.  But it was the now rarely heard on radio "Presence Of The Lord" that indicated where Eric Clapton was going.  To a place based less on his guitar wizardry than his soul.  Stevie Winwood was singing, but Clapton had composed the number.  Afraid to step up to the mic and sing his own words, Clapton was looking to arrest us less with flash than meaning.  It’s like he’d been constructing Corvettes, and now he wanted to make Jaguars, all soft and sensuous.

Then Delaney Bramlett convinced Eric to sing.

Eric was a sideman in the man’s band, and then he employed the southerner to produce his first solo album.  Which was looked forward to by fans, but Eric had a limited number of acolytes at this point..  The masses were fans of Cream, maybe of Blind Faith, the demand for Eric Clapton’s solo record was only marginally greater than that for his Delaney & Bonnie and Friends cohort Dave Mason’s initial unaccompanied outing.

Released almost simultaneously with Eric Clapton’s solo debut, Mr. Mason’s "Alone Together" is a masterpiece, which suffered for being on the independent Blue Thumb label.  On Columbia, it would have been a monster.  But Dave moved to Big Red after this initial release, and has never equaled it.

Then again, that debut is why Dave can still tour today.

We don’t see Eric Clapton’s debut as his apotheosis today, that would be the "Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs" album.  The solo debut was seen as a bit of a disappointment.  It started off as a slow seller.  Eventually "After Midnight" became one of his standards, "Blues Power" garnered significant airplay, but neither of them are the album’s gems.

The second best track on the album closes it.  The unmitigated joy of "Let It Rain" is infectious.  If you put aside the expectations of heaviness evidenced in Clapton’s previous bands, you could romp in this joyous escapade that rendered smiles on the faces of all who heard it.  The riff, with the waterfall bass notes and piano adding accents, created a three-dimensional tableau that invited one inside.  The break was even reminiscent of the one to come in "Layla"’s title cut.

But the best track on Eric Clapton’s solo debut is a direct descendant of "Presence Of The Lord".  "Easy Now" has an intimacy, sans the heaviness, but with Eric’s thin, but genuine voice, the listener is enraptured!

Holding you, you holding me
Everyone could see we were in ecstasy

That’s what "Easy Now" radiates, a release from the burden of being a guitar god, a guitar hero.  You wonder why they break up the band…  So the members can stretch in new directions.  You’d have never heard "Easy Now" in Cream, it couldn’t be performed in the context of Blind Faith, not in a group containing the superb voice of Stevie Winwood.

But alone, on a solo album, Eric Clapton’s foray into full realization evidences a humanity absent all those Cream classics.

I’ll agree that the debut solo album is not the definitive statement.  But it eclipses so many of the comeback albums. "461 Ocean Boulevard" had its "Let It Rain" moment with "Mainline Florida" and its "Easy Now" track, "Let It Grow", but there was a confidence on that album lacking on the very first one, it was harder to feel close to the music, and the artist.

The very first solo album by Eric Clapton was a lark.  "Easy Now" radiates the intimacy of "McCartney".  I’d rather hear this track live than that lame remake of the Bob Marley classic.  I feel sorry that Eric lost his young son, but "Tears In Heaven" is hobbled by Will Jennings’ lyrics, they’re a bit too heavy, a bit too overworked, whereas "Easy Now" is what a new love would sing upon accosting you in the rain, in the middle of the forest.

Please remember that I want you to come too

Clapton was inviting us in.  Suddenly John Mayall, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker became minor figures, Eric Clapton was now truly a deity, based not solely on his fretwork, but his compositional skills and voicings.  The best music touches us.  "Easy Now" taps us on the shoulder lightly and then wraps itself around our heart.  It may not be known by most, but it’s not only the essence of Clapton, but music itself.

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