Clapton has made some of his best music with others. There seems to be something about being around other great musicians that pushes him to another level. This is the category where we’ll see the most masterpieces. For the record, I’ll only be discussing albums I have (there are a few I don’t) and albums where Clapton is one of the central figures. In other words, no casual guest appearances.
John Mayall – Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton (1966) – This is the album that presented Clapton to the guitar world. Among other things, it is’ responsible for saving the Les Paul and introducing feedback and over-driven guitar to the mainstream. This is where “Clapton is God” got it’s start. So, yeah, it’s good. Highlights: All Your Love, Have You Heard, Steppin’ Out, Double Crossing Time
Cream – Disraeli Gears (1967) – Cream’s second album and their best. It puts many psychedelic albums to shame without devolving into silliness. This is one of those annoying albums that, in addition to being fantastic, was recorded in about five minutes. Every track is good, and it’s also the first time Clapton worked with Tom Dowd. One more fun fact: The solo in Sunshine of Your Love is the melody to Blue Moon. Highlights: Tales of Brave Ulysses, Dance the Night Away, Sunshine of Your Love, Outside Woman Blues
Derek and the Dominos – Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (1970) – My favorite album ever and one of the best rock albums ever made. This is Clapton at the absolute top of his game in both writing and playing. Add Duane Allman, perhaps the greatest slide guitarist ever, to that, and you can’t miss. Highlights: Layla, Bell Bottom Blues, Keep on Growing, Anyday, Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad.
Derek and the Dominos – Live at the Fillmore (1973) – I don’t know what to say. It’s the Dominos live for two disks. It’s awesome, I mean really awesome. Clapton is on fire for the hold concert. Highlights: Got to Get Better in a Little While, Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad, Little Wing, Let It Rain
Various Artists – The Concert for George (2002) – Eric Clapton curated a tribute to his friend George Harrison. There was some grumbling about the intensive rehearsals Clapton required of the musicians, but it shows the importance of practice as everyone who contributes hits the songs dead on. Highlights: While My Guitar Gently Weeps (Clapton), Something (Clapton/McCartney), I’ll See You in My Dreams (Joe Brown), My Sweet Lord (Billy Preston)
Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood – Live from Madison Square Garden (2009) – Apparently, Blind Faith should never have broken up as Clapton and Winwood have phenomenal collaborative chemistry. An excellent example of how have some push him improves what Clapton does. Highlights: Had to Cry Today, Dear Mr. Fantasy, Double Trouble, Voodoo Chile
4 1/2 Stars
Cream – Wheels of Fire (1968) – There is a five star album in here. Unfortunately, they throw in a few duds on the second live disk. NO ONE needs to listen to a drum solo that long. Still, most of the material is out of this world. Highlights: Crossroads, Deserted Cities of the Heart, As You Said, White Room
Cream – Royal Albert Hall (2005) – For the first time in a very long time, they reunited. It was very, very good. I had the good fortune of attending one of the concerts they played at Madison Square Garden. The Albert Hall shows were superior, and it’s good that it is those that were recorded for release. A few down spots, but mostly phenomenal. Highlights: Outside Woman Blues, Stormy Monday, White Room, Born Under a Bad Sign
Cream – Fresh Cream (1966) – Like many first albums, this one is uneven. Fortunately, the bulk of the material is excellent and with three such superb musicians, it would be hard to not have a very good album. Highlights: I Feel Free, Spoonful, I’m So Glad
Eric Clapton and J.J. Cale – The Road to Escondido (2006) – Considering how many times Clapton covered Cale, it’s remarkable that they hadn’t worked together until 2006. This started as a Clapton solo project produced by Cale and morphed into a collaboration. Cale contributes most the material, but it still feels like an equal collaboration. Remarkably, it features an anti-war song, which is the first political statement that Clapton has ever made on an album as far as I know. A nice, laid back album. Highlights: Hard to Thrill, Don’t Cry Sister, Head in Georgia.
Blindfaith – Blindfaith (1969) – This would have been a wonderful band if it hadn’t turned into such a giant mess. The problem with the album is that they obviously didn’t have enough material. The whole album is only six songs, and while five of them are excellent, the longest track, Sea of Joy, is not good at all and feels like it’s on the album to pad the length as much as anything. Highlights: Well Alright, Can’t Find My Way Home, Had to Cry Today
3 1/2 Stars
Eric Clapton and B.B. King – Riding with the King (2000) – Almost wonderful. When Clapton and King are hitting on all cylinders, they really do something special, but in places the arrangements are poor and some of the material is not well chosen. Still a good album and an enjoyable listen. Features B.B. King on acoustic guitar in spots, a real rarity. Highlights: Days of Old, Three O’Clock in the Morning, Worried Life Blues
Cream – Goodbye (1969) – Cream after they got sick of each other. It’s half live and half studio and mostly lazy. They’re good enough that it’s still worth a listen, but it’s not great. Highlights: Badge, Anyone for Tennis
Cream – Live Cream Vol. 2 (1972) – This is one of those examples of a record company trying to capitalized on a band that is no more. Poorly recorded and produced, these albums are to be avoided not because of the music, but because of the lack of attention paid to the sound.
All done. Now, I can write about something other than Clapton for a bit. This was fun, though.