Review: Eric Clapton’s 1970 Debut Expands In Size… and Price 

Eric Clapton
Eric Clapton Deluxe Edition
Music: 4 out of 5 stars
Package: 1 out of 5 stars

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Pity the poor sound mixing professionals.

They are often hidden in album credits, under the producer, musicians, and probably a few others. But without their expert input, an album can go from hero to zero. With large ensembles, the mix is absolutely integral to the final sound of the album. Just ask Eric Clapton.  

The guitarist’s debut solo set, after leaving the rubble of Blind Faith, started recording in November 1969 and continued through early 1970. It was then mixed not once, but three times. Two of those have been available for years. The third makes its first official appearance on this four-disc box, newly added to the others and seven extraneous tracks captured around the same time.

The backstory of Clapton’s first release is that he was so enamored with the Delaney & Bonnie group, a ragtag outfit that opened some Blind Faith shows, that he employed them to back him in the studio. Delaney Bramlett was hired to produce and arrange the sessions. He logically brought his own band, added Leon Russell and some others to total nine musicians (not including five backing singers), and co-wrote all but two selections. The resulting eleven tracks were not surprisingly so similar to the rocking, gospel-infused Memphis soul that Delaney & Bonnie were creating at the time that they should have gotten co-headlining credit. Clapton later enticed keyboardist Bobby Whitlock, drummer Jim Gordon, and bassist Carl Radle, who contributed to these songs, to become his Dominos unit.

Clapton seems a little tentative leading this rather expansive assemblage, but the songs are generally strong and the shift to a less Cream styled improvisational style foretold the start of his decades-long solo career. There is little of the Chicago blues he later incorporated into his catalog and only a few extended guitar solos. Rather, Clapton’s six-string work was integrated into the tightly-arranged tunes.  Interestingly the lone cover, JJ Cale’s heavily rearranged “After Midnight,” is the only selection that has remained in Clapton’s sets from the disc.

After the recording was completed, the story gets a little murky. Bramlett was hired to mix the results but was late in doing so. Atlantic Records wanted to get it on the market, so Clapton did his own mix. His try, which he is quoted as saying was done “very badly,” was dismissed by the company. They brought in Tom Dowd, who had worked with Blind Faith and Cream and his tapes became the final product. Clapton claims never to have heard Bramlett’s version, which is looser and less structured than Dowd’s and features horns more prominently until the album was already out.

In 2006, the album was reissued as a double CD. It included not only Dowd’s mix but added Bramlett’s long-forgotten one and seven additional songs—“Let It Rain” with different lyrics, 10 minutes of “Blues in A,” a few Delaney & Bonnie tracks with Clapton’s guitar, a King Curtis gem, etc.—with comprehensive liner notes by Scott Schinder.

This updated package segregates those extras onto disc 4, separating the other three mixes onto each of the three discs. The 2006 liners are replicated as are its photos. There are a few more pages of visual tidbits, but other than Clapton’s rejected and “very bad” stab, little else is new.

Oh, except for the higher price. Since the 2006 copy is easily available, there is little reason to spring for this.

Those who are experts in sound engineering might find Clapton’s discarded mix attempt worth a spin, but likely will balk at paying a premium to hear it.

Still, the album is worthwhile for those new to its enticing if low key charms. File under “ripoff.”    

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