His work from 1963 to 1970 with the Yardbirds, Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith and Derek and the Dominoes was already enough to declare Eric Clapton a star by 1970, not to mention the well-publicised graffiti that deified him with the now famous slogan ‘Clapton is God’. An exhilarating ferocity and rhythmic intensity informed his playing in these outfits, and upon embarking on a solo career in 1970, encouraged by the likes of Delaney and Bonnie to become a singer, Clapton’s eponymous debut contained some strong materiel (Slunky, After Midnight, Let it Rain), pointing towards an auspicious solo career if ever there was one.
After a three year hiatus during which the guitarist was deeply troubled by romantic longings and gripped by heroin and alcohol addiction, 1974 saw the release of the very good ‘comeback’ album 461 Ocean Boulevard. A commercial and critical success on both sides of the Atlantic, the album would remain his best solo outing, and the albums that followed were comparatively inferior, all seemingly constructed to de-emphasise his status as a guitar deity. The forgettable There’s One in Every Crowd (1975), and patchy Dylan-and-the-Band-collaborative effort No Reason to Cry (1976) are both relatively nondescript outings, failing to make any arresting impact on this listener. Follow-ups Slowhand (1977) and Backless (1978) integrated a wide range of styles including: blues-rock, reggae, gospel, honky-tonk and country influences and display a substantial transformation from understated laid-back tediousness to understated laid-back virtuosity (and frequent brilliance) – both albums overseen by legendary British producer Glyn Johns (The Who, Eagles, Led Zeppelin).
Clapton’s next album Another Ticket (not a live album as the cover and title suggest) had a troubled beginning to say the least. Repeating essentially the same formula as the aforementioned two albums, he enlisted an all-British band (most notably Albert Lee on guitar) with Glynn Johns once again in the producer’s chair. He may have kicked drugs in the 70s however his life was affected by alcoholism, none more so than around 1979/80. Initial recordings were not up to scratch and the album was rejected by Polydor Records – his then record label of 15 years. Clapton was forced to re-record the album in its entirety this time with Tom Dowd as producer and was finally released in 1981, dedicating it to his recently deceased great bass sideman Carl Radle.
The album features the usual mix of originals and covers, however rather than the reworkings of contemporaries such as Dylan and J.J.Cale of recent times, Another Ticket contains versions of blues master’s works: particularly special the chilling blues of Sleepy John Estes’ Floating Bridge, Clapton treating the track with the dignity and humble respect it deserves. The easygoing, gruff vocals are steady throughout and the emphasis is on sharp guitar interplay with Albert Lee, who pushes Clapton, a fine example of this is tough album closer Rita Mae which is his best rocker since The Core. Elsewhere standouts include the opener Something Special is a light hearted mid-tempo blues shuffle, Black Rose (the single b-side to the most well-known, but far from the best track off this set I Can’t Stand It), and the slam-down blues of Muddy Waters’ Blow Wind Blow. Most striking is the ethereal title track, the centerpiece of side one – a beautifully understated gem of a track, and wildly underrated in the Clapton canon.
Eric Clapton would go on to clean up his self-destructive lifestyle beginning with Money & Cigarettes two years later. The solemn undercurrents of Another Ticket may not be Derek or even Slowhand, however it is Clapton’s last really good record, and undeservedly overlooked for many decades despite being commercially successful upon its release.
- Something Special ∗∗∗∗
- Black Rose ∗∗∗
- Blow Wind Blow ∗∗∗
- Another Ticket ∗∗∗∗∗
- I Can’t Stand It ∗∗∗
- Hold Me Lord ∗∗∗∗
- Floating Bridge ∗∗∗∗∗
- Catch Me If You Can ∗∗
- Rita Mae ∗∗∗∗