Happy, Happy Birthday Eric! (Dandelion DL 017)
March 30, 1976, Shangri-La Studios, Malibu, California
It’s Eric Clapton’s Birthday (Billy Preston) / Who Do You Love (Van Morrison) / Hard Times (Rick Danko)
Stormy Monday (Van Morrison) / Instrumental Jam / Adios Mi Corason (Bob Dylan) / The Water Is Wide (Bob Dylan) / Idiot Wind (Bob Dylan) / Big River (Eric Clapton) / Steppin’ Out (Levon Helm) [ 62:40 ]
Musicians: Eric Clapton (guitar) / Robbie Robertson (guitar) / Jesse Ed Davis (guitar) / Ron Wood (guitar) / Bob Dylan (vocals/guitar) / Billy Preston (vocals/keyboards) / Van Morrison (vocals) / Rick Danko (vocals/bass) / Garth Hudson (organ) / Richard Manuel (vocals/piano) / Levon Helm (vocals/drums)
The sessions for Eric Clapton’s 1976 solo album “No Reason To Cry” were a star studded occasion. No less than 40 characters were given thanks on the sleeve notes of the LP. For most of the names in those notes it wasn’t quite clear if they actually contributed to the album or were thanked as friends of the singer.
In 1998 a tape surfaced that proved that, even if most of those listed hadn’t had a hand directly in the recording of the album, then they had dropped in and provided entertainment in the interim by way of attending Eric’s 31st birthday shindig that was held in the studio while the album was being recorded. Thankfully someone saw fit to record and was obviously mindful that this would be the kind of tape that musicians would love to keep in their archives if only for their own personal ammusement.
It being a studio mater tape the sound is exemplary.
At least 11 artists are listed as performing on the CD ( see above ) but it’s anyones guess as to who might be in the room at the same time. Needless to say this band of crack musicians are not here to take this seriously but to partake in the ribald revelry of the night.
The first track, the somewhat erroneously titled “It’s Eric Clapton’s Birthday”, is Billy Preston’s main contribution for this evening. The kind of improv, piano boogie that, while deceptively simple sounding, encourages people to join in. The lyrics are as simple as the title essentially and don’t form much further than that.
The track folds at around the 8 minute mark to the sound of Eric’s laughter. He sounds enthused by what he’s just heard and requests that the engineer plays the track through again while Billy muses that things just sprang out of thin air while sounding surprised that they could just turn it on.
Next to step up is Van Morrison with the Bo Diddley track “Who Do You Love?” This forms out of Eric Clapton simply playing a blues riff which, in turn, reminds him of the song, Van is more than game to leap on board and join in with a brilliantly, throaty vocal.
“Hard Times” is sung by the Band bassist Rick Danko. It is his instrument that is pushed further up in the mix while Billy and Eric jam along beside him on this Ray Charles cover. A languid bar – room jam that features Billy’s swirling organ licks underneath and accompaniment by Eric.
Van Morrison continues with the blues standard “Stormy Monday”, obviously inspired by the proceeding track this T-Bone Walker track follows the same rainy day feel that “Hard Times” did. The track had been covered by Eric’s friends the Allman Brothers earlier on in their career but it’s not clear is this is why he decided to work this in to the set.
Inevitably, at one point during the proceedings, there had to be more than one jam between the players and here’s the next. A long excursion through the blues, it’s the type of jam that you’d expect from the supergroup of this calibrebut as it’s really only just an off the cuff, one the spot free for all it’s running time could easily have been abbreviated and you wouldn’t miss much action.
Bob Dylan arrived at around 8am, according to the quote on the back and it’s here that things start to get really interesting. His first duty is to lead the band through a half remembered version of “Adios Mi Corazon” ( “Spanish Is The Loving Tongue” ) which Dylan end up playing through the 2nd leg of the “Rolling Thunder Revue” earlier this year. It would appear that the group had been talking about it anyway before the tape began to roll and it’s here that Dylan begins to play it between mumbling and his own alternate lyrics.
This in turn prompts Dylan to ask if Eric knows any Spanish songs while he serenades us with a burst of”La Adelita” one of the first Mexican folk songs.
This gets Eric thinking about other Spanish songs that the collective could sing. Dylan has other plans though and is already thinking about another of his own songs so takes to playing “The Water Is Wide”, indeed, he’s quite effusive to all the requests and shrugs them off says that he “Only knows a couple ( of songs ), y’know ..”
The rendition goes surprisingly well – Not that Dylan should fluff the words to this track but for the merriment that is flowing around the room the players that are still playing play rather well to a point. This leads on to one of the most humorous episodes I’ve heard on a bootleg as once they’re finished, Dylan asks Eric if they can play one of his, Eric is maybe a little too partied out to remember any of his so Dylan tries to wedge “When I Paint My Masterpiece” in the blend. He is interrupted by Eric rhapsodizing on how much he thinks of Dylan as a musician. Bob remains non-plussed.
This fawning, in turn, leads Dylan to try out “Idiot Wind”. A wildly shambolic airing that stops and starts as Dylan stalls his words, asks for key changes when he struggles to keep time. Parts of this are beautiful, the rest is worth forgetting but it’s hard not to sit through it as the band sway through triumph and trash.
It’s now time for Eric Clapton for play something, he has been blown away enough to dismiss his own tracks so instead reaches for Johnny Cash’s “Big River”. Unfortunately it’s a short rendition as once everybody clicks on to what the song is it flows, in best steam-boat-fashion, along in a down-home-country style.
Finally the late Levon Helm takes us through an acoustic blues take of James Bracken’s “Steppin’ Out”. Levon’s vocals are buried in the mix a little but it doesn’t detract from a great work out of this song where most of the assembled come together for a great bluesy jam.
This is a great CD to have in the collection – there are few private party reels that exist outside of private vaults and so to be privy to an after hours amble as this, especially in such good quality, is a treat that has to be heard.