Blues Explorer (Mid Valley 416/417/418/419/420/421/422/423)
After three years of relative inactivity, kicking heroin and picking up alcohol, it can be said that 1974 is when Eric Clapton truly began his solo career. The early part of the year was occupied in writing and recording 461 Ocean Boulevard in Florida for its July release. Both the LP and the single “I Shot The Sheriff” reached number one on the Billboard charts. And to promote the new album Clapton toured extensively in the US, Europe and Japan.
He assembled a touring band out of the many musicians who helped record the album. Carl Radle played with Clapton the longest, having participated in Delaney & Bonnie and Derek And The Dominoes and served as director the band in addition to playing bass. George Terry was the session guitarist who contributed the southern rock slant to the arrangements. Jamie Oldaker who contributes the blues boogie shuffle played drums, Dick Sims on keyboards and Yvonne Elliman on vocals. It was a formidable backing band who jelled throughout the year of touring.
Some shows were affected by Clapton’s drinking, notably Buffalo and Columbus. But there were inspired performances, four of which are presented in Blues Explorer on Mid Valley. Each of the four shows are sourced from excellent soundboard tapes which surfaced due to the Crossroads project. This isn’t the first time these four shows have been presented together, but this is the best sounding and excessively expensive (even by Mid Valley’s already inflated prices).
There is a “gold” and a “silver” edition, marked by the color of the print and the photograph used on the slip cover and each edition is limited to 250 numbered copies. The cover collcets the discs in two fatboy jewel cases, each housing two shows. Mid Valley include a generous amount of inserts with many photographs from the actual concerts (when possible).
The packaging is very high standard as is normal for Mid Valley. The high retail price shocked collectors when it was released on Christmas 2008 and every Clapton collector who mentioned it on their blogs begins with that fact. The problem with expensive box sets is that, if one part of the set is inferior to what is already available it devalues the entire set. And while the sound quality and packaging would have made Blue Explorer a legendary title, the manufacturing fault on disc one and the incomplete first Long Beach show means this really is not worth the asking price in any way whatsoever, and in fact is another rip off by Mid Valley. It shows the low opinion they have for collectors and this title should be avoided.
Long Beach Arena (Mid Valley 416/417/418/419)
Long Beach Arena, Long Beach, CA – July 19th, 1974
Disc 1 (56:00): Introduction, Smile, Let It Grow, Can’t Find My Way Home, I Shot The Sheriff, Badge, Willie And The Hand Jive, Get Ready, Crossroads
Disc 2 (47:26): Mainline Florida, Layla, Have You Ever Loved A Woman, Tell The Truth, Steady Rollin’ Man, Band Introduction, Little Queenie
Both and audience and soundboard tape exist for this show.
The first Long Beach show contributed “Have You Ever Loved A Woman” to both E.C. Was Here (Polygram 831519-2) and Crossroads 2 (Live In The Seventies) (Polydor 529305-2). In unofficial releases this show can be found in the boxset EC Is Here (DJ Copy 63-72). This label produced several massive boxsets in the late nineties and this one falls along similar lines as Blues Explorerby presenting the two Long Beach and two Hammersmith Odeon soundboards plus the excellent June 25th, 1975 Civic Center, Providence Rhode Island tape. Single releases of this show include Truth (Outrider OR-9816/7), which has the audience tape, and the very rare 7/19 (Akashic AKA-11-1/2) utilizing the soundboard. And On White (Mid Valley 051/052) is a four disc set with both audience and soundboard recordings.
The sound on this release is excellent. It is well balanced, clear and could pass as an official release. There are two concerns regarding this one. The final encore, a blues jam with John Mayall is missing. It is present on other soundboard releases of this show so its omission on this release is puzzling. Also, there is a manufacturing fault on the tape, a high pitched digital whine during parts of “Badge” to the start of “Willie And The Hand Jive.” For such an expensive set there should be these problems.
The tape opens up with the mc saying, “Now the moment you’ve all been waiting for I trust I hope I know…” Clapton tunes and whistles the screamer “Entrance Of The Gladiators” before strumming the opening of “Smile.” The opening threesome of “Smile,” “Let It Grow” and “Can’t Find My Way Home” is the most often one employed on this tour. Clapton sounds impressed with Elliman’s vocals in “Can’t Find My Way Home.”
The playing is very tight in this show and Clapton punctuates the performance with ad libs and asides. During “I Shot The Sheriff,” he sings the chorus “I shot the sheriff. But I did not shoot the deputy” and says as an aside “I wouldn’t lay any odds on it.” The cover of Johnny Otis’ “Willie And The Hand Jive” was a minor hit that year. He introduces the song as, “one of those songs about lonely men and women who don’t know what to do with their right hand.”
It is segued with “Get Ready” and in the middle solo Clapton gets lost in his own imagination leaving the band behind before he ends with some Pete Townshend like flourishes. “Crossroads” is played in a completely different arrangement in the style of a country shuffle. He includes words from “Terraplane Blues” like “squeeze my lemon till the juice runs down my leg” and also “Steady Rollin’ Man” turning the song into a “Robert Johnson Homage” complete with Johnson’s vocal mannerisms.
“Layla” and “Have You Ever Loved A Woman” are segued together. The long “Tell The Truth” improvisation in the middle includes a reference to “Yankee Doodle” and at the end Clapton asks, “what is all this about talking in tongues anyway?” The first encore is “Little Queenie” in which Clapton includes very strange interjections such as saying “Meanwhile back in Dachau the gold teeth are mounting up.” The tape fades out right when Clapton is about to introduce Mayall.
Long Beach Arena, Long Beach, CA – July 20th, 1974
Disc 3 (58:31): Introduction, Smile, Easy Now, Let It Grow, I Shot The Sheriff, Layla, Little Wing, Willie And The Hand Jive, Get Ready, Badge
Disc 4 (65:30): Can’t Find My Way Home, Drifting Blues, Rambling On My Mind, Let It Rain, Presence Of The Lord, Crossroads, Steady Rollin’ Man, Band Introduction, Little Queenie, Blues Power
Eric Clapton’s July 20th show at the Long Beach Arena occurs right in the middle of this first tour as a solo artist and is the most well known and one of the best recorded. Several tunes from this tape, namely “Can’t Find My Way Home”, “Drifting Blues'” and the “Presence of the Lord” from were used for the official live LP EC Was Here released in August 1975.
The LP version edited “Drifting Blues” to only three minutes but the compact disc remaster restores the entire eleven-minute version which segues with “Rambling On My Mind”. Polydor released Crossroads 2 (Live In The Seventies) and includes “Willie And The Hand Jive”, “Get Ready”, “Can’t Find My Way Home”, “Drifin’ Blues”, “Rambling On My Mind”, and “Presence Of The Lord” from this show.
The first appearance on bootleg is a very good audience recording released as An Eclectic Collection 1974 Tour Part 1 (Ze Anonym Plattenspieler – ZAP 7851 – 4) and An Eclectic Collection 1974 Live Part 2(Ze Anonym Plattenspieler – ZAP 7852 – 4). In 1993 most of the soundboard surfaced and was first released as Driftin’ Blues (Revisited BGS1993-7RF). As good as it was to hear an almost complete soundboard, this title ran too slow and “Blues Power” was incomplete, fading after seven and a half minutes. Long Beach Arena on Standing Pig followed running at the correct speed.
EC Live at Long Beach Arena on Dynamite Studio (DS93J047) and Best of Tour 1974 on Whoopy Cat (WKP-002122) featured two songs, “Easy Now”, and “Let It Rain.” Slow Hand Downon Bell Bottom (BB011/012) was released in 1997 and three years later in 2000 was remastered, cleaned up and reissued under the same title on cdr by Stardust Productions (SP-R-323). It can be found in EC Is Here (DJ Copy 63-72). The definitive version was released several years ago on Deep Inside (Beano-011) which not only has professional standard sound quality but presents the entire show with an eleven minute “Blues Power.”
After the “Pinball Wizard” introduction Clapton begins the show with “if you are sitting comfortably, we will begin”. The famous and epic performance of “Drifting Blues” appears on disc two with the quip “Sorry about the tuning and all that … can’t be perfect, can you?” that was edited out of the official version.
A sublime version of “Presence Of The Lord” features Yvonne Elliman and segues into a bizarre version of “Crossroads”. It sounds as if the band doesn’t know what exactly to play until Clapton begins singing. He gives up on singing in “Little Queenie” and says simply “My brain hurts!” and just plays his guitar. And finally at the beginning of “Blues Power” he teases the audience with “Badge” and then “Day Tripper”. This is a fun, laid back and entertaining show.
Hammersmith Odeon (Mid Valley 420/421/422/423)
Hammersmith Odeon, London, England – December 4th, 1974
Disc 5 (60:01): Introduction, Smile, Let It Grow, Can’t Find My Way Home, I Shot The Sheriff, Tell The Truth, Rambling On My Mind, Have You Ever Loved A Woman, Willie And The Hand Jive, Get Ready, Opposites
Disc 6 (61:47): Blues Power, Little Wing, Singing The Blues, Badge, All I Have To Do Is Dream, Steady Rollin’ Man, Layla, Let It Rain
Eric Clapton’s long year of touring came to an end with two shows at the Hammersmith Odeon in London. The structure of the show and the setlist were the same as the US and Japan tours, but the playing was more confident, tight, and not as drunk. This was his first live performance in London since the Rainbow concerts in January 1973, more than a year previous. It was such an event that the members of Led Zeppelin, busy rehearsing for their first tour in eighteen months, took a break to attend.
Both shows exist in excellent multitrack recordings just like the two shows from Long Beach. The December 4th show contributed “Little Wing” to the officially released E.C. Was Here and Crossroads, and “Rambling On My Mind,” “Have You Ever Loved A Woman” and “Little Wing” were used on Crossroads 2.
In unofficial releases, “I Shot The Sheriff,” “Tell The Truth,” “Ramblin’ On My Mind,” “Have You Ever Loved A Woman,” “Willie And The Hand Jive,” “Get Ready,” “Opposites,” “Blues Power,” “Little Wing” and “Singin’ The Blues” are found on Back In Every Crowd Tour 1974 (ECJP 7401 – 3), part of Slowhand Was Here Tour 1975 (Platypus ECJP 7501/7502) and falsely attributed to November 1st Tokyo. The complete tape is included in the aforementioned EC Is Here (DJ Copy 63-72) and also on EC Was Everywhere (Smile 01/02/03/04), a four disc set with both Hammersmith Odeon shows. Finally, the December 4th show can be found alone on L.Z. Was There (Tarantura Blackie-001/2).
“What can I say? Eric Clapton” are the first words heard on the tape as he walks on stage. The opening three song acoustic set has the three most popular songs used starting with “Smile” which is played extremely slow compared to the versions on the American tour over the summer. Clapton calls for someone in the roadcrew to bring out Marcy’s harp during “Can’t Find My Way Home” (apparently she forgot it). Afterwards Clapton tells the audience, “It’s nice to be home I tell you.” Audible in the audience is someone shouting “Welcome back!” Someone says (very faintly) “Clapton Is God.” “No way,” Clapton replies. “I’m only the best guitar player in the world. God is going a bit far.”
Clapton makes funny asides during “I Shot The Sheriff” including singing “I shot the sheriff / but I did not shoot the deputy. Bob Marley did!” He segues “Rambling On My Mind” with “Have You Ever Loved A Woman.” One of the hits from the latest LP “Willie And The Hand Jive” and “Get Ready” was a constant in the setlist throughout the year but would be dropped after this show, never to return. The first disc ends with “Opposites,” a newly written song that would be included on There’s One In Every Crowd. It made its live debut the previous week as an encore in the show at Rotterdam.
A strange version of “Blues Power” follows. In between the opening crashing chords they play snippets of other songs such as “Country Boy,” “Opposites” and “Badge.” The soloing in the middle is also interesting because instead of the guitar the Hammond organ is predominant. The last hour of the show is filled with very long jams in well known songs. None of the numbers, except for the “All I Have To Do Is Dream” interlude between “Badge” and “Steady Rollin’ Man,” fall below six minutes in length. When Clapton comes back onstage for the encores he asks for the house lights to be turned on to have a look at the crowd and follows with “Let It Rain” played as a rare encore.
Hammersmith Odeon, London, England – December 5th, 1974
Disc 7 (57:49): Introduction, Smile, Let It Grow, Can’t Find My Way Home, Tell The Truth, The Sky Is Crying, Have You Ever Loved A Woman, Rambling On My Mind, Badge, Little Rachel, I Shot The Sheriff
Disc 8 (75:22): Better Make It Through Today, Blues Power, Key To The Highway, Let It Rain, Little Wing, Singing The Blues, Layla, All I Have To Do Is Dream, Steady Rollin’ Man, Little Queenie
The final show of the year contributed “The Sky Is Crying,” “Have You Ever Loved A Woman” and “Rambling On My Mind” to the Crossroads 2 (Live In The Seventies) boxset. With underground releases, a fragment of a high generation copy of the soundboard appears on the 1LP title LP Live In London (Caution Music) with “I Shot The Sheriff,” “Little Rachel,” “Let It Grow,” “Get Ready,” “Badge,” “Layla,” and “All I Have To Do Is Dream.” The complete tape can be found on EC Is Here (DJ Copy 63-72), EC Was Everywhere (Smile 01/02/03/04) and on L.Z. Was Here (Tarantura RONNIE-001/002). Blues Explorer is a perfect sounding recording on par with the others in this collection.
Before the first song the mc comes on stage and introduces Clapton by saying, “Well ladies and gentlemen, this is it. The last show of the tour. Please welcome Mr. Eric Clapton and his band.” The relatively mellow opening of “Smile,” “Let It Grow” and “Can’t Find My Way Home” (and on which Marcy Levy has her harp on time) is employed for the final time. The setlist in 1975 will be all electric.
Covering Elmore James’ “The Sky Is Crying,” he begins a short medley which also includes “Have You Ever Loved A Woman” and “Rambling On My Mind.” The James tune was unreleased at this point but would be on There’s One In Every Crowd.
After “I Shot The Sheriff” there is a slight delay and the audience becomes very vocal. “What a rowdy bunch of idiots we got here” Clapton jokes before they start “Better Make It Through The Day.” This is the second new song in the show and the first original. He had been playing this tune sporadically since the summer. “Blues Power” lacks the song references in the beginning like previous night but does get into the four square gospel themes in the solo. There is a discussion on stage about what to play next with Clapton telling them “Howlin’ Wolf” and someone else suggesting “Stevie Wonder.” An eight minute long jam on “Key To The Highway” follows.
“What am I doing with this on?” Clapton asks afterwards as they start “Let It Rain.” Without any pause or introduction Clapton leads them into ten minute long introspection in “Little Wing.” The finale of the show starts with “Singing The Blues,” the third and final new song to be played in the set. This segues with a scorching version of “Layla” which in turn ends with “All I Have To Do Is Dream.” It’s an effective end to what is a magical set.
Several minutes of audience cheering is audible before Clapton comes back on stage. “Sorry” he says when they come back for the encore. “Ladies and gentlemen, Pete Townshend” he jokes. “He couldn’t make it but I’m a good stand by” Ron Wood of the Faces quips as he gets ready for the first song of the encore “Steady Rollin’ Man.” It sounds as if Terry isn’t present on stage (or else he’s buried deep in the mix) since Clapton and Wood dominate the songs. A tight version of “Little Queenie” closes the show and the first active year of Clapton’s comeback as a solo artist.