Blues In The USA (Beano-042)
It seemed that, after more than a decade of wandering about different genres and musical styles including hard flirtations with pop in the mid eighties, Eric Clapton attained artistic relevancy again only with a return to the blues in 1990. His commitment as a blues artist was cemented with the 1994 release of From The Cradle. Covering a wide range of blues styles, he asserted himself as one of the foremost interpreters of the blues.
The year began with an extended run of shows at the Royal Albert Hall in London, where he performed a split set of blues covers and classics from his own career. But when the US Nothing But The Blues tour began in October, the originals were jettisoned and he presented, well, nothing but the blues.
During this period Clapton was joined by Andy Fairweather Low on guitar, Jerry Portnoy on harmonica, Chris Stainton on keyboards, Dave Bronze on bass, Andy Newmark playing drums, and was supplemented by The Kick Horns with Roddy Lorimer on trumpet, Tim Saudners on tenor saxophone and Simon Clarke on baritone saxophone. The opening act was Jimmie Vaughan & Tilt-A-Whirl Band.
Although Beano have established themselves as one of the premier (albeit dilatory) Eric Clapton labels, Blues In The USA is their first release of this tour. They chose two shows from the end of the first leg several nights apart. Both are from excellent stereo audience tapes making their first appearance on a commercially produced silver title.
Kemper Arena, Kansas City, MO – October 28th, 1994
Disc 1 (42:44): Motherless Child, Malted Milk, How Long Blues, Kidman Blues, County Jail, Forty-Four Blues, Blues All Day Long, Standing Around Crying, Hoochie Coochie Man, It Hurts Me Too, Blues Before Sunrise, Third Degree
Disc 2 (71:49): Reconsider Baby, Sinner’s Prayer, Can’t Judge Nobody, Someday After A While, I’m Tore Down, Have You Ever Loved A Woman, Crosscut Saw, Five Long Years, Born Under A Bad Sign, Crossroads, Groaning The Blues, Ain’t Nobody’s Business, Kansas City (with Jimmie Vaughan)
The tape for the October 28th, 1994 Kansas City show surfaced about ten years after the show and surprised many, including the taper, for its excellent sound quality. The show was stealth taped by Tom Mullinix and T.J. Tomlin at 28th row center.
Several cuts exist on the tape. Only forty-four seconds of “Motherless Child” exists on the tape. There is a tape flip after “Third Degree,” one before “Reconsider Baby” cutting off the beginning, another at the end of “Crossroads” cutting out the end, and one at the beginning of “Groaning The Blues” cutting off the opening notes.
Playing the blues revue is inspiring enough for Clapton. But playing in Kansas City, a stronghold for blues music, brings the performance to a higher level. The setlist remains pretty much the same as others on this leg of the tour, but the city gives him such a loud and enthusiastic response that he can only repay them in kind.
“That’s quite an incentive” he says after the ovation for “Motherless Child.” “I’ve been wandering around playing all sort of music but behind it all has been the blues.”
The taper himself offers a nice summary of the tape and concert. He writes: “This recording is truly one of the best Clapton recordings in my entire collection… and I have been taping and collecting shows for many years. All of the instruments are clear and well balanced. This audience recording can easily stand up to any soundboard Clapton recording that I own. Clapton’s guitar playing is, at certain points, truly mind-blowing. For example, Clapton’s solos on ‘Five Long Years’ are some of the best guitar playing I’ve ever heard by any artist…. the kind that will have you shaking your head in disbelief! Luckily I was standing it the ‘sweet spot’ of the arena, so the sound quality and balance are great.
“This is a very warm recording that truly makes you feel as if you are actually at the show! With the exception of a few cuts, the tapes came out really nicely. The crowd was extremely enthusiastic and Clapton rewarded them by putting on a great performance. Clapton even seems pleasantly surprised at the crowd reaction after the first song.”
The encore is a rare version of the 1952 Leiber/Stoller classic “Kansas City” with Jimmy Vaughan (Stevie Ray’s brother) on guitar, bringing down the house.
America West Arena, Phoenix, AZ – November 2nd, 1994
Disc 3 (47:49): Motherless Child, Malted Milk, How Long Blues, Kidman Blues, County Jail, Forty-Four Blues, Blues All Day Long, Standing Around Crying, Hoochie Coochie Man, It Hurts Me Too, Blues Before Sunrise, Third Degree, Reconsider Baby
Disc 4 (61:24): Sinner’s Prayer, Can’t Judge Nobody, Someday After A While, I’m Tore Down, Have You Ever Loved A Woman, Crosscut Saw, Five Long Years, Crossroads, Groaning The Blues, Ain’t Nobody’s Business, Sweet Home Chicago (with Jimmie Vaughan)
After two shows in Denver, Clapton played the American West Arena in Phoenix, Arizona. The taper was slightly distant from the stage but nevertheless was able to produce an amazing sounding document with no cuts in the music.
Unlike Kansas City, Phoenix has no deep tradition for the blues. Clapton receives a polite repsonse from the audience and delievers a professional performance. He tells the audience that the set is composed of “things I heard as a kid and have altared my life….They’re all blues songs.”
Several of the individual songs to rise above the rest, including a scorching “It Hurts Me Too,” “Sinner’s Prayer” and “Someday After A While.”
In general, the playing becomes much more intense in the second half of the show when compared to the first half. “Crosscut Saw,” a song in his live repertoire even before this tour, attains a nice flow as does the scorching “Five Long Years.” Like other stops on the tour, Jimmy Vaughan plays with Clapton on the Robert Johnson cover “Sweet Home Chicago.”
Blues In The USA is an excellent effort by Beano. The packaging is standard, utilizing a quad disc fatboy jewel case, but the artwork is excellent. Several photographs from the tour are used for the inserts, and the front cover is printed with the subtle beauty of the great covers they produced earlier in the decade.
Since both concerts are great sounding and excellently played, this release provides a good suppliment to the New York and Los Angeles shows commonly pressed onto silver disc.