Cowboy in the National (MVR 148/149)
Forest National, Brussels, Belgium – November 19, 1978
Disc 1. Layla – Worried Life Blues – If I Don’t Be There By Morning – Wonderful Tonight – I’ll Make Love To You Any Time – Double Trouble
Disc 2. Badge – Tulsa Time – Early in the Morning – Cocaine – Crossroads
The inner notes read as follows:
“The Forest National in Brussels, Belgium was never an attractive venue and being a hall made for cycling contests, the acoustics were always challenging. However, the taper clearly knew where to position himself for this recording and the resulting tape is probably the best recording from that tour.
For many fans, this tour remains as one of the most interesting because Eric was playing as a four piece. George Terry had left the band and this meant that all the guitar duties fell on Eric’s shoulders. As such he played his ass off!
The gigs may have been shorter than one would have liked, but the performances were truly electric and remain one of the most interesting periods in Eric’s concert history.
This is another historic recording taken from the genuine master tapes obtained from the taper himself.”
“Cowboy In The National” was originally released back in December 2002. I remember listening to it just a few hours after having received it in the mail, and it is unforgivable that I have been ignoring this release on my shelves for more than 5 years until I listened to it again this morning. Sourced from the master audience tapes, this has got to be the definitive recording of this show – a much better option than “Backless On The Road” on the Silver Horse label (SH-7801 A/B), which covers this gig too.
To coincide with the release of the “Backless” album, EC embarked on an European Tour in November 1978. Being a four piece band, all guitar duties had to be undertaken by himself much to the crowds’ delight. In my opinion the fact of missing a second guitar player makes the band sound a little bit empty (i.e. the “Layla” riff has to be played by Dick Sims on the keyboards), something that would be corrected by the beginning of the next tour in Ireland in March 1979 with the addition of Albert Lee to the band. Muddy Waters was the brilliant support artist on this tour.
The show is quite short at 84 minutes but even missing a second guitar player the band sounds really tight and, in my opinion, is a joy to listen to, with Jamie Oldaker on drums and Carld Radle on bass, apart from the already mentioned Dick Sims on keyboards.
“Layla” misses the coda and we are treated to an extended guitar solo from EC instead. EC then launches into a nice rendition of “Worried Life Blues” which not also is sung with conviction but also features a great piano work. “If I Don’t Be There” is the first song from his new album to be performed. Co-written by Bob Dylan and Helena Springs, it seems Dylan never performed his own version. Then we are serenaded with a beautiful version of “Wonderful Tonight”, which is played at a much slower pace than we are used to these days. Next comes JJ Cale’s “I’ll Make Love To You Any Time”, EC’s third cover ever of JJ Cale’s songs after “After Midnight” and “Cocaine”. Sung by Eric in a low growl, I always liked this song on the official album, and listening to it live I can’t do anything else but enjoy it quite a lot! Disc1 closes with what has easily got to be the highlight of the night: a terrific 13-minute rendition of “Double Trouble”, with an outstanding guitar work from EC.
EC’s solo on “Badge” provides a glimpse of the stuff that made him a guitar legend. “Tulsa Time” is a 3-minute uptempo filler which is followed by the slow blues grind of “Early In The Morning”. Both songs from the “Backless” album and both songs see EC on slide guitar. “Cocaine” is “the last one of the night” as introduced by EC. Running at 7 minutes, I think that EC playing a second solo would have been a much better alternative than leaving that work to Dick Sims. A great version of Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads” closes the show early.
“Cowboy In The national” may not be indispensable but it indeed is a very nice title to have.