(U.K 1962 – Present)
Back on 16 January 1992, 300 music fans boarded coaches in London that took them to Bray Studios, near Windsor. Little did they know music history would be made that night on Soundstage1 as MTV filmed the opening episode of Unplugged’s third season. It would turn out to be some of the finest music ever recorded by Eric.
When MTV Unplugged with Eric Clapton debuted on television in March, it became the series’ highest rated show. It proved to be so popular, a “Part 2” featuring a few songs not included in the original broadcast was put together for broadcast in June. The resulting live album, released in August, became the biggest selling album of Eric’s career. On the 20th Anniversary of the filming and recording of this landmark work, the Where’s Eric! Team takes a look back at Clapton’s one and only all-acoustic concert.
The premise of MTV Unplugged was simple: musicians associated with amplified music would “unplug” from their amps and effects and go acoustic performing stripped down and sometimes radically reworked songs. By the time MTV approached Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, Don Henley, Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Allman Brothers Band, Sting, Elvis Costello and others had been featured. With Eric’s episode, the show would have its finest moment. The music was minimalist, alternating between his pop songs and the traditional blues that influenced him as a youth. Eric would also debut five new songs, all penned in the months following the tragic death of his young son, Conor.
In an interview filmed the afternoon of the taping, Eric said, “When I first started playing, I played a lot of finger style. I could never really find the right combination of flat pick, finger picks or thumb picks so really the easiest way to learn to play – though it's quite strenuous on the fingertips – is finger-style. I think you get a nice tone that way; there’s a beautiful sound to be gained from the finger actually touching the string. I wouldn't mind trying it on electric. It's something I just recently started to work on again.” One of the outgrowths from Unplugged was that Eric did indeed begin to play finger style on the electric guitar and the style continues to feature prominently in his live shows and recordings.
Back on 6 January 1992, BBC Radio 1 gave away 150 pairs of tickets for the taping. The question asked was a no brainer, even for casual music fans, “Where did Eric stay whilst recording ‘I Shot The Sheriff’?” Competition winners were told the show would take place at a “secret location”. They were also given a letter that read in part: "You should all be aware that sitting is not on a 'first come first served basis.' The producers of the show will allocate everybody their seats. This will depend on various points eg. colours that you are wearing etc. Please be patient while this process is happening."
After everyone was seated and some directions were given by the stage manager, Eric walked out to loud applause. He sat center stage with 6 and 12 string acoustic guitars and a dobro within easy reach. New band recruit Andy Fairweather Low (rhythm guitar and mandolin) was to his right and Nathan East (bass) to his left. Behind them were Steve Ferrone (drums), Ray Cooper (percussion), Chuck Leavell (piano) and Katie Kissoon and Tessa Niles (backing vocalists). It was a typical television shoot with a lot of stopping and starting over the course of two hours. Some songs had to be redone due to technical concerns.
Music historian and author Marc Roberty recently told WE!, “Eric was in fine form that night and I especially recall how emotional he looked after playing the songs he had written in memory of Conor. The different arrangements of some of his classic songs made the evening so special for me as I was so familiar with those songs in an electric setting.”
Eric and his band opened the two hour taping with the bouncy samba, “Signe” (the song order would be changed for the television broadcast and again for the home video release and CD; the interview segments would also be cut from the home video release). On Eric’s hand-penned set list – which can be glimpsed taped to a table next to him – it’s listed as “instrumental”. It was also the first public indication of Eric’s love of Brazilian music. Eric later said he wrote it on a yacht named Signe, which he had charted the previous summer. It was also the first song he wrote as part of his healing process after the death of his young son, Conor, the previous March.
Bo Diddley’s 12-bar blues “Before You Accuse Me” and “Hey Hey” featured Eric and Andy on guitars without the rest of the band were next. Eric pointed out, “this show was a great opportunity for me to pay homage to the things that originally influenced me. "Hey Hey" is a semi-instrumental by Big Bill Broonzy, and that was probably one of the first blues albums I ever heard. It was a piece I used to play in pubs when I was very young. I never felt that I mastered it, so that’s why we’re doing it with two guitars!”
Three new songs followed – “Circus Left Town”, “Tears In Heaven” and “Lonely Stranger“ – with the full band. Warmly received, they were also written during the summer of 1991 as Eric grieved. He said, “Some of the songs are still in a very early stage of development, but they will be on a record someday. “The Circus Left Town" is about my son and the last night I spent with him, which was, in fact, at the circus. It's....there's not much I can say about it except that these songs helped me get through a very hard patch in my life and I wanted to make them public.” Over the next several years, fans heard “Circus Left Town” evolve on stage during Eric’s worldwide tours. In 1998, the title was shortened to “Circus” when Eric recorded it for his album, Pilgrim.
“Tears In Heaven” dealt with his loss in stark, powerful terms. Throughout his career, Eric’s most popular songs originated from emotions at the core of his very being. “Tears In Heaven” resonated with the public like no other. He said, “I think that with what happened to me last year – the loss of my son – my audience would have been very surprised if I didn't make some reference to it. And I wouldn't want to insult them by not sharing my grief with them in some way. So I do intend to make these things known and I will play the songs in concert and put them on record. It is a healing process for me, and I think it's important to share that with people who love your music.” After the song was over, Eric was clearly moved by the audience’s response to it; a scene that would be repeated around the world in venues large and small during his 1992 Tour.
The taping continued with Jimmy Cox’s “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out”. “I learned it and played it around the pubs, myself when I was 15, 16. It was part of my early repertoire. I played it unaccompanied and it was one of the first songs I felt I could sing because it was a melodramatic song. I could put all this angst into it. When I was with Derek and The Dominos, we did a version of it, but this is the way I originally used to do it with acoustic guitar,” Eric related in the between song comments.
The biggest surprise of the night was next. It was also a song that had been recorded by The Dominos. Eric had radically reworked one of his best-known songs, “Layla”, as a slow shuffle and it clicked. Saying to the audience, “See if you can spot this one,” Eric and the band launched into it. It took only a brief measure before one audience member shouted “yeah!” with the rest breaking into tumultuous applause, hoots and whistles a split second later. Eric said "Layla sort of mystified me I've done it the same all these years, and never considered trying to revamp it. A lot of artists do that. Bob Dylan, for instance, changes everything every time he plays a song. I thought this was another great opportunity to just take it off on a different path and make it into a shuffle. For a start, making it acoustic denied all the riffs which would have sounded a bit weak really on the acoustic. It just seemed to become jazzier somehow. And, of course, I'm singing it a whole octave down, which gives it a nice atmosphere”. Reception was so favorable it was released as the album’s single, backed with the Unplugged version of "Tears In Heaven".
Throughout the taping, Eric’s keen sense of humor was at the fore. One of the most amusing moments came after “Layla”. A makeup girl scooted out to powder the shine from Eric’s and Nathan’s faces. The director then decided more makeup was a good idea prompting Eric to inquire,“what happens to the first part of the show as I didn’t have any on in the first place?” The makeup girl tried to cajole him saying “just the smallest, tiniest bit” but Eric playfully growled “I don’t want no makeup. Get off!” Seconds later, Eric wiped at his face and whined sotto voce, “I can’t play with it on," causing lighthearted laughter amongst the band and audience.
The Sun, in typical tabloid form, took a huge amount of poetic license with this moment when they reported it on 27 January 1992: "ERIC CLAPTON lost his cool with an MTV director who stopped him mid-song during an acoustic show in Windsor, Berks. to apply make-up to the band. 'I’m a f****** artist, not a bloody Barbie doll,' he raged." Talk about gilding the lily!
Following the re-worked “Layla”, Eric introduced another new song, “My Father’s Eyes”. He said, “It's a very personal matter, but I never met my father, and I realized that the closest I ever came to looking in my father's eyes was when I looked into my son's eyes. So I wrote this song about that. It's a strange kind of cycle thing that occurred to me, and another thing I felt I would like to share”. Cut from the broadcast and omitted from official releases, Eric would perform it on stage regularly over the next several years. Like “Circus,” it too would be recorded for 1998’s Pilgrim.
“Running On Faith” was next, with Eric picking up a dobro and glass slide for the song. Eric recounted, “it was on Journeyman so I knew that that song was easily adaptable. It was an obvious choice and it’s also a fairly well known song and part of my usual stage repertoire. I thought it was good to include it.” He continued, “I played the dobro on that because I did on the record. I don’t play it on the stage so it was another opportunity. This program gives me all these opportunities to do things that I’ve always done at home but don’t do on stage.”
The main part of the taping was moving quickly towards its end and it would be nothing but the blues. “Walking Blues” – which was used as the opening song for the MTV Unplugged with Eric Clapton – Part 2 broadcast – featured Eric alone on dobro. Although it would become commonplace in succeeding years, this was the first time fans got to see and hear a song performed in this manner by Eric. “Walking Blues”, as done by Eric for Unplugged, was actually a hybrid song. Eric borrowed the guitar part from Muddy Waters' "Feel Like Going Home," and superimposed Robert Johnson's lyrics. Eric recalled, “It’s sort of my simultaneous tribute to both of them. It's a piece I've played since I was 14, but I only recently decided to start singing it.”
Next up was an old Snooks Eaglin song, “Alberta”, with its humorous false start (Eric forgot to remove the glass slide from his little finger) and tells the band to "hang on, hang on.". Like all of the cover songs in the set, it was another that Eric had heard during his youth that he always wanted to do. He said it was “accessible to me as a beginning guitar player, because it consists of three chords and just straight strumming. It’s just lodged in my head as a very sentimental song, and part of my early influences”.
“San Francisco Bay Blues” – performed with kazoo like Jesse Fuller’s original “one man band version” and “Malted Milk” (the second Robert Johnson cover of the night) wrapped things up. But shortly after telling the studio audience “that’s it,” Eric said they needed to do two – no three - no five songs over again adding “if you don’t mind, I don’t mind.” No one minded!
After the second take of “My Father’s Eyes” there was a brief break and cameras were off. Eric broke into an impromptu “Rollin’ and Tumblin’”, which he had last performed with Cream. The seasoned musicians quickly picked up on it and the crowd clapped along. The director, realizing what a gem this was, signaled the crew., They only managed to capture part of it which is why there’s such an abrupt start to the song. In fact, Eric was so pleased with it that when the song ended, he asked the director, “did you get that?”
The second take of “Running On Faith” was next, but the first take was still used in the broadcast and the official releases. “Walking Blues”, “San Francisco Bay Blues”, and “Malted Milk” were then set down for the second time and these are the takes that were used. The final songs recorded were “Worried Life Blues” – which was cut from the broadcast and releases - and “Old Love” from 1989’s Journeyman. The latter is one of the high points of the night, with Eric taking his usual long improvised solo during the song. It was captured in one brilliant take at the very end of the evening.
What was surprising to many at the time was the rich sound of Eric’s voice. He said, “it's such a joy to sing with a full band acoustically and be able to hear your voice; I find it so much more easy to adjust the volume of my own voice. On stage, I seem to be singing flat out all the time. Here, I could sing quietly, and have more dynamic range.”
Guitarist Andy Fairweather Low, who still tours and records with Eric, told WE!, " I have only one thought - 'Hey Eric, we should do this again!' It was the most unbelievable moment in my life. No more no less. Unbelievable."
At the time, nobody realized how successful the album would become. In fact, Eric did not even want to release it because he felt it would not do as well as a studio album of new material. After some cajoling, the album was released on 25 August 1992 to some of the best reviews of his career.
[Extract from whereseric.com MTV "Unplugged" With Eric Clapton]
This bootleg was taken from the Unplugged MTV broadcast and features 4 tracks not included on the official release "Eric Clapton Unplugged". The post consists of MP3's (320kps) ripped from the Australian Grapefruit CD release and includes the usual generic artwork and featured photos. The quality of the recording is as good as the official release and is a must for the 'Clapton Is God' collector.
I gotta say that when I first heard Clapton's tribute song "Tears In Heaven" back in 91', shortly after the loss of his son, I shed more than a few tears and promised God that I would never take my family for granted, ever. So this post is dedicated to my two beautiful kids and wife.
01 - Signe
02 - Tears in Heaven
03 - Circus Has Left Town
04 - My Fathers Eyes
05 - Running on Faith
06 - Walking Blues
07 - San Francisco Bay Blues
08 - Malted Milk
09 - Worried Life Blues
10 - Old Love
11 - My Fathers Eyes #2
Eric Clapton (Guitar, Vocals)
Chuck Leavell (Keyboards)
Andy Fairweather-Low (Guitar)
Nathan East (Bass)
Steve Ferrone (Drums)
Ray Cooper (Percussion)
Tessa Niles & Katie Kassoon (Backing Vocals)
Eric Clapton Link (147Mb)