This is the second entry in what I hope will be an ongoing series of blogs about the music which influenced me throughout my life. I am writing it, essentially, to my daughter Nicole. The first I shared with her was Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions. I sent her a copy of the original version, on DVD, and will be curious if she is affected by it in any of the ways I was. Of course, she is a 26-year-old woman now; I was 12 and a boy when I first heard it.
I wasn’t yet 13 when Eric Clapton released 461 Ocean Boulevard. it was the summer of 1974, and history would later tell me that it was significant because the album was created after facing his heroin addiction. Clapton’s career, and in many ways he might argue, his life began during the time period that he and his musical mates pulled together that album.
I loved the album cover and liner notes, the photos of real people creating real music in a house that was – I could only have guessed – was by the ocean. It turns out the album was indeed named after the house where Clapton and the fellow musicians he and his label pulled together created the album.
For me, 461 Ocean Boulevard it was significant because of the soulfulness of it. The music included classic blues songs and a remake of I Shot The Sheriff (which became Clapton’s first #1 Billboard hit as a solo artist; he ironically had to be talked into including it on the album by band mates.)
I didn’t know much about Clapton at the time, but there was fun in the musical choices. I didn’t really understand many of the songs, “Motherless Children” (a traditional remake) I didn’t understand where it came from or why I liked it. the album, as I look back now thanks to Wikipedia and the Rolling Stones archive, was not Clapton’s best received work. Of course, everyone longed for his days with Cream or even hanging out with the Beatles, but let’s be honest – he was now sober, playing perhaps for the first time since overcoming a heroin addiction. This album told me something about that moment. Good musicians with good material and a soulful direction can open doors.
For Clapton, It must have come down that way. He is by many considered the greatest rock and roll guitarist of all-time. His longevity and maturity would get him votes over any of those who didn’t live so long. I saw him in concert the first week I moved to Oklahoma City, at the Ford Center. It was the spring of 2007, and (though we didn’t call it a bucket list) it was on my to-do list at the time. I had purchased some of his live work, loved how he collaborated with greats like BB King and others, and always figured – dating back to the beginning – that there was something very quietly powerful about him on stage. Unlike my favorites – including Jim Croce, Billy Joel, U2, Jimmy Buffet, BB King – he said almost nothing on stage. His showmanship wasn’t in talking or engaging in the audience; it was in sharing his music. And the music comes from a very deep and unspoken place, no doubt.
I understand Clapton’s album better today than I ever could have then. I don’t care that it received some lukewarm reviews from folks back then; history shows it as one of the top 500 albums of all-time, according to Rolling Stone magazine (#409).
There is something else, something powerful to me in retrospect which I think makes me defensive, appreciative of the album 461 Ocean Boulevard. Clapton was becoming the man he was meant to be. Addictions are that way: you learn only how to live with your drug or drink of choice. It is a different deal learning, even imagining how to, live without drugs or alcohol once you are in the throes of your addiction. These are powerful, powerful challenges – overcoming addiction – and they can not be willed. But from my own experience I can say what overcoming a demon of substance does – in my case alcohol – is that it knocks down all of the walls blocking away one’s soul. You have to learn to walk, then run – but once you do, watch out. I am guessing that this may have been what happened for Clapton. He cleaned up, created something really, really, good. And in doing so, opened the door to things really, really great, greatness in ways even a successful musician of his status could have never known existed.
I hope you like this one Nicole.
For the record: Yes, I still have the vinyl album. And yes, I have downloaded and paid for a digital version via Amazon. Thanks to Rolling Stone and Wikipedia for the info.