In the Cradle with Eric Clapton and Jimmy Vaughn

All along this path I tread, 
my heart betrays my weary head, 
with nothing but my love to save, 
from the cradle to the grave...
                  ---Eric Clapton

If you've ever wondered what god would like singing and playing some excellent rock-tinged blues, then check out Eric Clapton when he rolls into town in support of his latest release. In a sold-out show at the U.S. Air Arena, Clapton entranced the crowd with his legendary guitar work and vocals so passionate that it would've made the people he covered proud.

Clapton has been known to have once said that he could never sing the blues as well as a black person. Clearly, his From the Cradle album, and the tour supporting it, indicate that comment was made in his usual self-effacing manner. And this manner was evident in the rest of his performance, starting from the first song where he just came up the stage, sat down (he was in an all-white outfit and I thought he had just woken up), and jammed out every song from his 16-song release. Before he began, he said "we're gonna play some blues tonight" and, fortunately or unfortunately, that's exactly what he did.

The first 3 songs were mostly acoustic, and it warmed the crowd up before he picked up his electric guitar. He then showed us what it takes to become a legend. His rendition of songs like Blues before Sunrise (originally by Leroy Carr), Hoochie Coochie Man (originally by Willie Dixon), Third Degree (Eddie Boyd), and the popular radio tune I'm Tore Down (Sonny Thomson) were laden with blistering guitar solos and searing vocals. Clapton not only revitalised the old classics, but also imprinted them with his own casual-rock stamp. It was blues with an innovative edge which I had never heard before. When he started playing Crossroads, people stood up in anticipation because it sounded like Handjive. The best song of the day, besides Hoochie Coochie Man, was Born Under a Bad Sign (the only version I like better being the one by Homer Simpson in The Simpsons Sing the Blues :). Also notable were Malted Milk and Ain't Nobody's Business (if I do).

Surprisingly though, his guitar playing took second stage to his vocals. In the 2 hours he performed, his vocal range matched that of great blues artists he covered (like Muddy Waters) and many other contemporary musicians, and this made the concert worthwhile for me. The biggest disappointment was the fact that Clapton did not play any of his classics. No Cocaine, Layla, or I Shot the Sheriff. or anything from Journeyman, which, by the way, I thought was an excellent album. At the beginning of each song, Clapton would announce the name of the person the song was originally performed by. One of the people who I went with heard someone behind her remark "why don't you play some Eric Clapton" in response to this. And I think this was a general feeling that the audience were left with after the show.

Jimmy Vaughn (Stevie Ray's brother) opened and played for 35 minutes in what was mostly a non-spectacular set. The only highlight of his set was the accompanying players he had with him. One of them, Renee Martinez, played the acoustic guitar like I have never seen anyone play, in a style somewhat reminiscent of Eddie Van Halen's Spanish Fly. Also, the other guitar player, Denny Freeman, accompanying him also did a better job than Vaughn himself I thought. I wouldn't buy his new album.

For an encore, Clapton came back with Vaughn and jammed for a few minutes on Sweet Home Chicago, which was also disappointing, since it was too short. So, unless you can handle the fact that he'll not play any of his rock classics, can bang your head to blues (which did invite some reaction from the crowd around me when I did this), and have enough money so you can get a seat with good acoustics, I would recommend giving this one a miss.

Thanks to Keith Knox ( for filling in some of the details in this review. He loves Jimmy Vaughn's new album and he thinks I'm totally off-mark with this review. I think I'm right. You judge.

Music ram-blings || Ram Samudrala || || October 12, 1994.