I've been a fan of Eric Clapton since his Bluesbreaker days. I listened to some John Mayall the other day (Blues from Laurel Canyon and the self-titled Blues Breakers) and it was very disappointing - Mayall was a truly awful singer. But some of Clapton's intstrumental work, including things like Hideaway and Steppin' Out were guitar classics. He left, taking Jack Bruce with him, to form Cream with Ginger Baker.
Cream were my favourite band of the era, bar none. They started as a bluesy outfit with the album Fresh Cream, and then went into a psychedelic mood with the next, Disraeli Gears (which the observant will have noted I have used for the email account for this blog). The next album, Wheels Of Fire, was a double LP, with a set of studio pieces which seem to be moving towards the prog rock that was emerging at the time, and on the other disc four live numbers from their American tours. The band disbanded (heh) in late 1968, but before they did, they made some amazing music.
The one I have chosen for No. 8 is Crossroads, a live 1968 recording from Winterland in California of the well-known Robert Johnson blues song. It is chiefly known for Clapton's guitar solos, and the second solo has made it to the top of many lists of 'greatest guitar solos', although I prefer to think of the solos in Crossroads as one solo divided by a bit of singing in the middle.
Why is it so great? Well, for one thing it is improvised. It was a common repertoire item at the time, so no doubt Clapton had a pretty good idea of what he was going to play, but the delight of improvisation is that you never know what is going to come out until you play it. And what you play often depends on what everyone else is playing. If you listen carefully, there's a lot of call-and-response between bass and guitar. Bruce and Clapton worked very well together.
The playing is beyond any praise I could give it. It's inventive, it's showy, and it is, by turns, both melodic and savagely slick. It starts in the lower range of the instrument, but quickly builds in energy and tempo until a break for Jack Bruce to belt out the middle verse. When the guitar returns, it picks up where it left off and soars away into some blues stratosphere where mortals cannot live. Taken as a whole, the song and the solo has an amazing shape, and a Gibson ES-335 never sounded better. I've listened to this piece a million times, and there isn't a bad note in it. And all from three basic chords and a sequence of 12 bars.
We can still barrelhouse, baby, on the riverside ...