"'Nothing but my soul to save, from the cradle to the grave'...It was one of those things, you wake up in the middle of the night, run downstairs and write it down. What it means, I think, is that the music I'm making here has been my motivation. It's the thing I've turned to, the thing that has given me inspiration and relief, in all the trials and tribulations in my life."
So says Eric Clapton about the inspiration for his astonishing new Duck/Reprise Records release, From The Cradle. The music this artist evokes is, of course, the blues, and from its opening track, From The Cradle is a moving and monumental tribute to that most enduring of musical genres. Yet, the sixteen tracks that comprise From The Cradle are far more than simply a tribute, they are an intense, involving and deeply felt reflection of a lifetime love affair between a man and the music that he has come to call his own.
Produced by the artist and longtime collaborator Russ Titelman, From The Cradle is the first new release from Eric Clapton since 1992's Unplugged, which has sold over fourteen million copies worldwide to date and contains the platinum single "Tears In Heaven" (the Grammy-winning version appears on the soundtrack to the film Rush). "I think Unplugged helped a great deal in terms of a certain rediscovered security in myself," remarks Clapton on the subject of that extraordinary acoustic offering. "It freed me up to a certain extent. But, to make this record about my blues influences and upbringing, well, it's much more me than Unplugged was."
Eric Clapton's "influences and upbringing" are a matter of music legend. Born on March 30, 1945, he was raised in Ripley, Surrey. As a teenager, the pop music of the era failed to move him and he was drawn to such blues masters as Big Bill Broonzy, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters and Sonny Boy Williamson. Jamming in pubs and clubs, Eric soon joined the Yardbirds, a group destined for commercial success and widespread imitation. But even this blues-inspired group took what Clapton considered an artistic detour and he left the band in 1965. Seeking a purer avenue to the blues, he briefly joined John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers.
It was in 1968 that Clapton made it into the international spotlight when he formed Cream with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker, a group that displayed his potent, extended guitar improvisations and fashioned a body of vastly influential original music, including the hits "White Room," "Strange Brew" and "Sunshine Of Your Love."
Cream folded two years later when Clapton left to form Blind Faith with Steve Winwood, Rick Grech and Ginger Baker. The group lasted a year before Clapton once again followed his musical muse, first recording his debut solo album in 1970, and then joining forces with the American team of Delaney and Bonnie. It was then that he began to actively develop his vocal skills, even while perfecting the state of rock guitar, as part of Delaney And Bonnie & Friends. That process continued with Derek and the Dominos where, in the company of Duane Allman, he fashioned such enduring classics as "Layla" (which resurfaced again in a new version on the above mentioned Unplugged).
The early and mid-seventies was a time during which Clapton struggled, and eventually succeeded, in overcoming a dependence on drugs, even as he continued his solo career with such landmark recordings as 461 Ocean Boulevard and an endless round of international touring. It was an era defined by such Clapton-classics as "Wonderful Tonight," "I Shot The Sheriff," "Lay Down Sally" and the 1978 release Slowhand.
The eighties were distinguished by such standout solo albums as Backless, Another Ticket, Money And Cigarettes, Behind The Sun and August, each further enhancing his reputation as one of his generation's premier songwriters and performers. A 1988 box set retrospective, Crossroads, was one of the most popular compilations ever released and was followed by SRO tours from Africa to South America, Europe to Australia and everywhere in-between.
Clapton ushered in his third decade of music-making with 1990's Journeyman, which garnered his first Grammy for the single "Bad Love." It was followed, a year later, by the momentous 24 Nights: Live At The Royal Albert Hall, chronicling his historic 1989-90 London concert stand. The '90s also saw Clapton's continued presence in soundtrack realms with contributions to such movies as Rush, Back To the Future, The Color Of Money and Lethal Weapon 3 (completing a creative association that included both previous Lethal Weapon soundtracks).
Clapton's place in music history had long since been assured, but with the release of Unplugged, his popularity took a quantum leap. Suddenly, rock's elder statesman was as fresh and formidable a talent as the latest arrival from the grunge generation. It was a popularity built in large part on his stubborn adherence to total musical integrity, which brought him, time and again, back to the basics of the blues.
"With From The Cradle, I'm really retracing my steps back to John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers," explains Clapton. "It's almost as if I'm going back to the jumping off point and now producing my own blues band." That band includes bassist Dave Bronze, drummer Jim Keltner, guitarist Andy Fairweather Low, harmonica player Jerry Portnoy, keyboardist Chris Stainton and The Kick Horns, highlighting Roddy Lorimer on trumpet, Simon Clarke on baritone sax and Tim Sanders on tenor sax.
"The bones of this thing," Clapton continues, "is coming from inside me and my need to pay back all these people that I heard from Day One. I want to emulate and pay back and say thank you."
Those to whom Clapton pays tribute on From The Cradle include such blues gurus as Robert Johnson, Lowell Fulsom, Elmore James, Willie Dixon and the inimitable Muddy Waters. "Muddy's songs have been the hardest," Clapton admits. "His music was the first that got to me and it remains some of the most important music in my life today. I love this man so much that I want to do it absolutely perfectly, and, of course, that's not possible."
"From The Cradle is 'me' in terms of my musical identity," Clapton avows. "It's where I've come from and what I mean. And wherever I go in the future will be the result of this." In the process of rediscovering his roots, Eric Clapton, on From The Cradle, has made his own enduring contribution to the blues.