E.C. Was Here
RSO SO 4809
Released: August 1975
Chart Peak: #20
Weeks Charted: 13
E.C. Was Here, recorded live at various concerts on his most recent world tour, marks Eric Clapton's return to the role of lead guitarist. Not only has Clapton reassumed primary responsibility for the lion's share of the instrumental work, but his fiery guitar playing harkens back to the days when he spearheaded the British blues movement with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. Concentrating once more on a blues repertoire, Clapton has come back to the full dense sound of the Gibson guitar, which dominates the instrumental thrust of the band. He has recovered the crisp, fluid sense of phrasing that catapulted him into the vanguard, while maintaining the mature vocal style that has characterized his latest studio album.
This is not a traditional live album; it starts at no particular point and ends with a hard-charging version of Bobby Bland's "Farther On up the Road" that doesn't necessarily mark the close of any particular concert, although it does provide an emotional resolution. The essential concern is to provide a comfortable balance between acoustic and electric songs, with the primary emphasis on the kind of "traditional" blues songs which have always provided Clapton with his most effective base for improvisational fireworks.
Appropriately enough, the album starts with a delicately etched blues phrase from Clapton's guitar -- the rush of notes that leads into the first verse of "Have You Ever Loved a Woman." In the past, this song has always been one of Clapton's most searing and painful vehicles. This time, he treats it with a good deal more objectivity and distance. In fact, he even chooses to make light of one of the song's key lines: "...And all the time you know, she belongs to your very best friend" by interjecting, "Did I mention any names?"
The numerous guitar breaks are delivered with thoroughly professional smoothness, and although they lack the naked intensity of the version on Clapton's live set with Derek and the Dominoes, they make up for it in terms of pacing and fluency. George Terry, Clapton's extremely capable coguitarist, trades off with the master toward the end, creating succinct statements on a Fender Stratocaster.
But it is with the surging double-barreled finale, Robert Johnson's "Rambling on My Mind" -- which introduced Clapton's vocalizing on the classic Bluesbreakers album -- and "Farther On up the Road," that Clapton's guitar takes over completely. On "Rambling," his playing is marked by all of the speed, flash and fire of old. In this case, however, all of Clapton's chops are not just a manifestation of prodigious technique. Each phrase is built on a specific melodic construct, sparked by an inner logic and development that has often been missing from the freer, more rambling leads that grew out of the Cream experiment. Dick Sims's ethereal organ playing provides the perfect cushion to balance the guitar pyrotechnics.
"Farther On," driven by Jamie Oldaker's superb shuffle drumming, gives Clapton the opportunity to bring it on home in a burst of glory. Occasionally, in his enthusiasm to really bust out, Clapton pushes a little too hard; some of the phrases jump out of the overall rhythmic flow. But the tone, phrasing and resolutions are generally excellent and even in this speeded up blues context each line is marked by an intelligent sense of pacing. Similarly, on "Drifting Blues," which closes side one, Clapton sings and plays with authority, looseness and self-confidence of bluesmen twice his age.
For me, as for many other guitar fanatics, the last few years of Eric Clapton's career were a source of quiet desperation. Would he ever really play again? If he didn't push himself out of the blues-playing format, would he inevitably drown in a pool of redundancy? The point is that Clapton has been, is, and probably always will be a blues guitar player. E.C. Was Here, despite a few minor flaws, demonstrates just how far the art of the blues guitar can be developed.
- Jean-Charles Costa, Rolling Stone, 10/9/75.
Eric Clapton naturally plays a lot of notes here, and his guitar technique is as impressive as ever, but this seems sandbagged by the usual characteristics of live albums; long, drawn-out, overblown endings that sound ludicrous to one person alone at home; long drawn-out songs, which, by physically taking up so much space on the record, put the screws to variety, along with posing once again the question of who wants to hear "Rambling Man" ramble on for seven minutes; a boogie-oriented, simple-beat program, since a live audience, the thinking goes, likes things kept movie and easy; and the quirks of live-recorded sound -- Clapton's guitar (and his voice, too, in fact) seems harsher here than in studio recordings, and Carl Radle's bass seems muddy. The whole thing is spartan and more blues-oriented than I think best suits Clapton; there just aren't enough ideas for him to invent with. It is one of the least satisfying Eric Clapton albums I've heard.
- Noel Coppage, Stereo Review, 12/75.
Live set from Clapton shows a 360 degree turnaround from his last two LPs, both of which have been strongly in the laid back vein. Clapton fans will particularly enjoy this set, since it features the long, fluid blues guitar solos that have been lacking on recent efforts. Most of the songs here are heard on disk for at least the second time, though the presence of Yvonne Elliman on harmony vocals adds a change to the basic arrangements. Several out and out blues cuts here which allow the artist full chance to demonstrate his drawling vocals and excellent guitar. Band of Carl Raddle, Jamie Oldaker, George Terry and Marcy Levy in his current touring group. Best cuts: "Presence Of The Lord," "Drifting Blues," "Can't Find My Way Home," "Rambling On My Mind."
- Billboard, 1975.
From Clapton a live album is welcome these days. At the very least it guarantees that his head was higher than his feet at time of recording, and live albums being what they are it also assures plenty of what he does best, which is play guitar. But though Clapton's choked lyricism can be exciting, he does have trouble breaking loose, and because George Terry's sound is so like his own their colloquies don't spark much. Besides, this is basically a blues album -- four of the six cuts fit the category with varying degrees of authenticity -- and I expect a blues album to be sung as well as played. B-
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
Since Eric Clapton and his longtime fans have always thought of him primarily as a bluesman, it is curious that this live album, which is devoted to extended guitar solos on blues standards like "Have You Ever Loved a Woman," "Rambling On My Mind," and "Further On Up the Road," didn't become a massive hit. Maybe it was that the once reclusive Clapton was now spitting out new albums every six months, but E.C. Was Here did not achieve the renown it deserved upon release, and Clapton, who had been reluctant to put out a straight blues album to begin with, didn't try anything similar again for almost 20 years, instead making sure to keep his records within a pop framework that usually diluted their effectiveness. In its CD reissue, with "Drifting Blues" extended out to its full 11 1/2 minutes, the album is even more impressive. * * *
- William Ruhlmann , The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
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