Eric Clapton – Me and Mr. Johnson (2004)

by Mark Saleski

The next statement I make isn’t gonna win a lot of friends and influence in the rock music fan world but, well … here goes nothin’: I’ve never liked British blues all that much.

John Mayall, the Yardbirds and all that. Yeah, they could play all right … but they just never hit the resonant frequency of my blues-music receptor cells. I do have to give some of them credit though. I mean, the Rolling Stones knew who Howlin’ Wolf was. The real thing. They got him on Shindig playin’ “How Many More Years.” It was a great and respectful move. Our own danged music and we’ve gotta get ‘introduced’ to it by a bunch of skinny, pale English dudes. Oh well, it wasn’t the last time that our culture would reject one of its own art forms (same danged thing happened with modern jazz).

Now don’t get me wrong. I owned my share of Cream records. But: I am sure that I didn’t know that “Crossroads” had anything to do with Robert Johnson. Maybe Lester Bangs did a little ranting about that name, but I probably ignored it. After all, what did it have to do with the new Ted Nugent album?

So over the years I pieced together all of the important bits of information. When I got my excited little hands on a Muddy Waters record (I forget which one … I’d love to say that it was Folk Singer but it was probably King Bee) though, I just knew that the pale, blue-jeaned ones were onto somethin’ good. So, Eric Clapton. Like most good children of the 1970s, I owned a copy of Slowhand. I’m sure I made the Clapton->Cream connection, but the blues? Not yet. The magic happened when I attended a Clapton show. The warmup act was Muddy Waters. Now that got my attention. I don’t know how old Muddy was at that point (I think this was when Clapton was touring on Backless) but he still had his mojo workin’. Clapton followed but was no match for the real thing. Not even close.

So after all these years, Clapton decided to go way back to his roots. Maybe to the root of it all. Me and Mr. Johnson has Clapton (and cohorts Steve Gadd, Andy Fairweather Low, Doyle Bramhall II, Nathan East, Billy Preston and Jerry Portnoy) serving up some raw and tasty renditions of 14 (of twenty-nine) Robert Johnson classics (yeah, pretty much everything Johnson is classic). My ears (and blues-music receptors) were very happy to hear these fine roadhouse-worthy nuggets.

I thought I didn’t need to hear another version of “Come On In My Kitchen”. Yeah, well … I was wrong. It just illustrates the universality and power of the blues: Johnson in particular. Do yourself a favor and check out Eric Clapton’s tribute to his main influence. Robert Johnson’s music managed to change Clapton’s life. It might not do the same for you.

    

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he writes several weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.