Eric Clapton: 10 Legendary Collaborations
From teaming up with fellow greats like Santana, JJ Cale and Buddy Guy to an uncredited appearance on a song by the Beatles, the legendary guitarist always added magic
Three months ago, British guitar hero Eric Clapton and Irish legend Van Morrison released the anti-lockdown song “Stand And Deliver.” Morrison had written similar songs over the past few months, as he felt the strict crackdown was harming the events industry. For Clapton, it was yet another collaboration with an artist he admired.
The list of legendary musicians and bands that Clapton has worked with since the Sixties is very long. From playing uncredited on the Beatles song “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” to doing joint albums with his heroes BB King and JJ Cale, the list probably deserves album of its own.
As he turns 76 today, we look at some of his greatest collaborations. On each of these songs, he has played a significant part, adding a touch that only he could. The order is chronological.
“Miles Road” – with Jimmy Page (1965)
Two of the greatest guitarists get together on this relatively-unknown piece. When this was recorded, Clapton had already been recognized for his work with the Yardbirds, and Jimmy Page was yet to join that group. A blues-based and short instrumental, this featured Clapton on lead and Page on rhythm. It was featured on the British blues compilation Blues Anytime Vol 3. Page, of course, achieved legendary status with Led Zeppelin a few years later.
“Good To Me As I Am To You” – with Aretha Franklin (1967)
Story has it that when Clapton entered the studio, the Queen of Soul never thought he could play anything good. But the moment he began, everybody’s jaw dropped. This blues track with its incisive guitar lines is featured in Aretha’s landmark album Lady Soul, and her line “I want you to be good to me as I am to you” is followed by her trademark scream. Interestingly, Clapton recorded this during his tenure with the group Cream.
“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” – uncredited, with the Beatles (1968)
Clapton is not credited for overdubbing the lead guitar part on this track composed by George Harrison, and used in the White Album. When this album was being recorded, the Beatles had just returned from their trip of India, where they studied transcendental meditation. All wasn’t well between the four of them, and Harrison invited his good friend Clapton, who was initially reluctant. The song became a success, and Clapton joined Harrison in its legendary performance at the Concert for Bangladesh in 1971.
“Eyesight To The Blind” – with The Who (1975)
An iconic track originally written by blues great Sonny Boy Williamson II, it was used by The Who under the name “The Hawker” in their 1969 album Tommy. However, Clapton does the lead vocals and guitar parts on the 1975 film version, with The Who’s John Entwistle on bass. Kenney Jones is credited as the drummer. The song features the appearance of a huge Marilyn Monroe statue, and The Who frontman Roger Daltrey plays the character Tommy. A vocal part and cameo appearance by Arthur Brown is a highlight.
“The Calling” – with Santana (1999)
In the 1999 album Supernatural, Santana collaborates with many other musicians, including Rob Thomas on the hit track “Smooth.” On “The Calling,” frontman and ace guitarist Carlos Santana teams up with Clapton on a marvellous piece that runs almost eight minutes. Both the guitar heroes display their individual styles, with Chester Thomson accompanying them on keyboards. A vocal chant acts as the singalong factor, and the Latin percussion gives it vibrancy.
“Key To The Highway” – with BB King (2000)
Clapton had been playing this song for years, and had recorded a nine-plus-minute version on the 1970 Derek And The Dominos album Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs. But in his first collaboration with his hero BB King, he had to play this. A blues standard, it was popularized in separate versions in the early Forties by Charlie Segar and singer Big Bill Broonzy. On this shorter rendition, King and Clapton alternate on lead vocals, with Nathan East playing bass and Steve Gadd on drums.
“Pressure Drop” – with Toots & The Maytals (2004)
In their album True Love, Jamaican ska/ reggae act Toots & The Maytals collaborate with a long line of artistes including Willie Nelson, Keith Richards, Bonnie Raitt and Jeff Beck. They revisit their late 1960s song “Pressure Drop” with Clapton, whose wah-wah playing style is on good display here. In fact, Clapton’s presence gives the song a fresh twist. The group’s frontman Toots Hibbert, one of the leading musicians from Jamaica, passed away last year.
“Don’t Cry Sister” – with JJ Cale (2006)
Clapton had covered Cale’s songs “Cocaine” and “After Midnight” with much success, and always admitted he was influenced by JJ Cale’s Tulsa sound. His dream came true when he finally recorded the album The Road To Escondido with his idol. The album, containing updated versions of Cale songs, also featured guitarists Derek Trucks, John Mayer and Doyle Bramhall II. “Don’t Cry Sister,” originally used in Cale’s 1979 album 5 is given fresh treatment here, and yet it retains the classic lilt of the original.
“Every Time I Sing The Blues” – with Buddy Guy (2008)
Buddy Guy is another legend who has had a deep impact on Clapton’s playing. So when he got an invitation to play on Guy’s album Skin Deep, he was more than thrilled, even though he’d done many live shows with him earlier. The track chosen was “Every Time I Sing The Blues,” written by Tom Hambridge and Gary Nicholson. A highlight is the guitar dialogue by the two, with Reese Wymans on keyboards. The other songs on the album feature guests like Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi and Robert Randolph.
“Still Got The Blues” – with Steve Winwood (2013)
This song was made famous by the great Irish guitarist Gary Moore, who passed away in 2011. As a tribute, Clapton does his own take in his album Old Sock, bringing in veteran musician and former Blind Faith bandmate Steve Winwood on the Hammond B3 organ. Clapton plays acoustic, 12-string and electric guitar, and delivers the vocals in his distinct manner. Interestingly, Moore had teamed up with Clapton’s former Cream colleagues Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker to form the short-lived group BBM. This is a perfect tribute to the maestro.
Besides these songs, Clapton has had many other partnerships. In studio recordings, he has worked with Paul McCartney, Phil Collins, Sting and Zucchero, among others. This is besides numerous live gigs. All this has added to his output as a musician.