RICHARD HASLOP: Crucial CD Collection
DISPLAYING a degree of musical insight that was largely lacking since, Eric Clapton apparently said, on first hearing The Band, this was the group he really wanted to play with.
Unfortunately the guitarist's job was already taken, by the guy who wrote the songs. So the artist quite recently known as God, as he figured out a way to get all this blues stuff coursing through his fingers under control, continued up what was looking increasingly like a self-indulgent blind alley.
Trading in Cream for Blind Faith didn't help, except that it was a Blind Faith tour that introduced him to a support band recommended by George Harrison that he found he much preferred to his own, and with whom he started to sit in on stage.
American blue-eyed soul couple Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett - he a gruff country boy from Mississippi, she the first white member of Ike & Tina Turner's wailing Ikettes - were in the throes of their second album, Accept No Substitute, when Clapton called.
Soon Blind Faith was no more and Clapton was, albeit briefly, a fully paid-up member of Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, on a good night one of the most searingly soulful aggregations rock had ever heard.
Replacing drummer Jim Keltner with then even more renowned sessioneer, future matricide Jim Gordon, and adding a trio of rather famous English guitarists in Clapton, Harrison and Traffic's Dave Mason, the gang set out on a week-long English tour in early December 1969 that culminated in two performances at Fairfield Hall, Croydon.
The resulting live album was released a few months later with Bob Dylan's booted feet, photographed in 1966, sticking out of the window of his manager Albert Grossman's car on the cover. Helpfully titled Delaney & Bonnie & Friends on Tour with Eric Clapton they tore, to borrow a term from the lexicon of parliamentary funk, the roof off the sucker. They probably peeled the paint from the walls as well, and pinned the audience to the back of its seats to boot.
This is one of rock's great live records. Delaney & Bonnie's studio releases have moments of high quality and even brilliance, with the loose and laid back acoustic Motel Shot - where the Friends include Duane Allman, Joe Cocker, John Hartford, Clarence White and Gram Parsons - arguably the pick, but the sheer unrestrained energy generated by On Tour simply buries them.
It's no surprise, on this evidence, that Bonnie, who is orientated to soul rather than blues, was once considered a threat to Janis Joplin's crown, while Delaney's gritty down home drawl is a superb harmonic foil.
The band, with Jim Price and Bobby Keys blasting away on horns, is astonishing, the distinguished guitarists assuming the roles of hired hands, give or take a lick here or a biting fill over there, as if born to them. Although his name doesn't appear on the original sleeve, it seems that Harrison, who did part of the tour, was on stage at Croydon, in his L'Angelo Misterioso disguise. It's a measure of the musical democracy at work that it's not obvious.
This particular version of Delaney & Bonnie & Friends couldn't last, of course. By the end of the year there was a new Delaney & Bonnie record out, along with solo albums by Clapton, Mason and Harrison that all featured the couple, or their band, or both. Clapton had taken the core Friends, turned them into Derek & the Dominos and released Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs, a career peak that he never again attained as he gradually shook off the trappings of deity and turned into the patron saint of tastefully pleasant, well-meaning musical tepidity.
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