Eric Clapton – Bell Bottom Blues – Unplugged
Eric Clapton – Bell Bottom Blues
Picking up where he left off with “Presence of the Lord,” his one songwriting contribution to the short-lived supergroup Blind Faith, Eric Clapton appropriates the title of a jaunty old Teresa Brewer show tune and delivers the fiery passion of “Bell Bottom Blues.” Rarely has Clapton reached the heights on his recordings that he hit with his guitar playing, songwriting, and most impressively, his heart-wrenching vocal performance on the song, from the album Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs (1970). Like “Presence of the Lord,” “Bell Bottom Blues” follows a descending soul-music chord progression for its verses. Unhappy with the way Blind Faith turned out, Clapton co-opted the ace sidemen from Delaney and Bonnie, the band who opened for Blind Faith’s tour, and assembled a group for his new project, Derek & the Dominos. The resulting album seemed to reflect what was in his heart more closely than anything he had done before or after, until his heartbreaking elegy for his son, “Tears in Heaven.” Caught in a quagmire of substance abuse and a frustrating unrequited love triangle with his best friend, George Harrison’s wife, Clapton turns in some of the best performances of his long career on the album. All one has to do to hear the level of romantic frustration Clapton must have been feeling is listen to “Bell Bottom Blues”‘ pre-chorus and chorus lines of, “Do you want to see me crawl across the floor to you/Do you want to hear me beg you to take me back/I’d gladly to it because I don’t want to fade away.” Clapton reaches in deep and lets out a full-throated, desperate, and soulful roar for these lines, juxtaposed with a mournful, world-weary longing on the verses: “Bell bottom blues/You made me cry/I don’t want to lose this feeling/If I could chose a place to die/It would be in your arms.” One can only speculate why Clapton seemingly abandoned the soulful approach he employed on such songs. Perhaps in order to find it once, he had to go to a place of personal anguish too painful to return to again. If there was any doubt that the passion was fleeting, take a listen to the listless performance of the song on 1991’s 24 Nights, in which Clapton sleepwalks through the song, allowing backup singers to take over the chorus and awash in John Tesh-like orchestration by Michael Kamen and the National Philharmonic Orchestra. It must be one of the most egregious instances of an artist undoing his own legacy. Clapton seems spurred on by the performances of his mates, including the blistering guitar work of Duane Allman, who plays on much of the album, though not on “Bell Bottom Blues.” It is as if Clapton is going for the same level of soul that Allman’s brother, Gregg, has been known for. Bobby Whitlock provides the gospel sound of the Hammond organ and some wrenching vocal harmonies. Carl Radle plays the bass and additional percussion, while Jim Gordon plays the drums. Clapton layers the track with guitars, including two interwoven lead parts and a bluesy solo, with a famous sustaining note. But it his vocal performance that is remarkable; not only one of his personal best, but one of the finest in rock & roll.