Due to his superb body of work recorded with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and the psychedelic power trio Cream, by the beginning of the 70s Eric Clapton was considered one of the world’s best guitarists. Fans had nicknamed him “God”. Huge acclaim indeed. Clapton’s mix of blues and rock also bought him critical praise (although not immediate album sales) with the short-lived Derek & The Dominos, another hugely talented band which came to a somewhat premature end due to various excesses.
After kicking heroin in 1973, Clapton made a triumphant return the following year with his ‘461 Ocean Boulevard’ album, which shifted the focus away from guitar theatrics and concentrated on more song-based material. The album was lauded by both fans and critics, eventually reaching #1 in the US and #3 in the UK. With this success, the obvious next move for Clapton was to record an album in a similar style. After all, you can’t fix what ain’t broke.
In 1975, Clapton and his band (which by this time featured the addition of the incredibly talented Marcy Levy) decamped to Nassau in The Bahamas. The resulting album, ‘There’s One In Every Crowd’ leans farther towards reggae and calypso music in places; given it’s recording location, it’s almost inevitable the band were going to be influenced by other music around them at this time. The album’s original title was to be ‘The World’s Greatest Guitar Player (There’s One In Every Crowd)’, but this was quickly abandoned due to fears that no-one would get such self-depreciating humour. Humour aside, it just wouldn’t have worked as an album title anyway: listening to this album and its immediate predecessor, you’d be hard pushed to call Clapton the world’s greatest guitar player at all – perhaps a “writer of great tunes with dobro on them and an occasional reggae bent”, but then, that would have been a terrible album title too. As it stands – packaged in a sleeve featuring a photo of a sad-eyed dog – the shortened name works fine, perhaps better than some of the material filling it’s grooves. As always with any Clapton record up to this point, there are a few good moments, but on the whole, ‘There’s One In Every Crowd’ is far from being the great successor to ‘461 Ocean Boulevard’ Clapton and his band were hoping for. Musically, it aims for a similar easy approach for most of its material, but in many places, it lacks the natural flow of the performances which had made ‘461’ so appealing. Maybe Clapton shouldn’t have rushed into making another album so soon: while some of the self-penned tunes are decent, his choice of cover material isn’t anywhere near as inspired this time around. On the plus side (and here, it could be seen as a huge plus) one of his original compositions, ‘Better Make It Through Today’ is potentially better than anything featured on ‘461 Ocean Boulevard’, perhaps even one of the five best tunes to grace a solo Clapton LP.
After an acoustic intro, a take on Willie Johnson’s ‘We’ve Been Told (Jesus Is Coming Soon)’ provides an unlikely opener. While Clapton’s slide paying is obviously of the blues mould, the overall arrangement could scarcely be described as a blues number. There’s a hint of calypso, a hint of trite seventies radio friendliness and a heavy dose of gospel. It’s okay, but not a great opening statement – even though new vocalist Marcy Levy’s adlibs in the closing minute could only ever be described as brilliant. Written by Tulsa songwriter Jim Byfield, ‘Little Rachel’ has an air of JJ Cale about it, though without any of his laidback cool. Some of the rhythm guitars appear somewhat heavy handed (particularly during the intro) and the chorus is completely uninspiring. With a live sound, the rhythm section packs a punch, but given the arrangement – in this case barely extending beyond a predictable plod – they’re given so little to do.
An Elmore James number provided one of the greatest moments of ‘461 Ocean Boulevard’. Here, Clapton reprises his love of the classic bluesman by turning in a solid rendition of ‘The Sky Is Crying’. Featuring a great live in the studio vibe, this is one of the few numbers which saves ‘There’s One In Every Crowd’ from being a turkey. Clapton’s vocals are more impassioned during this number than on most of his recordings from the period and his slide guitar work is effectively subtle. Oldaker’s drum lines have a classy feel and Simms’s piano fills provide a fantastic counterpoint to Clapton’s slide. As far as standard blues played by white musicians is concerned, it rarely gets better than this. Even more superb is the aforementioned and laid back ‘Better Make It Through Today’. A Clapton original, this soulful blues number features EC delivering a fantastically aching vocal – steeped in hurt – backed more than ably by his band. The Hammond organ has a very strong presence throughout; with Clapton’s guitar work only rising up to take a solo midway. The solo itself is short and despite showing far more restraint than anything Clapton played during his Cream days, still contains plenty of fire. Simply put, ‘Better Make It Through Today’ is gorgeous – it’s worth picking up ‘There’s One In Every Crowd’ for this track alone.
Clapton’s reggae influences come right to the fore during ‘Don’t Blame Me’, a number written by Clapton with George Terry as a sequel to ‘I Shot The Sheriff’. Writing your own sequel to a classic track is a little arrogant, but that’s not its biggest failing. Clapton’s vocal delivery is unnatural here – he’s clearly attempting to deliver the lines in a way Bob Marley may have done himself, had he written this. Musically, however, it’s a decent stab at reggae for a bunch of non-reggae musicians: with Jamie Oldaker turning in a top performance (as usual), Carl Radle laying down a solid bass line and Dick Simms’s organ helping to make everything sound suitably dark it has a lot to like. Given that the musicians have shown a more than competent grasp of the genre, their treatment of Mary McCready’s ‘Singin’ The Blues’ – a bona-fide reggae cut – is baffling. Clapton and co would have nailed the track if they’d only approached it in a similar fashion to ‘Don’t Blame Me’… Instead, they quicken the tempo, pull out a few sunshine vibes, overlay a frightening amount of percussion and end up with a middle of the road mess somewhere between calypso and The Allman Brothers Band having a bit of an off day. As it goes, this track ought to have been much better. However, a fuzzy guitar solo from Clapton and backing vocals courtesy of Yvonne Elliman and Marcy Levy manage to save it from complete despair: Levy’s vocals in particular are fabulous, demonstrating her fabulous range with ease. Given her performances here and on ‘We’ve Been Told’, it’s no wonder that Levy was subsequently given a greater role within Clapton’s band of session musicians on future albums. Most of this album’s best moments come with her delivering more prominent performances.
‘Opposites’ does exactly what it says on the tin. Over a simple riff, Clapton reels off a bunch of things that are opposites. As you’d expect, this barely scrapes the barrel of filler material; it really doesn’t sound like a finished idea. While the instrumental break at the end has a good structure, it’s rather unfortunate that this was considered good enough to make the final cut. ‘Pretty Blue Eyes’ is also incredibly lightweight, but at least Clapton bothered writing some lyrics! This number may be a little syrupy and its gentle calypso elements can be cloying, but it’s nicely arranged with Clapton dishing out an acoustic twang against a solid bass part. The chorus sections shift from the calypso to gentle rock, where Clapton adopts a clean, ringing tone on his electric guitar. There’s a half decent idea here that’s just left to flounder against a non-existent chorus and, as such, Clapton’s hard plucked acoustic solo during the close of the track is undeniably the high spot. ‘High’, meanwhile, is quite busy with a promising vocal melody, interspersed with a slide guitar riff that’s overlaid by busy percussion. Again, it lacks a decent chorus, but in its place, there’s a slow atmospheric moment where Simms gets to lay down some organ. Clapton’s electric guitar solo (used to pad out the track at the close) is important in that it very much paves the way for the style of playing he would adopt for the rest of the decade.
A reggae version of the traditional cut ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ rounds the album up to ten songs. While Jamie Oldaker’s drum style is well suited to the arrangement and it presents singer Yvonne Elliman with a moment in the lead vocal spotlight, this is best described as fun…but it’s hardly essential listening. It certainly wasn’t deserving of being this album’s only single release. Such a poor choice of single could have been one of many factors as to why ‘There’s One In Every Crowd’ was only a moderate success, peaking at #21 in the US and #15 in the UK. Without ‘The Sky Is Crying’ and the soulful plea ‘Better Make It Through Today’, ‘There’s One In Every Crowd’ would be best avoided, and yet, these two songs are so strong, they almost carry the disc alone. It’s worth owning for both tracks, certainly – especially since they aren’t always guaranteed pride of place on your average Clapton retrospective.
Following such a mish-mash of an album, Clapton appeared to be more inspired on his next two releases. 1976’s ‘No Reason to Cry’ featured a superb set of songs boosted by guest performances and writing credits from Bob Dylan and The Band. The following year’s ‘Slowhand’ dabbled with country influences and featured three of Clapton’s best loved recordings: his cover of JJ Cale’s ‘Cocaine’, ‘Lay Down Sally’ (co-written with Marcy Levy) and most importantly of all, his second love song to Patti Boyd, ‘Wonderful Tonight’.
Listening to those albums, Clapton appeared to be stronger than ever, but life was far from rosy. His reliance upon alcohol was becoming increasingly evident. During an August 1976 show in Birmingham, he subjected his audience to a now famous torrent of racial abuse; at others he performed laying on the stage, too inebriated to stand. At the worst depths of his alcoholism, by 1978, Clapton was consuming two bottles of brandy a day. Almost a decade into his solo career and a little longer since his lauded Cream days, if Clapton were still considered God, God was in the midst a crisis…