Cover of the Week 32 Bell Bottom Blues

Bell Bottom Blues has remained one of my favorite songs since childhood. I remember a friend’s father had an electric guitar well before I even started playing. I’m talking around the age of 8, just marveling at this thing. His father could play, sort of, “Layla” along with the sheet music, as if one could actually play guitar along to “Layla” by following the sheet music. I have a permanent image of the music right there on a music stand in the living room of this multi/split-level house.

For me, the Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (a bitterly sarcastic title) LP is Eric Clapton’s peak, the descent after which was precipitous, no gradual decline. His raw energy was evident from the time he burst onto the British 1960s blues scene, playing with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, into the Yardbirds, the Cream, Blind Faith and then Delaney and Bonnie and Friends. But, perhaps completely inspired by the personal turmoil in his life, he hits with this one-off band, the Dominos, with a bunch of American cats left over from Delaney and Bonnie (Bobby Whitlock et. al.), adds one of the greatest guitarists in rock & roll, Duane Allman, as a foil/partner, has the whole thing recorded by the legendary Tom Dowd in Miami and — most importantly — sings his ass off as if this is his last record ever.

I have never heard Clapton sing this well before or since. Almost immediately after this record, he seems to have had some sort of numbing electroshock or partial lobotomy a la One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and starts singing J.J. Cale and Bob Marley songs as if he were Perry Como fronting the Williams Brothers in cardigan sweaters. This is the sort of passion fall-off that instigated punk rock. I mean, here is this guy who displays a steady climb of raw talent and blues soul, with this raw-nerve apotheosis of an album surveying a battlefield of romantic devastation.

Which brings me to the topic, best blue-eyed soul singers ever? We have this discussion in our poker game. It started after I defended Daryl Hall as a great soul singer. One of our more senior players at the table derided “Sara Smile” as “fuckin’ AM crap.” I just thought the whole idea of insulting music as “too AM” was delightfully archaic, like trying to tell a kid he/she is a “broken record.”

The category is blue-eyed (politically correct term to avoid just saying “white”) “soul singers,” as in, traditional soul, not just vaguely “soulful.” For instance, Neil Young is extremely soulful, but he is certainly not a soul singer. Included on my list: Gregg Allman; Jagger; McCartney: Steve Marriott; Rod Stewart; Tom Jones; Van the Man; Richard Manuel; Levoln Helm; Eric Burden; Elvis Costello; Paul Carrack; Charlie Rich; John Fogerty; Bowie….

15 thoughts on “Cover of the Week 32 Bell Bottom Blues”

  1. Right on, sister. When discussing blue eyed soul, one cannot discount the efforts of Stevie Winwood. And Sara Smile is genius. I'll be right over, we'll record it.

  2. Sara Smile and She's Gone are both creative masterpieces on every level; though I would agree that Hall & Oates did irreparable damage to people's general image of them with pretty much everything that came after.

  3. Niiiiice cover, and a tough one to pull off because of all the reasons you cited in your review of Derek & Co.

    Guys like Van the man are a rarity. Pasty soul singers (male and female) from the UK come and go with the seasons BUT Mr. Morrison and Mr. Jones endure.

    How about Elvis during the Sun Studios era?

  4. It really is a great album, though I've never been able to get past the guitar tone sounding SO "Stratty" because of the little amps.

  5. Nice cover. Good feeling to it vocally, and nice acoustic guitar sound as usual. My opinion of the great white soul singers is that they had to have feeling, and the pipes to back up their influences. Not just being a studier of nuance and detail. Paul Rodgers (like) obviously listened to lots of Otis Redding, while Steve Perry (loathe) was a Sam Cooke follower all the way. I would classify Mick Hucknall of Simply Red as being one of the more solid of the B.E.S. candidates (though I dislike his music even more than Journey). A guy not too many people think of is Lowell George – His vocals were always wrapped up in soul, and his gift of a voice was only overshadowed by his guitar playing, songwriting and scary-bearded largeness. Put Boz Scaggs on that list, too.

  6. Bill-totally off topic, but now is the time to do that Naked Raygun cover you have been itchin' to do. Also-they are playing Boston on Sept 9th so go catch them live. I will be hitting the Baltimore show!

  7. Great Bill, but when do we get to talk about politics again? The songs are great. Seriously. But it all seems a little Neroish, no?

  8. Great blue-eyed soul singers: Dan Penn and Jim Ford.
    Probably most known for their songwriting, but man can/could they sing…

  9. great cover.I had a friend who's dad guided us the same way.This was one of the first songs that made me cry.I was in the seventh grade.The first was "Hey you".He showed us everything from Clapton to The Burrito Brothers to Talking Heads.Completely shaped me as a kid.His wife was cousins with Peter Wolf so this post,really made me smile!

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