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….