461 Ocean Boulevard
First Appeared in The Music Box, June 2008, Volume 15, #6
Written by John Metzger
Mon June 23, 2008, 06:30 AM CDT
Eric Clapton’s solo career began in a rather subdued fashion. After all, stepping out on his own wasn’t something that he necessarily had planned to do; he just happened to fall into it after his musical cohort Delaney Bramlett coaxed him into recording his self-titled debut in 1970. The outing took many people by surprise. It wasn’t a showcase for Clapton, the guitarist. Instead, it captured the loose-knit, communal atmosphere of Clapton’s temporary home in Los Angeles. Although his eponymous affair unsurprisingly suffered from a lack of focus, it at least succeeded in laying a solid foundation for his future pursuits.
Nevertheless, it took Clapton almost four more years to issue his sophomore set 461 Ocean Boulevard. During that time, Derek and the Dominoes had formed and disbanded, and Clapton had adopted and recovered from a crippling addiction to heroin. Although he was clean, he wasn’t entirely sober as his consumption of alcohol steadily had begun to increase. Still, the kernels of ideas for songs had started to take root in his mind, and to the relief of many, his desire to resume recording came right along with them.
Encouraged by his manager Robert Stigwood, Clapton soon retreated to Miami where he enthusiastically ventured into the studio to work on what became 461 Ocean Boulevard. By now, bass player Carl Radle had become a staple of Clapton’s bands. To complete the core ensemble, which also featured session player George Terry, Radle recruited drummer Jamie Oldaker and keyboard player Dick Sims from the music scene in Tulsa, Oklahoma that had spawned the careers of Leon Russell and J.J. Cale. Initially, many fans greeted 461 Ocean Boulevard with an air of disappointment. In hindsight, however, the collection not only has stood the test of time, but it also ranks among Clapton’s finest studio endeavors.
Clapton had left Cream and Blind Faith behind because he had grown tired of the tension. Consequently, while most artists who embark upon solo careers do so in order to bask in the limelight, Clapton merely wanted to escape from it by slipping into the fabric of a band that wasn’t driven by competition. With 461 Ocean Boulevard, he successfully struck a better balance between his conflicting agendas. Refining the approach that he had taken to recording his self-titled debut, he, once again, swapped the forcefulness of the music he had made with Cream, Blind Faith, and Derek and the Dominoes for subtler, more seductive arrangements. Instead of flashy guitar solos, he offered gentle, easy-going grooves.
Clapton never was a terribly prolific songwriter, and despite his renewed interest in performing, he still managed to contribute only three compositions to 461 Ocean Boulevard. Still, it was clear that his confidence as a solo artist had grown significantly since issuing his debut. Spurred, no doubt, by his fling with backing vocalist Yvonne Elliman, Clapton felt completely comfortable within the playful framework of Get Ready’s sensual, rhythmic chug. Likewise, the pensive, gospel-and-soul-imbued plea of Give Me Strength — with its aching dobro accompaniment — reflected the personal depths into which Clapton had sunk in the preceding years, while Let It Grow exuded the warm, majestic radiance of his recovery and rebirth.
Session man George Terry penned Mainline Florida, the final track on 461 Ocean Boulevard. The rest of the collection, however, was formulated from an array of well-chosen cover songs. Robert Johnson’s Steady Rollin’ Man, Elmore James’ I Can’t Hold Out, and the traditional tune Motherless Children collectively provided Clapton with an opportunity to transform the blues into a laid-back, swinging good time. On the other hand, covers of Johnny Otis’ Willie and the Hand Jive and Bob Marley’s I Shot the Sheriff adopted the sun-kissed island grooves that soon would become far more fashionable, while the lovely Please Be with Me fit squarely within the singer/songwriter movement of the early 1970s.
Considering the chaos that nearly had consumed Clapton’s life, it is somewhat surprising that he was able to turn 461 Ocean Boulevard into such a masterful, if understated outing. Then again, music long has served as the beacon of light that has saved many a soul from the ruins of darkness. It may be a relaxed affair, but it’s just what Clapton needed at the time, and despite its deceptively effortless construction, 461 Ocean Boulevard offers the warm embrace of friendship to those who need it most.
Of Further Interest...
461 Ocean Boulevard is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box