40 Years Ago: Eric Clapton Releases ’461 Ocean Boulevard’
Perhaps the best way to describe guitar legend Eric Clapton in July of 1974, as he prepared to unveil his watershed solo LP, ’461 Ocean Boulevard,’ was as a “wanted man.”
After laying low for the better part of three years while struggling with substance abuse, by 1974 Clapton was wanted by his fellow musicians, wanted by the countless fans of his prior exploits (the Yardbirds, John Mayall‘s Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith and the short lived Derek & the Dominos) and wanted by the savvy music industry suits, who knew E.C. was a golden goose — sure to fill their coffers regardless of what music he put his name to.
But rather than reemerging as the famed blues purist, or even the psychedelic warrior of old, Clapton’s new work trafficked in mellow. Indeed, beyond the urgently paced opening cut, a re-working of the traditional ‘Motherless Children,’ the ensuing laid-back fare ranged from the hymn-like “Give Me Strength,” to the easy-grooving ‘Willie and the Hand Jive,’ to a slippery slide across Elmore James’ ‘I Can’t Hold Out,’ and an acoustic ‘Please Be with Me,’ before moving out with the renewed vigor of ‘Mainline Florida.’
Sprinkled among these were three key tracks in ‘Get Ready’ (a cowrite and duet with ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ alum Yvonne Elliman), Clapton’s own, earnestly hopeful ‘Let it Grow’ (an emotional reflection of his recent rebirth from the shadows of heroin addiction), and, most striking of all, a relatively straight cover of Bob Marley’s ‘I Shot the Sheriff’ that went to No. 1, pulling the rest of the album right along with it.
Throughout the sessions, Clapton was aided and abetted by bassist Carl Radle (late of the Dominos), drummer Jamie Oldaker, keyboardist Dick Sims, guitarist George Terry, and, perhaps most crucial of all, the dean of record producers, Tom Dowd, who had worked with the guitarist since his Dominos and Cream days, and contributed much to shoring up the guitarist’s confidence.
Together, these players helped E.C. fulfill most of the tall expectations harbored by his previous groups alluded to earlier, once his incomparable talents and this inspired song set were finally captured in the grooves of ’461 Ocean Boulevard.’
Listen to Eric Clapton’s ’461 Ocean Boulevard’