Thursday, June 27, 2013

Eric Clapton & the Yardbitrds

This 2 CD set includes two Yardbirds albums with Eric Clapton - Good Morning Little Schoolgirl and I'm a Man. These are some of their earliest recordings and show them at their bluesy/r'n'b/rootsy best. Eric's tone had yet to evolve into the heavier sound he made famous in the Bluesbreakers & Cream and the sound here is as authentic as any of the British bands ever created!

Sonny Boy Williamson's "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" is, along with Billy Boy Arnold's "I Wish You Would", the first two songs the band recorded - both included here - and while sounding a bit more innocent than the blues originals, these are solid takes on the tunes. Eric gets to show off his already formidable skills on "New York City Blues", and Keith Relf shows that he could blow a mean harp, as well.

As with all groups at the time, they had to record some covers and they manage to turn "My Girl Sloopy" ("Hang on Sloopy") into a bit of an r'n'b work out, though it is still, comparatively, a throw-away, even with their Beatles-esque "Twist & Shout" breaks and rave-ups.  Funnily, a highlight is the live, uncredited appearances of Sonny Boy Williamson on his "23 Hours Too Long" and "Mr. Downshild" - they backed him up at times during his first tour of England. There's also a brief, "Tequila"-like instrumental called "Slow Walk" that I'm unfamiliar with but is credited to "Williamson" so that might also be from that set. "A Certain Girl" is a oft-covered fun tune with the "what's her name/ I can't tell ya" call and answer bit.

Breaking out the slide, wah-wah and some more raves-ups in "I Ain't Done Wrong" and the inclusion of "Jeff's Blues" and their hits "Heart Full of Soul" and "Mister, You're a Better Man Than I" made me realize that this compilation isn't just Eric Clapton with the Yardbirds, but some cuts with Jeff Beck, as well. Guess they decided to re-issue the entire record as it was originally released (I assume), even though the CD set is hyping Clapton's playing with the outfit. Odd, but still great stuff, of course!

The jumpin' "Honey in Your Hips" is a fantastic r'n'b mover & shaker, as is "Pretty Girl", which leads into a powerful live version of "Smokestack Lightning". These, I believe, are all Clapton, but there is definitely some jumping back & forth between the two guitarists on these tracks.

The "I'm a Man" album starts out with the title song, their most famous rave-up number and, frankly, I'm not certain who is on guitar here since Beck played on many live versions of this, but I think this is Clapton, as it appears to be on most of this CD. "Five Long Years" is a smoldering, slow blues followed by a live take on Slim Harpo's "Got Love If You Want It" then another Sonny Boy Williamson collaboration, "Highway 69".

The definitive white boy version of "I Ain't Got You" is certainly the Yardbirds' - this is damn raw and a real stomper and the guitar is fierce and biting - stellar! The 'birds rivaled the Stones at super-sonic versions of Chuck Berry tunes and "Let it Rock" really does rock! White boy frantic-ness, no doubt fueled by the Mods predilection for uppers!

It's funny how the numbers with Sonny Boy are interspersed within the other songs on these two CDs and not all put together, but they're always a pleasant surprise! "Take It Easy Baby" seems almost like an answer to the mania of "Let it Rock" and shows that they boys could really control their dynamics. They continue with Williamson on "My Little Cabin" - all of his songs highlight his terrific harp playing, which is a real treat. They return to Berry covers with a swinging "Talkin' About You" and then give us an original instrumental, "Pounds and Stomps" before groovin' on the previously mentioned "I Wish You Would".

"Paff...Bum" is pure pop fluff, other than a stinging, all-too-brief guitar solo and "Like Jimmy Reed Again" is simply a blues jam that meanders a bit. The whole shee-bang closes with another Sonny Boy-led song, "Out on the Water Coast", so it ends on a strong note, even though, ironically, the song ends prematurely and Sonny Boy has to bring the boys back to finish properly!

Cool collection of overall excellent Yardbirds' work, even if the title is somewhat misleading. Unfortunately, the liner notes are miniscule and don't really give any information on the proceedings here. Regardless, this is well worth it!