Put the Boot In: Eric Clapton and his Band – Glasgow, November 24, 1978-Eric Clapton’s Rolling Hotel

by | May 27, 2024 | 0 comments

Playing in the “rock room” today is a crisp soundboard recording of Eric Clapton and his band on the European leg of his 1978 tour in support of his Backless record. Shuttled around Europe in private Orient Express rail carriages, Clapton brought his friend and idol Muddy Waters and his band along for the trip as his opening act.

It’s well known that Clapton was not in the best condition at the time, as his drinking had ascended to extreme levels. An overview of the existing recordings from the tour finds him sometimes slurring his words and speaking very languidly. Fortunately, his playing is fiery and consistent. The previous leg of the tour he had second guitarist George Terry assisting with guitar duties. For the Fall shows Clapton is back as the only six stringer on stage.

Footage of various performances on the tour is available in the unreleased documentary Eric Clapton and his Rolling Hotel, which covers the shows beginning November 5 in Madrid and running through December 11, 1978 in Camden Lock, London. Taken together with the circulating audience recordings a stellar musical overview over the tour can be created. The documentary was shown at a few film festivals and has since remained in the vaults.

After George Terry left the tour the band became a loose and light four-piece made up of Eric Clapton, Dick Sims (keyboards), Carl Radle (bass), and Jamie Oldaker (drums). Clapton hadn’t been the only on stage guitar since Derek and the Dominos. Being the only guitarist in his group, forced Clapton to stay on his toes. There was also an ample number of blues cuts sprinkled through the sets where Clapton could settle into a comfortable space.

Most nights of the tour feature brisk playing by Clapton and his band. Both Frankfurt and Brussels are excellent concerts with Frankfurt a powerhouse show and Brussels featuring many new songs. Both of the December Hammersmith Odeon audience tapes are also worth jamming.

The soundboard recording spinning in the “rock room,” hails from the Apollo Theatre in Glasgow, Scotland on November 24, 1978. A rock-solid concert in beautiful sonic multitrack quality which was mined for the 1996 Crossroads 2 Live in the Seventies boxset. Four songs, “Tulsa Time,” “Wonderful Tonight,” and Robert Johnson’s “Kindhearted Woman,” and “Crossroads, “can be heard on the official release. (The date on the boxset for “Crossroads” is wrong) Another concert recorded professionally to multitrack from the 28th in Hadley, Staffordshire was also used to complete a hypothetical view of one of the tour’s performances.

The circulating soundboard of Glasgow also features segments of Muddy Water’s opening set in stunning quality. It was quite the evening of rock and blues and hopefully additional jewels with be retrieved for future archival releases. Some nice bits of the Glasgow performance can also be seen in the concert film Eric Clapton and his Rolling Hotel,

Clapton’s set begins with a powerful and spacious reading of “Layla,” sans the famous piano coda, which doesn’t matter because it’s obvious the band has come to play. Clapton immediately hits on the Crybaby and a cascade of syrupy licks. Sims spreads out a shifty base in which Clapton sings with his strings on top of. In Rolling Hotel Clapton can been seen playing his Strat,“Blackie,’” and immediately invests himself into a soaring solo. He adds beautiful flourishes, excitable neck glissandos and loopy string bends to the solo spot.

After “Layla,” satisfies the crowd, Clapton says, “Thank you very much. Good evening, God bless ya,” and really gets down to business. With Waters watching from the wings, E.C. plays the first blues of the evening, “Worried Life Blues.” The towering standard was featured throughout the tour, previously recorded by Sleepy John Estes, Junior Parker, B.B King and of course Muddy Waters.

Clapton’s first solo break screams, balanced on the edge of distortion. The second solo Clapton calls out to Sims who plays some speakeasy style piano. Clapton’s unencumbered rhythm playing is fantastic and funky while Sims does his thing. Clapton’s final solo grates and grinds through the measures before concluding properly in a second pass through the changes.

Clapton references Willie Johnson from the stage, famed Scottish rugby player to the great delight of the crowd. He then dedicates “Tulsa Time,” to the musicians in his band. As previously mentioned, this version is featured on the Crossroads 2 box set and for good reason. Clapton plays with high sustain and the sparks stream off his metallic slide guitar on this killer cut. Again, some stellar footage of this song can be seen in the Rolling Hotel film.

A sneaky version of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Early in the Morning,” (also later recorded by Junior Wells) follows. The song stretches its legs and peaks out from the slats of the shades to the side yard with an extended introduction. Clapton’s vocals come aged in an oak cask, the perfect blend. He stays armed with his slide and slices out a series of slashing licks. Radle and Oldaker lock in perfect sympatico. Clapton reaches into his bag of Delta blues and plays some of the best slide work of his career.

“Badge,” follows next and the band puts a pin on the crowds chest. No big group of backing singers, just Clapton soloing and a wash of Sims organs. The sparseness of the arrangement suits the song well. Clapton clicks the wah-wah and the jam picks up tempo, soon rolling over on itself. A stellar version in a long career full of them.

The newly minted “Wonderful Tonight,” receives a delicate reading. The song sways like a spectral silhouette of a shapely woman behind a lacy curtain. It’s so patient it almost retreats. Clapton plays with a sensitivity that fits the lyrics. One of the best versions ever recorded was immortalized on the Crossroads II boxset. The slowed tempo allows for Clapton and the group to wring all of the emotion out of the song.

A triad of blues songs comes next. Beginning with a rare for the time reading of “Kindhearted Woman,” which is played because of an audience request for “Robert Johnson.” Clapton had started to introduce a song from Backless before responding to the shout at the stage. This song was also featured on the 1996 Crossroads 2 boxset. You can hear Clapton say off mic, “a Robert Johnson shuffle in E,” to the band. Played as a straight stomp, Clapton’s booze weary vocals fit the aesthetic perfectly. He steps into Johnson’s weathered boots and wades into playing the classic licks to perfection.

After “Kind Hearted Woman,”two players from Muddy’s band take the stage, Bob Margolin on guitar, and Jerry Portnoy on harmonica, as well as Ian Stewart, piano player for the Rolling Stones for the slow turn of “Key to the Highway.” The solo spots are a mixture of tasteful licks and considerate playing my multiple connoisseurs of the blues. Clapton steps up for a rattling solo toward the song’s conclusion. A well received rarity.

Bobby Bland’s “Further On Up the Road,” continues the journey into the deep blue of the set. The first solo break features pointed Clapton soloing and a jazzy groove. The second break is a dynamic vamp with the entire band contributing tasteful filagree’s. The song is cruses wide open and has a whistling breeze pouring in the window.

“Cocaine,” follows, while usually played as an encore on other stops, here it is the only non-blues related track in the final numbers. Clapton introduces the song as the final tune of the night. The Fall 1978 versions of “Cocaine,” are serious showstoppers. Clapton hits the “Wah-Wah,” and the jamming keeps ascending. Here, similarly to the entire evening Clapton is patient in his approach. He builds each theme brick by brick increasing the intensity. He hits on some disorienting E string rolling vibrato licks that allow the band to cook underneath the riff. The song then reaches a well earned climax.  One of the best versions I have ever heard.

The show is not even close to done. Otis Rush’s 1959 single “Double Trouble,” comes next and was the centerpiece of the European tour surpassing 10 to 12 minutes every night. Clapton uses it here an encore to stunning effect. Multiple readings of the song are worth a listen including the version from Hanley on November 28, featured on Crossroads 2, and the crushing version from Belgium on the 19th.

This reading is in perfect sonic quality and is of the same standard as the aforementioned versions. Clapton’s first solo is dramatic and dark with him returning to the E string work he used so effectively on “Cocaine.” He leaves space for the keyboard and softens his approach. He breathlessly trills his way into another run through the changes slowly driving the bad luck away.

Clapton’s vocals for verse two are primal. He sings his throat raw, answering each line on his Stratocaster. He begins the second solo and pulls apart the song with screaming sustain. Clapton then investigates the harmonics of his strings Robbie Robertson style. He works some soft plucking around the fret board and then picks up the pace with a couple of flashing speed runs that skitter around the keyboard wash.

Clapton then hits on a chunky rhythm, the crowd responds and the band locks into place. A signal by the drums initiates the drop into a groovy ¾ time signature. Almost “Allman Brothers Band” in its flavor and design, Clapton plays constantly creative rhythm while Sims moves around the keys deftly. The jam stretches out, and while planned out, feels like an improvisation with everyone contributing. Just as it reaches a boil, Clapton signals a crisp drop into the song proper. What an encore!

“If “Double Trouble” wasn’t enough, “Crossroads,” takes it over the top. A fan favorite, and a hard played blues, the band takes it to the bank and cashes out. The song slow rolls in as Clapton picks out the Johnson changes sit down, back porch style. The drums settle into a groove and the song starts to blow out exhaust. The organ grinds with grit and Clapton takes the opportunity to once again put on his slide for some smooth string excursions. He then moves back to his fingers and explores all nuance of the song. He takes classic blues lines and strings them together into a conclusive ending to the show.

An oft forgotten period of “Slowhand’s’ career, the Fall 1978 train tour is full of tight band performances and spotlights Clapton as the only guitar player in his group. This would become a rarity in later years, as in 1979 Albert Lee would have the second guitar chair in Clapton’s band. Thankfully there are several recordings both official and unofficial to delve into documenting the 1978 European Tour. The Glasgow performance is a fine place to start, containing both a proper dose of Clapton classics and of hearty shot of the blues.

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