If an entertainer can stumble upon one hit song, which can be licensed to commercials or performed at county fairs until kingdom come… well, that’s an incredibly lucky entertainer. By this standard, Eric Clapton – who occupies a privileged place as one of the elite members of his musical generation, still packin’ ‘em in decades after his first successes – is one of the luckiest entertainers alive.
But luck has nothing to do with it, according to Mike Daley, who will be paying tribute to “Slowhand” at the Maryhill Commercial Tavern on Sunday.
“Like Neil Young, he’s someone that hasn’t rested on his laurels,” said Daley. “He’s always pushing ahead, trying to find new things, and he follows his own interests and tastes.”
He continued, “A lot of artists are just unto themselves; he lurks outside, and I think that has kept his music fresh. … I think Clapton is one of the biggest music fans – that is, he keeps his ears open. He’s interested in what other people are doing, and he’s interested in going back to the past and mining that for inspiration.”
Songs like ‘Layla,’ ‘Lay Down Sally’ and ‘Cocaine’ are, of course, inescapable to anyone with a radio, but it was listening to Clapton’s early work on electric guitar for the band Cream that really alerted Daley to Clapton’s talent as he was growing up.
“When I was learning to play the guitar, there were so many people who had been influenced by him, at first it was not obvious how great he was because he had been so imitated….” A quick search reveals that guitarists as varied as Lenny Kravitz, Alex Lifeson, Brad Paisley, Eddie Van Halen, and Ted Nugent are all professed Clapton devotees.
“It was just so creative, what he did. He had so many ideas, and he could build a solo that would go on for two or three minutes, but always really went somewhere. He always had a great sense of telling a story with his guitar.”
All of which makes performing his hits a tougher-than-normal challenge, “To play at that level is the hardest thing, because it often involves intangibles,” Daley explained.
“The way that he’ll hit a note – hold it, stretch it, transform it – that’s a very individual thing that he developed over many years. I try to approximate that, but it’s very difficult to nail it exactly. But we find that people are happy with the extent to which we reproduce the sound of his music.”
Daley’s point-of-entry was Clapton’s virtuosity at the guitar, but as he notes, Clapton is “somebody whose career has gone beyond just playing the guitar.”
“He started out mostly as a hotshot guitar player, but then he became a singer-songwriter and everything else. He had the chance when he went solo to really stretch out and be an artist, and he continues to do that today.”
With a career that also spans the Yardbirds, a stint with the legendary John Mayall and Derek and the Dominos, Clapton has compiled an extensive catalogue.
Does Daley have a favourite era of Clapton?
“I like a lot of his recent stuff where he’s gone back to old blues and jazz,” Daley said. I have to say, I really like that these days. “But as far as blazing inspiration, I think the Cream stuff is my favourite.”
Whatever your preference, songs from all eras – including some deep-cuts for devotees – will be performed at Mike Daley’s “Eric Clapton: Living the Blues,” which takes place at the Commercial Tavern (1303 Maryhill Rd.) on July 7 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $15, and can be ordered by calling 519-648-3644.