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Author chronicles second half of Eric Clapton's prolific career

Eric Clapton Day by Day: The Later Years by Marc Roberty

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Author Marc Roberty already has several books on Eric Clapton to his credit, including The Eric Clapton Visual Documentary, Slow Hand: The Life and Music of Eric Clapton, The Complete Recording Sessons: 1963-1995, and The Eric Clapton Scrapbook.

Author Marc Roberty documents Clapton's studio work and stage shows over last three decades.
Backbeat
Author chronicles latter half of Clapton's illustrious career.
Backbeat

But Eric Clapton: Day by Day is Roberty’s piece de resistance, a masterwork whose two volumes collect the best bits from his prior works on the three-time Rock and Roll Hall of Famer.

You might say Roberty is the consummate Clapton curator.

Now in his fiftieth year of playing guitar for a living, Clapton redefined the instrument’s role in popular music, inspiring a legion of others to make their own Fenders and Gibsons gently weep. He played in The Yardbirds and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, then jammed with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker in Cream, refitting electric-based rock and roll music with the Mississippi soul of Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, and Muddy Waters.

And that all happened before the ‘70s even started.

Not until Roberty’s excellent Eric Clapton: Day by Day – The Early Years (1963-1982) had so much information been so effectively distilled into a single book. Yet the E.C. scholar outdoes himself with Day by Day – The Later Years (1983-2013), squeezing major events and minutiae of the second half of the guitarist’s prolific career into one hardbound timeline. At a whopping 350 pages, Volume 2 covers even more ground than its predecessor (three decades versus two), cramming the details of every record and concert appearance into a visually-engaging scrapbook that looks snazzy on shelves (especially alongside its partner) and coffee tables and rests comfortably in the lap.

Some Clapton connoisseurs—Roberty included—will argue the guitarist did his best, most innovative (and bluesiest) work in the ‘60s and ‘70s. But the string-bender enjoyed countless career highs in the ‘80s and beyond, mixing his signature mojo with the era’s pop stylings to notch numerous chart hits and even more acclaimed multiplatinum albums. Newfound sobriety meant Eric had both the stamina needed for marathon touring and focus required for endless studio sessions. Clapton gave more of his time and talent between 1983-2012 than ever before—be it soloing as a special guest on friends’ records, appearing at one-off tribute concerts and benefits, or hosting his own annual Crossroads guitar summit to raise funding for his substance abuse treatment center.

Day by Day: The Later Years documents all the Grammy-winning rocker’s live performances, audits his recording sessions, profiles his band mates and collaborators, and offers selected reviews and critique. Images (color and black and white) include live shots and publicity adverts, reproductions of old flyers and ticket stubs, mimeos of studio logs, and sidebars quoting notable performances.

Attend a Clapton show anywhere between 1983 and 2012? Chances are good Roberty accounts for it here. My first Slowhand gig was April 23, 1987 at Richfield Coliseum in Ohio. According to Roberty’s notes, E.C.’s band on this night (and for most of the August Tour) featured Phil Collins on drums, Nathan East on bass, and Greg Phillinganes on keyboards (The Robert Cray Band opened). I remember the lineup because it was a terrific show, but I don’t recall every song played. Roberty has it covered with the rest of ‘em: “Crossroads,” “White Room,” “I Shot the Sheriff,” etc. It’s all here.

We’re taken step-by-step through the writing, recording, and tour phases for albums like Behind the Sun, August, Journeyman, From the Cradle, Pilgrim, and Reptile—all the way through 2013’s Old Sock. We’re introduced to everyone in all Clapton’s capable backing bands—from bassists (Donald “Duck” Dunn, Nathan East, Pino Palladino, Willie Weeks), guitarists (Albert Lee, Alan Darby, Doyle Bramhall II), and drummers (Roger Hawkins, Steve Ferrone, Phil Collins, Levon Helm, Andy Newmark), to his background singers and horn sections.

The book provides synopses for every memorial concert and charity event graced by Clapton’s slick licks—the Live Aid show in Philadelphia 1985, Nelson Mandela’s 70th Birthday Concert, the J.T. Martell Foundation Benefit, the Ian Stewart Memorial Concert, The Concert for George (Harrison) in 2002, The Carl Wilson Foundation show, The Concert for New York City in 2001, the Concert for Victims of Hurricane Sandy 2012, and a handful of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame fundraisers. We’re also given a rundown of who shared stages with Eric at his yearly Crossroads concerts (Buddy Guy, Vince, Gill, Z.Z. Top, Allman Bros., etc.). All the big gigs on massive stages (Wembley, Knebworth) and in legendary theatres (Royal Albert Hall, The Beacon, etc.) are encapsulated. Clapton’s chronicles even take us from Buckingham Palace to the White House.

The hundreds of set lists give fans an idea how Clapton’s shows evolved from one tour to the next, as some tunes are dropped to accommodate fresh material (“Forever Man,” “Tearing Us Apart,” “Pretending”) or forgotten favorites (“Badge,” “White Room,” “Tulsa Time”). We’re also privy to Eric’s 2005 reunion shows with Cream in London and New York, his mini-tours with Steve Winwood (2009-2011), his “boring” stint as sideman with Roger Waters, his team-ups with fellow Yardbirds Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, and jams with fellow luminaries Buddy Guy, Chuck Berry, B.B. King, and Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits).

Maybe you knew Clapton played on records by Sting and Phil Collins—but now you’ll know where and when tracks like “They Dance Alone” and “I Wish It Would Rain” were committed to tape. The book has dates for all Eric’s sessions and guest spots at Olympic Studios (London), Sunset Sound and Ocean Way Studios (Los Angeles), and The Power Station (NYC).

We join Eric at several televised Grammy Awards shows, a couple Saturday Night Live episodes, some Jules Holland programs on BBC, Late Night with David Letterman on NBC (and CBS), a VH-1 Duets episode with Dr. John, and at his historic January 16, 1992 “Unplugged” session for MTV on Soundstage 1 in Windsor, Berkshire—whose subsequent recording thrust E.C. back into the spotlight and kick-started the acoustic revolution of the ‘90s. We peek behind-the-scenes at the creation of stripped-down versions of “Malted Milk,” “Before You Accuse Me,” and “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” alongside the plaintive “Tears in Heaven” and refurbished “Layla,” and learn which tracks needed do-overs—and which ones didn’t make the CD’s original pressing.

And hey, who knew E.C. played so many “secret” New Year’s Eve shows in makeshift groups under such silly (but not inaccurate) monikers as The Character Defects, The Resentments, Men Without Legs, Trusted Servants, and Grave Emotional and Mental Disorders? Or remembers that he jammed with Luciano Pavarotti in Italy? Or recalls that several of his “24 Nights” shows in 1990-91 featured a full orchestra?

There’s also a chronology of Clapton’s many contributions to movie soundtracks—from blockbusters like Back to the Future, The Color of Money, Lethal Weapon, License to Kill, and Phenomenon to overlooked (or indie) films like Rush, The Van, and the Story of Us. We get the low-down on his residencies at Royal Albert Hall, his semiannual appearances at the Prince’s Trust Concert, and studio hours logged working his magic on albums by Tina Turner, Jimmie Vaughan, Cyndi Lauper, Sheryl Crow, Roger Waters, Carole King, and Ray Charles. Roberty also touches on collaborations with composer Michael Kamen and R&B crooner Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds.

It’s all documented, year-by-year, each note from every incarnation of every song on wax and on stages all around the globe. You may not learn what kind of plectrums Eric used (if any) on certain tunes, but you’ll discover what instruments (axes and amplifiers) he favored during which eras, and which gear popped up on what recordings.

It’s the Chronicles of Clapton, Canticle of Cream, and Diary of Derek bound into one hefty, high-gloss volume—a veritable Layla Lap Reader for E.C. diehards, guitar enthusiasts, and classic rock aficionados alike.

One needn’t know much about the English guitar god going in to appreciate the wealth of material on display. And that’s precisely the point; Roberty compiles so many factoids that it only becomes a matter of time—and a couple turns of the page—before even a self-professed know-it-all picks up something new among the meticulously-gathered minutiae. College music professors could teach a fascinating course on Clapton with Roberty’s titanic textbook.

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