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Music Review: J.J. Cale & Eric Clapton: The Road to Escondido

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It was just one of those nights. So much better than expected. In one evening, I got to see Rock God Eric Clapton and his blues father Muddy Waters. That one of the cutest girls in the school (let's call her "Doris" because, well…that was her name) went with me just added to the sum of surreal. That we rode to the concert with our French teacher—and ended up passing around the wineskin and other happy substances—OK, that was just plain weird. Hey, it was the 70's, you know?

Clapton was touring on the Backless album but of course, Slowhand was the record. Everybody owned that album. Everybody tweaked the volume dial on the radio when "Cocaine" or "Lay Down Sally" came on.

Backless was, to use a description that I've always hated, a laid back collection of songs. "Tulsa Time" rocked in a bluesy sort of way, but then there were tunes like "Promises." Maybe, at that point in my young life, a song like that was a little too subtle to be appreciated. Yessir, I was more attuned to the big flavors of life: the scary, redheaded Doris, heavy metal, Lester Bangs. This would explain my reaction to Muddy Waters that night— he was the real thing. Uncut, rough, and far more passionate than Clapton seemed to be.

While my love of Muddy Waters never faded, I did open up to some of the finer things in the musical world. J.J. Cale and Eric Clapton's The Road to Escondido, much like Backless, is the kind of record I would not have "gotten" in my teens. Too many subtle flavors, textures, and styles to wade through. This record finds Cale and Clapton "reuniting for the first time" (Cale authored "After Midnight" and "Cocaine") to produce the kind of album that the solo Clapton never seems to manage.

With the majority of tunes written by Cale, The Road to Escondido leverages the guitars of Cale & Clapton and a large cast of guest musicians (Guitars alone: Doyle Bramhall II, Derek Trucks, John Mayer, Albert Lee) to visit with many aspects of the blues. There's the sprightly bounce of "Missing Person," the quick shuffle of "When This War Is Over," (recalling Skynyrd's "T For Texas"), the two-steppin' "Dead End Road," and the finger-picking "Three Little Girls." And what would a Clapton-related album be without a little reggae twist on the blues? "Don't Cry Sister" fills that slot.

Oh, straight ahead blues? Sure thing. "Sporting Life Blues" is a fine take on the Brownie McGhee song and "It's Easy" adds the requisite bag of sleaze. For late-night-at-the-bar there's "Last Will And Testament," and a very sultry "Hard To Thrill" (shhh….co-written with John Mayer). This stuff made me want to plug in my guitar and make a little noise.

The Road to Escondido sounds like two old friends getting together to celebrate their shared musical roots. It's full of the history of the blues as well as the history of these two men. I guess when you're seventeen, it's impossible to have any perspective on this sort of thing. Still, to this day it makes me feel good that my young self recognized the blues singularity that was Muddy Waters. Later on, my roots grew and the proper connections were made.

Hmmm…I wonder what ever became of Doris?

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About Mark Saleski

  • Funny, you don’t look that old; I was only in the 8th of 9th grade when I picked up Backless upon release. I didn’t get it back then, either. A few years ago I heard Kenny Neal’s rendition of “Walk Out In The Rain” and now, I get it. If Road To Escondido is like that album, then it should be a nice one.

  • Mark Saleski

    gee, thanks. 😉

  • Bob

    I remember my senior year back in ’79 hanging with the gang and cruising in my ’69 firebird with slowhand in the cassette deck. That was when I really got into Clapton. I never knew much of him from the supergroup (Cream, Derek & the Dominos ETC…) years until that album came out. Then I was all about studying this guy. I went out and bought a black Strat even. I happened to like Backless even then, at 18 years old. I just know that I LOVE this artist and every note he has squeezed from his beloved fenders. I can’t wait to get my hands on this new material. When it comes to writing hooky songs that can be appreciated by those of a very wide age range it is J.J. Cale. If you want to see the two of them trade a few live licks then pick up the Crossroads Guitar Festival disc. As a side note Fender is putting out 200 some odd replcas of Erics famous “Blackie” Strat. You can see it on the cover of both the Slowhand and Backless almum covers.

  • Claptonite

    Ok, I’ll admit it – I’d buy a CD of EC tuning a guitar. But even if you’re not a fellow Claptonite, if you like unaffected guitar playing (and singing) this album is worth a listen.

    You might also enjoy this not-so-ordinary review of the album.

  • Mark Saleski

    that’s a cool review.

    i didn’t say this, but for some reason, this record reminds me of a bunch of different Ry Cooder things.

  • Congratulations! This article was chosen this week as an Editor’s Pick.