No rock & roll musician has deserved deification more and desired it less than Eric Clapton. The white-blues zealots who scrawled Clapton is god in the London subways during his 1965-66 tenure with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers no doubt thought they were paying the twenty-year-old guitarist their highest compliment. Instead, they sentenced him to a lifetime of fanatic, and at times indiscriminatory, hero worship that only aggravated his own self-critical instincts and often obscured the true nature of his genius.
clarity of technique and improvisatory firepower are the standard by which nearly all electric guitarists, blues or otherwise, have been judged for over twenty years. But the awesome responsibility of being Him, compounded by repeated identity crises, has led Clapton to some strange deviations in judgment and taste. For every period that his creative engine went into glorious overdrive (his stints with the Yardbirds, Cream, Derek and the Dominos), there have been willful retreats into the shadows (his sideman's role with Delaney and Bonnie), bad-idea bands (the stillborn supergroup Blind Faith) or simple acquiescence to current chart dictums (the cozy pop sound of his '86 album August
What better title, then, for this superb seventy-three-track examination (on six LPs or four CDs) of the Clapton oeuvre than Crossroads? Aside from being the title of one of his greatest performances on vinyl (Cream's in-concert roasting of the Robert Johnson classic on Wheels of Fire), it aptly summarizes the mosaic quality of Clapton's recorded legacy the misfires and the master-strokes, the wrong turns and the right stuff. From the minute Clapton plugged in with the Yardbirds a quarter century ago, his career has been nothing but a series of crossroads, emotional and spiritual as well as musical. This deluxe box set, combining the best of his official releases with a feast of rare and previously unissued material, is not only an exhaustive study of rock's most revered guitarist; it is a vivid road map of his soul.
Crossroads starts, quite rightly, with the very first demos cut by the Yardbirds in late 1963. The band sounds young and tentative, and the arrangements are little more than slavish if earnest imitations of the blues masters. There are definite hints of greatness to be, though, particularly in the frenzied "Honey in Your Hips," where Clapton's brittle guitar sound belies the pithy aggression in his fills.
It's not hard to understand why Clapton bolted after the '65 hit "For Your Love"; the song's compact psycho-pop attack left him little room to rage in. Unfortunately, there are no tracks here from Five Live Yardbirds, a live LP recorded in 1964 at London's Marquee Club (still unreleased in its entirety in the U.S., hint hint) and the best document of the band's legendary stage muscle. But the urgent rocker "I Wish You Would" and