When it comes to musicians’ discographies, it’s no easy feat to find one more extensive than that of Eric Clapton. Proving his lead blues guitar chops as a teenager in the Yardbirds in 1963, he then joined John Mayall and his Bluesbreakers (releasing the now highly revered Beano album) before hitting the big time in the psychedelic-blues power trio Cream in 1966. In his solo career alone, beginning in 1970 with a self-titled album, he has released twenty two studio albums. And then of course let’s not exclude a heap of guest appearances, soundtracks, collaborations and groups that he played in following Cream’s farewell. Let’s just take a second to appreciate what this man has done.
The new compilation album Forever Man is a three disc release featuring 51 tracks from his time with Reprise Records/Warner Brothers (a relationship spanning fifteen studio albums – the first being Money And Cigarettes). The first disc is a broad compilation featuring 18 tracks and each album released under Reprise/WB features except for From The Cradle, Me and Mr. Johnson and Sessions for Robert J. These albums receive some love on the third disc though, which is dedicated to his blues releases.
The second disc is a collection of live recordings in rough chronological order, starting with a couple of Cream tunes. A few famous tracks from the Unplugged album are in the middle, and Clapton’s friend and long-time collaborator, Steve Winwood, lends his powerful vocals to a couple of the tracks, including Blind Faith’s Presence of the Lord.
A ‘Best Of’ compilation of Clapton’s entire career would be too extensive to confine to one standalone release, and of course, such a compilation would certainly include recordings from his Gibson-wielding days in the 60s. But that is not within the scope of Forever Man, which is confined to a more manageable time frame. Picking the best tracks released only under Reprise/WB is hardly less difficult though; everyone listens with their own subjective opinion, so there’s always going to be people who are disappointed with tracks that are chosen and, more particularly, tracks that didn’t make the cut. However, Forever Man covers its bases as best it can, in my opinion.
The first disc doesn’t follow chronological order, or follow any other pattern that I can discern, but its sporadic nature is testament to Clapton’s varied solo career. It’s a great showcase for listeners who haven’t followed EC’s releases down to the T. The blues disc is really enjoyable feature of the album. Me and Mr. Johnson receives the most attention, and this is fitting since Robert Johnson is widely known to be one of Clapton’s most significant influences and inspirations. But I think the live disc is really what deserves the thumbs up. It gives the fanatics something they may not have heard before (although no doubt there will always be a few who have heard every live recording), and just generally lets us appreciate on a more personal level the effortless prowess that the man dubbed ‘Slowhand’ is so well renowned for. We’re treated to hits from Cream, some of the legendary MTV Unplugged recordings and a couple of covers including Over The Rainbow which features some of his most beautiful vocals.
At 3 hours 48 minutes, it’s not the kind of compilation that you’ll listen to in one sitting, although it would make for one hell of a road trip. I think the three distinct discs form a really effective structure that makes for a more manageable ‘Best Of’ album and lets you appreciate just how significant, prolific and influential Eric Clapton’s musical career has been to date.