Eric Clapton's "Unplugged" album was released on August 25, 1992.
It is not clear what exactly went through Eric Clapton's mind when he sat down on the stool on January 16, 1992 at the Bray Studios near Berkshire, England.
One of the greatest and most influential guitarists of all time, that wrote and composed quite a few classics that became masterpieces, a gifted musician who was a part in bands that became legends, from "The Yardbirds" and "The Bluesbreakers" through "Cream", "Blind Faith" and "Derek and the Dominos" to a glorious solo career, a phenomenal guitarist who has won quite a few titles and is ranked in every possible list at the top ten of the best guitarists of all time, the second of the top 100 on Rolling Stone magazine list, who in 1967 was the reason behind the famous graffiti painted on a wall in Islington and which leaves no room for doubt: "Clapton Is God".
So it's really not clear for what this man of many titles needed the adventure of an unplugged show? Why did he have to get into it at this point in his career, especially when he's so identified with the electric guitar?
Just thinking that Clapton, who for over two decades has had a Fender Stratocaster guitar attached to his main artery, should disconnect from any cable, effect or amplifier and play a complete, clean, naked and exposed set, teaches us that Clapton took a big risk here that could cost in the tremendous reputation he has.
But Clapton is the "guitar god" and he just doesn't think like a mortal. He left "The Yardbirds" precisely when it began to be commercially successful and went with his heart and his love for the blues when he joind John Mayall's squad. He swam against the current when after his meteoric success with "Cream" he chose to establish "Blind Faith" where he served as an equal player between equalls, instead of being the leader. He consciously chose to move behind the scenes when he served as a guitarist in the "Plastic Ono Band" and "Delaney and Bonnie and Friends". He later took it a step further, setting up "Derek and the Dominos" because he was tired of being expected for long and virtuoso solos, there he even hid behind a fictitious name. He even started his solo career with an album in which he gave his friends the lead. When everyone expected him to play blues he broke right into reggae with a cover version of Bob Marley and immediately broke left with a country style song "Lay Down Sally".
In short, Clapton does not always align with the logic of the masses and often does the unexpected. And so this time around, Clapton chose to go with his emotions rather than mind and became one of the first leading artists to record an unplugged show as part of the MTV series.
One of the triggers that pushed Clapton to go with his heart, was related to a tragedy that occurred several months earlier. On the morning of March 20, 1991, Clapton's son, Conor, was staying with his mother in an apartment building in New York. Clapton was then at a nearby hotel preparing to go out to pick up his son for lunch and later to visit the Central Park Zoo. Conor fell from the window of the 53rd floor apartment, that was accidentally left open, following cleaning work in the apartment. He was found dead. Two song where written by Clapton at the time and was directly inspired by the death of his son. "Circus Left Town" tells the story of spending time in a circus with Conor on the night before his death. "Tears in Heaven" which is a personal and touching song, which like many ballads, was greatly influenced by the emotional state of its creator. For Clapton, this song was created out of intense pain following the death of his son. In the song Clapton faces the loss of his son, his heartache and longing of a grieving parent. The two songs were not originally intended to be released, but the producer of the film "Rush" that Clapton was suppose to write it's soundtrack, insisted that he include the song in the soundtrack as she convinced him that the song could touch and help many people who experienced the same pain.
It is possible that the "Unplugged" show would not have happened without the tragedy described, for sure it certainly would not have sounded as it is. Clapton has proven that when you go with the heart then nothing can stand in your way. Clapton's "Unplugged" album became his best-selling album, ever. What’s more, it has become the world’s best-selling live album of all time, with sales of over 26 million copies. The album has also won six Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year, Song of the Year and Artist of the Year. "Guitar World" magazine chose the album as the best guitar album of the year, and more and more, this list of titles just does not end.
Clapton's playing on this album proved that no matter, electric or acoustic, he is a guitar wizard, a "master" who is attached to this mighty instrument as if it were another organ in his body.
The album opens up with "Signe" an instrumental piece by Clapton that immediately puts the listener in the mood with the acoustic, smooth and clean sound of his Martin guitar.
Immediately after, Clapton brings us a cover version of Bo Diddley's song "Before You Accuse Me", a blues classic that simply surpasses the original.
This is not the only cover version on the album. Here you will find, among others, "Hey Hey" by Big Bill Broonzy, "Malted Milk" by Robert Johnson, which Clapton admired and even dedicated an entire album to in 2004, "Rollin 'and Tumblin" by Muddy Waters, and more.
But the highlight of the album focuses on two songs that surpass the rest. The first is an immortal version of "Derek and the Dominoes"' "Layla". Clapton simply broke the song and the electric guitar line so identified with it to tiny elements, and rebuilt them, slower, acoustic, more emotional.
The second song "Tears In Heaven" is a tear-breaking song that Clapton wrote in memory of his son Connor, who fell from the 53rd floor of an apartment building in New York when he was just four years old. The song appeared on the soundtrack of the movie "Rush" and was released as a single about a week before the show was recorded.
In conclusion, Clapton proved that the fan who wrote the famous graffiti in 1967 was not wrong. This album managed to inspire a new and fresh spirit in Clapton's career and was the final stamp intended for those who have not yet grasped it. Clapton is indeed a God!