TIME FOR A CHANGE | ERIC CLAPTON, THE BAND, AND MUSIC FROM BIG PINK

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“Clapton is God.”

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From the desk of Contributing Editor, Eli M. Getson–

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Have you ever thought you had it all?  Once-in-a-lifetime talent, looks, fame, adoring fans, beautiful women on your arms, private jets and chauffered cars at your beck and call.  People hang on your every word, and yet, you have that nagging feeling something is not right.  Is this it?  Who am I?  What purpose does my life have?

Then one day it hits you– hammers you actually.  You get total clarity and begin to change everything you’ve known and held sacred.   So it was when Eric Clapton heard The Bands Music from Big Pink.  It was like all of a sudden he heard this record and said to himself, “Now this is what music should sound like.” For me personally– this has always been one of the most interesting moments in rock music history.

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1968, NY– Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce of Cream. –Image by © Michael Ochs Archives/Corbis

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Back in 1968, Clapton was leading Cream, playing to sold-out arenas, enjoying massive commercial success, and can sample all of the earthly pleasures that are thrown the way of a guitar god. Then he hears this album, by Dylan’s back up band no less, and decides Cream is done, and that the music he’s been playing is self indulgent crap.  In a way it makes sense.  By ’68 Clapton and Cream were so big, they could just show up and people would go crazy.  It was probably becoming a little too easy to “mail it in” on any given night.   Also, don’t under-estimate the power of ego– it always rears its ugly head. Clapton’s bandmates Jack Bruce (bass) and Ginger Baker (drums) were both virtuosos in their own right, and the competition to “out solo” each other at live shows probably got stale as well.  Ultimately all this, and the loss of comeradery and togetherness, took its toll.  Imagine taking a plane across the pond, then separate limos to different hotels, with each band member having totally different entourages to boot.  It would soon spell the end for of one of rock ‘n rolls most spectacular trios ever.

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Robert Whitaker, Eric Clapton, 1967, © Collection Robert Whitaker.

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Ultimately, I speculate here, by ’68 Clapton may have felt he had scaled the heights as a guitarist– there was him and Jimi Hendrix and everyone else– and in his private moments he may have sat wondering what to do next.  Like many of us he was looking for something to inspire him, to make him work at it. So when he put Music from Big Pink on his record player he listened once and was mesemerized, he listened a second time and may have been slightly confused (the vibe of the album makes it sounds like in could have been made in 1868), he listened a third time and began to feel that spark that every artist feels when they have a creative rush– and by the fourth listen Cream was done.

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It is not really suprising, the music The Band was making emphasized song writing versus individual virtuosity– it certainly didn’t hurt that Bob Dylan wrote three of the songs on Big Pink. The vibe of it sounded down home, casual– the polar opposite of the music Clapton was making with Cream.  Music from Big Pink effectively ended Cream, but for Eric Clapton it proved such an inspiration that he went on an eight year odyssey to find himself and ultimtely recorded No Reason to Cry in 1976, in Malibu with Ronnie Wood, Billy Preston, Dylan, and finally The Band. The duet with Dylan, Sign Language, is quite moving. While this album was not critically loved, Clapton cites it has one of his favorites.  The sessions feel easy, laid back– just what you want when you’re doing what you love and working with friends.

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1969– The Band at Richard & Garth’s house above the Ashokan resevoir, Woodstock. — Image by © Elliott Landy/Corbis

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1968– David Crosby and legendary British blues guitarist Eric Clapton.  — Image by © Henry Diltz/CORBIS

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1969– The Band — Image by © Elliott Landy/Corbis

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1968– (Left) Eric Clapton Carrying Guitar Case –Above images by © Henry Diltz/CORBIS

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1968– David Crosby, Joni Mitchell, and Eric Clapton, while Mickey Dolenz films the musicians’ get together. — Image by © Henry Diltz/CORBIS

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1968– David Crosby relaxes with legendary guitarist Eric Clapton. — Image by © Henry Diltz/CORBIS

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Eric Clapton with Acoustic Guitar — Image by © Neal Preston/CORBIS

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1977, San Francisco– Rick Danko and Ronnie Hawkins perform with The Band during their Last Waltz performance at the Winterland nightclub in San Francisco. — Image by © Neal Preston/CORBIS

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1978– Eric Clapton Playing Electric Guitar — Image by © Neal Preston/CORBIS

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1970s– Eric Clapton Playing Electric Guitar — Image by © Neal Preston/CORBISS

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1971– George Harrison and Eric Clapton performing at the Concert for Bangladesh at Madison Square Garden. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

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1967– Eric Clapton at London Airport — Image by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS

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1967, L.A.– Eric Clapton of Cream at The Whisky a Go Go. — Image by © Michael Ochs Archives/Corbis

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April 1967, New York– Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun, Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, producer Felix Pappalardi. — Image by © Michael Ochs Archives/Corbis

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1967, New York– B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Elvin Bishop. — Image by © Michael Ochs Archives/Corbis

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1965– John Mayall, Hughie Flint, Eric Clapton and John McVie — Image by © Michael Ochs

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1969– Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm Rehearsing — Image by © Elliott Landy/Corbis

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1969– The Band — Image by © Elliott Landy/Corbis

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1969, Woodstock, NY– The Band — Image by © Elliott Landy/Corbis

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1968– The Band — Image by © Elliott Landy/Corbis

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Woodstock, NY– The Band — Image by © Elliott Landy/Corbis

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George Harrison also heard “Music From Big Pink” and was profoundly moved– and the demise of the Beatles was not too many years later. People have to remember that ‘68 was an incredibly charged year worldwide by any standard– RFK, MLK, The Prague Spring, The Democratic Convention in Chicago, The Election of Nixon, student protests all over the globe. To a lot of young people the revolution was near, and I think a lot of the music made that year reflected the tumult and rage in the broader society. That is what makes “Music From Big Pink” and The Band’s next self titled album that much more unique. As I cited in the piece “Big Pink” sounded like it could have been made in 1868– the music was hard to place, and maybe reflects the pure joy of making music and the relative isolation of Upstate New York from where it was all going down. I believe this environment, allowed Dylan and The Band to just focus on their craft, and write and record some music that remains some of my favorite stuff. Whenever I hear “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” I almost think it was actually sung by the Confederate Army during the Civil War.

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Eli M. Getson

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45 thoughts on “TIME FOR A CHANGE | ERIC CLAPTON, THE BAND, AND MUSIC FROM BIG PINK

  1. Great piece, Eli! I can’t say I know much about Clapton, but this is some great history. And these photos make me want to take up guitar again, lounge on the grass, and make some magic.

  2. Actually I painted the “Clapton Is God” thing, but I was high and there was a spelling mistake. It was supposed to say “Clapton Is Good”.

  3. Excellent post, I’m sure someday Clapton will be the subject of a biopic. The photo’s by Henry Diltz were taken at Laurel Canyon in LA, and I think either at the home of Mickey Dolenz or David Crosby.

    • Mama Cass’s house I believe. Thats where the magic was happenin around those parts. Such a time.

  4. Again I am reminded of the nostalgic miracle like persuasion the selvege yard displays with every short note I receive in my mail box. The Band and Dylan. Talk about encompassing an entire generation and then letting it bleed into the next. There is your trickle down effect working spectacularly. And brent who wrote before me lamenting. Dude if you appreciate this music and this site. You have already captured your wish… run with it.

  5. I love it! This place always hits the nail on the head.

    Apparently Clapton was so smitten by The Band’s record that he made a pilgrimage to Big Pink in ’68 with the idea of joining the group. He got there, met with them and Dylan, saw they were doing things on a different level and didn’t pursue it. George Harrison stayed at the house too around the same time: apparently the atmosphere there added to his frustration with the Beatles’ Let It Be sessions (where a few Band songs were allegedly jammed to… ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ was supposed to be like a Robbie Robertson song).

    • Both points are in fact true-George Harrison also heard Music From Big Pink and was profoundly moved and the demise of the Beatles was not too many years later. People have to remember that ’68 was an incredibly charged year worldwide by any standard-RFK, MLK, The Prague Spring, The Democratic Convention in Chicago, The Election of Nixon, student protests all over the globe. To a lot of young people the revolution was near and I think a lot of the music made that year reflected the tumult and rage in the broader society. That is what makes Music From Big Pink and The Band’s next self titled album that much more unique. As I cited in the piece Big Pink sounded like it could have been made in 1868, the music was hard to place and maybe reflects the pure joy of making music and the relative isolation of Upstate New York from where it was all going down. I believe this environment, allowed Dylan and The Band to just focus on their craft and write and record some music that remains some of my favarite stuff. Whenever I hear “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” I almost think it was actually sung by the Confederate Army during the Civil War. The sense of texture, theme, and place is amazing. Thanks for reading-E

  6. Shame you don’t mention the period when Clapton came out in support of Enoch Powell & the rivers of blood speech. His exact words were;

    “I think Enoch’s right … we should send them all back. Throw the wogs out! Keep Britain white!”

    Clapton’s racist outburst was the main event that led to the foundation of “Rock against racism” & he still supports those comments & has refused to apologise for them or Enoch Powell.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Clapton#Controversy_over_remarks_on_immigration

    • Why should he–or anyone–apologize or retract statements that they still agree with? Since Clapton has done neither, it’s safe to assume that he still thinks that.

      His remarks were unnecessarily vulgar and demeaning; the use of denigrating epithets is not part of acceptable discourse. But the content is his opinion, and while we are all free to disagree, do we really want a world where everyone thinks the same?

      By the way, Enoch Powell’s speech was popular with the people at the time. What’s more, he was right, only the rivers of blood now flowing are those of the British people at the hands of the Third World criminals they have imported en masse.

      (I do not believe that the majority of immigrants to Britain are criminals, but a significant number are, and thousands of Britons have been killed by immigrants or their descendants, Britons who would otherwise be alive were it not for the insane immigration policies of recent years.)

  7. Nice story Eli. The Band is my favorite. Funny while both Cream and The Band explore a certain looseness or freedome in their music, as Eli points out, the Cream does its as individual virtuosos while The Band’s disjointedness adds an uncanny togetherness to their music. The Band is like an old Harley where the bolts are vibrating loose, but you can’t stop riding with the wind blowing in your hair. Their casualness and lack of pretention make the integrity of their craft even more noble. God bless Ronnie Hawkins for showing them the ropes, Dylan for recognizing them, and The Band themselves for knowing when to play their Last Waltz.

  8. I think the thing to take away from here is that Clapton squandered then destroyed his talent through a variety of ways. The Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton is one of the most inspired recordings I have ever heard. As his excesses and ego grew his talent withered and atrophied. Listen to the regression in his music as time went on. The playing becomes less and less expressive and unique. Cream was the last good thing Eric Clapton did. That and maybe the Concert for Bangladesh, but he made George Harrison procure enough heroin to keep him from experiencing withdrawal symptoms. After that he died and has since been replaced by a robot with a music algorithm designed by Enoch Powell to interpret the blues in White vernacular.

    • I agree that Clapton had a great falling off point in the early 70s, but to say that Cream was the last good thing he did is crazy. His best work is 1970’s Derek and the Dominos and his stint with Delaney and Bonnie prior to that also gave us some great Clapton recordings.

  9. Pingback: THE PSYCHEDELIC SG “FOOL GUITAR” | ERIC CLAPTON’S EPIC GIBSON GROWLER « The Selvedge Yard

  10. Eric Clapton’s comment quoted by ghost.dog is vulgar, but it expresses a truth that nations forget at their own peril: the path to internal peace and stability is found in racial, cultural, ethnic, linguistic, and religious homogeneity.

    Britain is an excellent example of this. The native people are being overrun by foreigners, from not only other EU countries but also from Islamic countries, and it is causing enormous social and political strife. The former Yugoslavia broke apart and fought over these issues. The US has an enormous problem with illegal aliens from Central and South America, especially Mexico. Europe has swaths of its cities turned into no-go zones by the Moslems who live there. Canada is in eternal conflict between the Canadians (English-descended) and the Canadiens (French-descended). Any number of other examples could be enumerated.

    Let me try to forestall the inevitable “racist™!” reaction. Modern “enlightened” Westerners automatically affirm the right of “people of color” to have and maintain their own cultures and countries. No one is demanding multiculturalism of Asia or Africa or South America. In contrast, those same people deny the right of Western countries to maintain their cultures and native populations.

    How can it possibly be moral to advocate the preservation of alien cultures while simultaneously advocating the destruction of your own? Why are white people, unique among all the peoples of the world, not entitled to their own cultures and countries?

    Let the mudslinging commence.

    • mr.realist you couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m english & let me tell you there is no such thing as “native” culture, not for millenia. Romans, Normans, Danes, Angles through the jews & hugenots fleeing religious persecution, to the windrush generation mean England’s culture like America has always been immigrant culture and therefore there is nothing to be wiped out. Of course you can repeat Stormfronts view of history but it is just a fallacy.
      If my full post hadn’t been cut he said much worse.

      • I “cut” the profanity from your comment because it’s vulgar, and this isn’t the place for it. I left your Wiki-link so that if someone was interested that could find out for themselves.

        I’m not into censorship, but NO F-bombs, please. I’m a family man, bro.

        It’s one of the only rules I have around here.

        Best,

        JP

      • JP,

        I noticed that cut–thanks.

        ghost.dog,

        You have drunk deeply of the multiculturalist Kool-Aid. There are, indeed, native English people, and it is only a combination of brainwashing and indoctrination that can leave people to conclude otherwise. In fact, Tony Blair’s New Labour has admitted that they were deliberately trying to replace the indigenous people through mass immigration. How can you replace a people if they don’t exist in the first place?

        Unlike you, I acknowledge every people’s right to their own homeland, with the caveat that they have to be willing to work and sacrifice for it. You not only disallow the English (and other British) people their own homelands, you deny their very existence! In that, you are far more aligned with Stormfront than I.

        Your views are so far removed from reality as to make any further attempts at communication between us not only meaningless but counterproductive.

        (For the record, I reject Stormfront completely and without qualification).

  11. You really dropped the ball with the Band commentary. I had hopes for this as a band fan, but the true innovate and often overlooked musical significance of The Band was not fully conveyed.

    • Bobak,

      The Band deserves it’s own post altogether. Eli didn’t even scratch the surface on the Band intentionally. The ball is not dropped- it’s still in the air…

      JP

    • Bobak-don’t worry part II is all about The Band, Big Pink, and as I mentioned in my reply to Sean above “some of my favorite stuff.” I really wanted to focus, in the post, how Big Pink made Clapton question everything he was doing musically and ultimately took him in a very different direction from Cream. Good or bad? I’ll let the TSY readers be the judge. It speaks volumes that both Clapton and his good friend, George Harrison were profoundly effected by Big Pink and basically crashed very lucrative commercial bands to try to make the music Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Rick Danko et. al were making in Upstate NY.

      JP is right-The Band deserves it’s own post to truly do them justice.

  12. Perhaps Clapton was God in 1968 (I was 7), and there is no doubt that his music before, with and after Cream was extremely influential and talented, but what I am really getting out of this is the amount of comraderie among musicians during that period. On any given day in 1968-70 or so, you couldn’t really hear a bad song on the radio – the competition was amazing, but also inspiring and I think you see that in how all of the musicians in that era fed off each other, pooled talent and just had a great time! The pictures at Cass’ house really give off that vibe. Excellent piece with (once again) outstanding photos that create a content-rich image. Oh yeah, and how about those clothes?! Men need to start wearing puffy shirts again..heh.

  13. Great piece Eli! Clapton is super sexy. Aaaah… Takes me back to the days where I would push aside the 8 tracks of MJ and The Osmonds, and opt for my parent’s vinyl collection. A fabulous mix of bands like The Beatles, The Doors, Creedence Clearwater, and of course Cream. The White Room was my fav. Good times.

  14. Enjoyed your piece and the influence Big Pink had on other artists. No one has mentioned it yet, but Elton John’s Tumbleweed Connection should be included. The lyricist for Elton’s songs on this disc, Bernie Taupin, said “Everybody thinks that I was influenced by Americana and by seeing America first hand, but we wrote and recorded the album before we’d even been to the States. It was probably influenced by The Band’s album, ‘Music From Big Pink,’ and Robbie Robertson songs.” (from the liner notes).

    Peace, Jon

    • Thanks Justin,

      JP is the guy who merchandises my stuff and pulls the pics. TSY is a true team effort. JP is Jordan, I just try to be Scottie.

      E

  15. Great piece.

    I have been a Clapton fan ever since John Mayall. His “Hideaway” made me want to play the guitar.

    I agree with tschue; it’s always a personal judgment but I think Clapton reached his musical zenith with Cream. When he took the blues into psychedia, it was one of the most thrilling musical experiences I’ve ever had. It still sounds amazing over 40 years later.

  16. Film footage is not actually from the house known as “Big Pink”. I believe this was filmed at Albert Grossman’s guest house.

  17. Helm, yeah. Clapton, no. Clapton’s racist tirade should not be forgotten. He rode in on the backs of the folks he railed against. Never apologized, even to this day defends it.

    Clapton’s playing is homogenized garbage.

  18. Didn’t have time to read all comments, but in my book Clapton is a racist and has never declined nor explained his outburst. “keep britain white” says it all to me. That actually needs no explanation.

    qoute: “Unlike you, I acknowledge every people’s right to their own homeland, with the caveat that they have to be willing to work and sacrifice for it. You not only disallow the English (and other British) people their own homelands, you deny their very existence! In that, you are far more aligned with Stormfront than I.”

    Thats just demented and it shows how people like you stand in way of progress. Culture is created in cultural meetings and interaction.
    Sure there might be a native english -or white european- people, but saying that they have a birthgiven right to a certain geographical area, just because of their race, is racist!

    Quote: “Unlike you, I acknowledge every people’s right to their own homeland, with the caveat that they have to be willing to work and sacrifice for it. You not only disallow the English (and other British) people their own homelands, you deny their very existence! In that, you are far more aligned with Stormfront than I.

    That rubbish isn’t about the idea of a specific homeland. It’s about you not wanting to share the goods that you feel is inherited to you, because of you race.

    Can you honestly say that you feel that a so-called native englishman has more right to live in England than an equally hardworking immigrant?

    -sorry for the possibly bad english. I’m danish :-/

    • Jens,

      Your English is fine–far better than my Danish ;-)

      For the last month I have been trying to figure out a way to communicate with you, but your assumptions are so far removed from my own that it is almost impossible, but I’m going to try anyway.

      Based on your argument, no one should have had a problem with the Germans overrunning Denmark, France, or anywhere else they invaded, because no one has “a birthgiven right to a certain geographical area.” Do you see where your arguments lead?

      There’s a more disturbing thought in your comment, though: “people like you stand in way of progress.” You know what happened to “people like me” who stood in the way of “progress” in the Soviet Union, Mao’s China, Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, and every other Communist regime ever? We got murdered. Are you, like they, willing to murder in the name of “progress”? If not, then try not to adopt the rhetoric that leads to such evil.

      Now, Clapton’s comment was unnecessarily vulgar and insulting, but the underlying idea is what I’m trying to get at. The English people created the English country for themselves and their descendants; they are under no obligation whatsoever to share their land or culture with anyone else. As it turns out, trying to share their country with various Third World peoples has been an unmitigated disaster for no-longer Great Britain. It has resulted in a huge drop in public safety, the denigration of British culture and history, and an unconscionable growth in the welfare state. London is barely even recognizably English anymore. If English people are not allowed to be English IN THEIR OWN COUNTRY, then where on earth are they supposed to live?

      Ideally, we have a right to free speech. We do not have a right not to be offended by someone else’s speech. However, under the various restrictions placed on free speech in Europe, you’re getting a topsy-turvy world in which the expression of non-liberal ideas is forbidden, and various minorities, especially Moslems, have the “right” not to be offended by what other people say–or draw, as the case may be (for those who don’t get the reference, a Danish newspaper published 12 cartoons of Mohammed that caused great anguish among Moslems).

      So I’m not sure that this is a good response, but given that our mental worlds are almost completely at skew angles, perhaps it’ll have to do.

  19. This is a stellar post. For some reason I never read up on why Cream broke up but obviously this put it into perspective for me. Like one of the guys said earlier, it’s amazing how much influence this one album had on the whole pop music industry, even though that probably wasn’t it’s original intent.

    As far as Clapton’s ‘keep Britian white’ statement goes, it definitely was stupid and close minded of him and as a fan of his music, it only makes me think of him as a douche of a man.

  20. As always, thank you for taking the time to drop some real knowledge fellas. Too many blog posts are incoherent and if a small piece of the pie could take the time that you guys do it would be amazing.

    I can’t agree more that The Band is an incredibly uncredited band but that is just part of what I love. They didn’t need the commercial success that Cream or The Beatles did. What Eli has stated about these guys making Harrison and Clapton question what they were doing musically at the time is pretty significant. I too am excited to see the highlights of a full post about the band though.

    Honest music.

  21. The Live DVD Mac totally used to get me in the sack. Obviously Clapton works because I married the guy. I think this song (below), aside from being an avenue to showcase his incredible guitar skills, captures EC’s total immersion into his performances. He is in a trance while he jams. Awesome.

    Here is the link to “Old Love” Live from Hyde Park. Still works.

  22. This was music for musicians. It still is. Great post, Eli. The Band, one of my all time favorites. Grew up, too, to my father playing me Clapton songs on guitar to get me to sleep.

  23. Another great post. I like how you focused on the external influence that was the impetus for Clapton to question what he was doing and look internally to come up with something new.

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