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Eric Clapton & Steve Winwood Concert Review - 6/10/2009

By John Flynn

There are not many shows that motivate me to leave the comfortable surroundings of Monmouth County and cruise the highways up to the Meadowlands but I recently made the pilgrimage for one such special show.  Eric Clapton was playing with his old friend |Steve Winwood and opened up their 14 date tour at the Izod Center June 10th.  I knew I had to see this show. 


I've been a big fan of both artists since the early Seventies but never had a chance to see them perform together.   Clapton's friendship and admiration for Steve Winwood's  musical talents predates their collaboration with Blind Faith in 1969 and actually goes all the way back to 1966 when Eric was forming Cream along with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker.  Eric had just left John Mayall's Bluesbreakers and was looking to start a new band trying to emulate the powerful sound of Buddy Guy.  Buddy Guy just had a bass player and drums for backup and created a guitar heavy blues sound with the trio.  Eric felt his new band needed more and wanted to include Steve Winwood from the start.  Eric liked having keyboards in a band and was very impressed with Winwood's playing and singing.  Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker had other ideas.  Both Jack and Ginger possessed very headstrong personalities and argued vehemently against having Winwood join their trio.  Eric was outvoted and Cream went on to rock royalty without Winwood.  Eric had to wait for Cream to run its course before his next chance to play with Winwood.  Cream played its last two gigs at the Royal Albert Hall in November 1968.  Once again Eric was ready for a change.


It was 1969 and Steve Winwood had recently left his band Traffic.  Eric invited Winwood over to his country estate and began to spend hours playing together.  It was actually Winwood who asked Ginger Baker to join them on drums and an old friend Rick Grech joined on bass.  It was not what Clapton was looking for but like it or not he had a new supergroup forming which they called Blind Faith.  Their first songs included "Presence of the Lord" which Eric had written about his new home in the country, a Buddy Holly cover "Well Alright" and two songs penned by Steve Winwood "Sea of Joy" and "Can't Find My Way Home".  Blind Faith started their live performances with a free concert in Hyde Park in June 1969.  Over one hundred thousand fans showed up for the event followed by a US tour and album that climbed to the top of the American charts.  As with the Bluesbreakers and Cream, Blind Faith was short lived as Eric once again desired change over success and left the band after one tour and successful album. 


Reading this abridged history lesson on the Eric Clapton - Steve Winwood saga, one can understand my interest and enthusiasm to ignore the hassles of the Garden State Parkway and NJ Turnpike, overpriced Meadowlands parking and refreshments for the opportunity to see these two major talents perform together.  Clapton and Winwood opened up their 22 song set with "Had to Cry Today" - one of their old Bind Faith classics and then proceeded to play a great show with selections ranging from Jim Hendrix covers of "Voodoo Child" and "Little Wing" to a standing ovation for Steve Winwoods solo cover of Ray Charles "Georgia On My Mind" on his old Hammond organ.  My personal highlights from the show were Eric swapping out his Fender Strat and Steve his Hammond for two Martin E3 acoustic guitars and playing "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out", "Layla" and "Can't Find My Way Home".   The show ended with an encore of Traffic's "Dear Mr Fantasy" and a standing ovation from a very satisfied crowd. 


I know it sounds cliche' but it just doesn't get any better than that.  It was somehow worth the traffic jams of North Jersey and parking in the shadows of that $2 Billion dollar albatross Xanadu to see such great talents play live.


For those of you interested in learning more about Eric Clapton's rock legacy with Steve Winwood and many others,  I heartily recommend reading "Clapton - The Autobiography" by Eric Clapton published by Broadway Books.  It is a great summer read that I borrowed from shamelessly for the history lesson and paraphrased enough to avoid any plagiarism....hopefully Eric won't mind.