It appears that Eric Clapton had more Robert Johnson in his blood than he thought – or perhaps it was planned this way…
But I have for a very long time liked what Eric Clapton liked, the Delta Blues, and in particular Robert Johnson, the Delta bluesman who would be more myth than fact if it were not for the incomparable legacy of recordings we were lucky enough to be left to posterity. So it was therefore with some trepidation (and the faint hope that I might actually like it) that I came to hear 2004's Me and Mr. Johnson (Reprise, 2004). Call me prejudiced, but I was right. Immaculately recorded, perfectly played, I hated it.
This compilation of 22 Cream BBC tracks from 1966-1968 marked a major addition to the group's discography, particularly as they released relatively little product during their actual lifetime. All of but two of these cuts ("Lawdy Mama" and the 1968 version of "Steppin' Out," which had appeared on Eric Clapton's Crossroads box) were previously unreleased, and although many of these had made the round on bootlegs, the sound and presentation here is unsurprisingly preferable. As for actual surprises, there aren't many. It's a good cross section of songs from their studio records, though a couple, "Steppin' Out" and "Traintime," only appeared on live releases, and some of these BBC takes actually predate the release and recording of the album versions, which makes them of historical interest for intense Cream fans.
Laserlight's 2001 release With the Yardbirds & Jimmy Page, is another reissue that pairs early live Yardbirds recordings with the 1965 jam session credited to the Immediate All Stars (featuring Clapton, Jimmy Page, Bill Wyman, Ian Stuart, and Mick Jagger).
Clapton has now been a solo performer for so long that it is easy to forget that his formative musical years were spent working with a variety of different blues bands, including John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith, and not forgetting the legendary Yardbirds. The recordings featured here are an important part of British R&B music history, chronicling the earliest recordings by Eric Clapton, who is now an international rock superstar, and The Yardbirds, one of the UK’s most important blues bands of the era.
Tired of a creeping tendency towards pop territory that was happening in his old band, the Yardbirds, Eric Clapton was after one thing alone: the blues. With John Mayall and his pool of fledgling giants he got it in spades.