Why I owe Eric Clapton my gratitude

While you would notice a large selection of varied music on my CD racks (and piles and stacks) as of late, the guitar / bass / drums trios have been finding their way onto my car’s CD player. (If you recall from previous posts, the driver’s seat is the spot where I do most of my listening.)

One of my most vivid music memories is seeing the Cream perform live on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour many years ago. I recall returning home far into the evening from some Sunday family soujourn. My mother took my little sister up stairs for her bath (yes, before showers were the norm) and I turned the television on at the request of my father. Now, I did know that the Cream would be on the Smothers Brothers show, but I also knew my father would probably not want to watch them, especially after a long, involved day of driving and visiting relatives. As this was before remotes, he asked me to switch through the stations until some police drama appeared (The FBI?). Of course, I began to quietly panic as my hopes of hearing Sunshine of Your Love live started to dwindle. But I had one last hope: my father’s fatigue would work in my favor. As Efram Zimbalist pursued the next criminal bent on bringing down the USA, I cautiously watched as my father’s eyelids fluttered, his head rolled just a little to one side, his eyes closed and his chin clamped down on his chest. I remember counting silently to 10 then leaning forward and changing the station. He didn’t stir.

Of course, I turned the volume down as I watched Tom Smothers make a brief introductory statement that ended with “The Cream”. Bath water was running upstairs so I knew my mother would be busy scrubbing away at my sister and I had lucked out. The opening notes with guitar and bass came out of the speaker and I saw three shaggy hippies standing in the now-classic power trio configuration (drums in the center). It sounded different – rawer, more energized. It was live! I stayed close to the back-and-white screen, keeping the sound at a level only audible to me. The song progressed and it sounded so much better than the radio version – then the guitar solo. A long impassioned, energized solo that had a different sound here. Only the fuzzy bass guitar and explosive drums were behind – no overdubs, no enhancements. I don’t remember moving until the applause came in, at which time my father made some sort of throaty noise and I quickly clicked back to Efram Zimbalist walking up some sort of official-looking steps. My father resumed his nearly-silent sleep and I felt victorious. I quietly made my way into the kitchen and stood silently, re-playing the performance in my mind.

The next day in school (fifth grade, I think) I was one of only three people that actually saw The Cream. Other kids weren’t allowed to watch ‘hippie junk’, ‘horrible trash’ or ‘loud noise’ and had the channel switched or were told to leave the room (mom and dad watched?). The thing is, one of my friends from that time reminded me years later, after hearing my trio perform, that he remembered my excited fascination when I related seeing the Cream way back when. ‘Now I know why you always have a trio,’ he told me.

He may just be right.

In the meantime, here are some of the trios I’ve been checking out lately:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eE4ExKQ5XZI Rez Abassi’s trio

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TSMgOyn5HGU Eric Johnson’s group

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iINA9sjORCI Allan Holdsworth’s best trio (in my (not so) humble opinion

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0JECJ8AZznk Peter Bernstein’s trio (sorry it’s not a live video — but it’s really superb)

It’s not just about the musicianship — it’s the interplay, the musical conversation, that catches my attention. It’s what I prefer to do with my group too.

Until next time…..

Matt

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