Eric Clapton released a milestone album in 1989 called JOURNEYMAN. It might as well have been named DUETS because there were so many collaborations with other artists but you’d never know it from the album cover or promotions. The context for this album resides in a special time frame for Clapton. In the 1960’s he rose to fame as the “Clapton is God” graffiti all over London for being a blues connoisseur with John Mayall and the Blues Breakers, then the first super group CREAM with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker, and then Blind Faith with Steve Winwood. In the 1970’s came a heroine addiction, divorce, and Derek and the Dominos. The 80’s had seen Eric Clapton going in a very pop music sound, with 2 albums produced by Phil Collins and a few minor hits. It seemed Clapton was moving away from rock-n-roll as well as the blues, and even the basic guitar sounds he was known for. This also laid the groundwork for his “acoustic” phase with his biggest hits with “Tears in Heaven” and “Change the World”.
Then came Journeyman. He melded the pop sounds with a harder edged guitar sound that he hadn’t used in almost 20 years. Opening with the song PRETENDING, he had his pop songwriting melded with his wah-wah guitar sound from Cream.
The collaborations on this album were plenty. Robert Cray, the blues guitarist played on 3-4 songs including the blues track BEFORE YOU ACCUSE ME and the incredible ballad OLD LOVE. With Robert Cray, Eric started a serious swing back around to blues music that has been probably the most prevalent aspect of Eric’s music ever since.
Eric co-wrote the song BAD LOVE with Foreigner guitarist Mick Jones and had Phil Collins on drums. Mick Jones suggested the odd bridge segment of the song as an homage to the Cream song BADGE, which was co-written by the Beatles George Harrison. Speaking of which, George and Eric had a falling out in the 1970’s over the fact that Eric wrote an entire album of love songs for George’s then wife Patty, who divorced George and married Eric. Eric then married Patty and then she left him. Eric wrote the song BAD LOVE about Patty on this album. Then George Harrison wrote and played/sang the song RUN SO FAR on this album with Eric. Soap Opera plots are less convoluted than this story.
The final duet was never intended to be a duet. On the song NO ALIBIS, after completion of all the tracks and a mix was done, the producer of the album felt it still needed something. He called a friend of his named DARRYL HALL from HALL AND OATES to sing a harmony vocal, which was done stateside. Eric Clapton had not even met him yet when the album was released.
Finally, one of the most amazing tracks on the album is the cover of the Ray Charles rarity called HARD TIMES. Before the movie RAY and the subsequent soundtrack, this song had never even been released on CD, and was the B-side to a 45RPM single from the 1950’s. Eric hired Ray Charles actual bandmembers to be the horn section for the track, but what stands out most is how eerily perfect Eric sang in Ray Charles’ voice. This marked a significant
So this oft forgotten album was significant in reviving Eric Clapton’s love of Blues, melded his entire career into one album, and showed he worked well with great collaborators. It’s an album that has never left my music cue for the last 23 years.