By 1968, Eric Clapton was arguably one of the biggest stars in the music business, a fact reinforced by the fact that his bay area concerts had migrated from the Fillmore to Winterland and, then, for Cream’s Farewell tour in October and Blind Faith’s sole Northern California date the following August, to the cavernous Oakland Coliseum Arena. Thus, it was a great surprise when his next set of appearances, as a member of Delaney and Bonnie’s Friends, were back at the Fillmore West.
Although Clapton’s appearance at such a small venue was perhaps unexpected, the billing actually made sense. As has been extensively discussed in Clapton’s autobiography and elsewhere, he bonded with Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett when the duo were one of the opening acts on the Blind Faith tour. Clapton, disenchanted with the hype of his own ‘supergroup’ was charmed by the gospel/R&B inclinations and down-home hospitality of the Bramletts, and joined them, along with fellow luminaries George Harrison and Dave Mason, on the group’s European tour. That tour yielded a wonderful live disc, simply titled On Tour (recently expanded to a 4 CD compilation by Rhino’s boutique label Handmade). On the heels of the release of the live album, Delaney and Bonnie, with Clapton in tow, set out for a tour of America that culminated with a four day run at the Fillmore West.
Although I was of driving age by then, I still had to con my brother into going to one of the shows with me, and we ended up going on the final (Sunday) show for some reason, along with his college roommate Dave. It turned out to be quite the adventure.
The booking for the shows included three opening acts – the New York Rock and Roll Ensemble, and Dutch rockers Golden Earring.
|New York Rock and Roll Ensemble (Michael Kamen on Left)|
Photo: M. Parrish
I had actually seen the New York Rock and Roll Ensemble at Stanford the previous year performing the music for the Joffrey Ballet’s pioneering rock ballet Astarte (an amazing and groundbreaking event in itself, but one I don’t feel qualified to write much about). The group’s forte was bringing classical embellishments into a rock context, and their performance at the Fillmore was solid, but does not bring back strong musical memories. In an interesting serendipity, the group’s keyboardist and principal composer, Michael Kamen, went on to have a very successful career as a composer of soundtracks, and collaborated occasionally with Clapton on projects, including the music for Lethal Weapon II.
|Golden Earring 2/22/70|
Photo: M. Parrish
Golden Earring hailed from the Hague in Netherlands, and were already big stars in Europe when they came to the US for this support gig. The group’s onstage posturing and over the top volume and attack presaged the imminent rise of heavy metal, but they went on to have a global AM hit with “Radar Love” and remain a popular and active group in Europe today. They had recently gotten quite a bit of airplay with a 19 minute extrapolation of “Eight Miles High” and did not disappoint by performing an appropriately extended version at the Fillmore. Overall, their hard driving set was certainly memorable, and it was fun to watch them thrashing about.
|Delaney Bramlett and Eric Clapton 2/22/70|
Photo: M. Parrish
Although Harrison and Mason had not chosen to make the stateside trek with Delaney, Bonnie, and Eric, the lineup of their “Friends” at the time still consisted of a stage full of high caliber musicians who all went on to various fame, fortune (and in one case, misfortune). The stellar rhythm section of bassist Carl Radle and drummer Jim Gordon gave the group much of its propulsive drive. After this tour, they along with the band’s organist, Bobby Whitlock, went with Clapton to form Derek and the Dominoes. Radle went on to be Clapton’s bassist for many years, while Gordon played with Traffic, did tons of sessions. Unfortunately, he eventually succumbed to schizophrenia and was jailed after killing his mother.
|Jim Price, Bobby Keys, Bonnie and Delaney Bramlett|
Fillmore West 2/22/70 Photo: M. Parrish
The group’s horn section comprised saxophonist Bobby Keys and trumpeter Jim Price. Both were veterans of many rock and R&B tours, and knew just exactly when and how to use their instruments to pump up the group and the audience. After the breakup of this lineup of Delaney and Bonnie and Friends, they were recruited by the Rolling Stones, who also knew a thing or two about getting a crowd on its feet. You can read much about Keys’ legendary exploits in Keith Richards’ autobiography, and Keys is still the group’s first call sax player when they tour. Price keeps a lower profile, doing mostly composition and session work. An Internet search fails to locate any mention of conga player Tex Johnson after the D&B tour.
Vocal support was provided by Rita Coolidge, who went on to be part of Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen troupe before launching a successful solo career. Guesting on piano, possibly just for that one night, was pianist Leon Russell, who at the time was between the successful launch of his first solo album and the role he played as bandleader and mastermind behind the aforementioned Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour later that year.
|Bonnie and Delaney Bramlett, Eric Clapton|
2/22/70 Photo: M. Parrish
The On Tour album had been released a few weeks before the Fillmore West shows, so the capacity audience knew that Clapton’s role would be principally as lead guitarist and occasional lead vocalist, so there was none of the angry heckling or calls for Cream tunes that had characterized some of the troupe’s earlier UK shows. The repertoire for the night was mostly drawn from the album, with a few other covers and the odd original thrown in. With Delaney Bramlett and Clapton the sole guitarists, the sound was leaner than it had been on the European tour where three and sometimes four guitarists tried to avoid musical collisions.
The Bramletts wrote some strong tunes singly, as a duo, and with collaborators like Clapton, Russell, and Whitlock, who wrote the powerful, "Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way" with Bonnie. At the show I saw, this tune was stretched out with a rousing gospel tinged coda that featured some rousing harmonies between Whitlock and the Bramletts. Clapton sang two songs, the slow, soulful “I Don’t Know Why,” which he wrote with Bonnie, and Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads,” rendered much slower and funkier than the frenetic versions he played with Cream. Johnson was toasted directly with the slow, Memphis tinged Bramlett-Russell medley dedicated to the late bluesman, with Clapton contributing some stinging leads (this medley has recently been revived by the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, the Black Crowes leader’s jam-heavy side project). The set-closer was the Clapton-Bramlett showpiece “Coming Home,” which was built on one of the guitarist’s dramatic, arpeggiated riffs. Brought back for the inevitable encore, the group ripped things up with a Little Richard Medley of "Tutti Frutti," "The Girl Can’t Help It," "Long Tall Sally," and "Jenny, Jenny."
With the concert finished close to 2 AM, our evening turned out to be just getting started. The three of us returned to our parent’s car, a big cream colored Chevy Impala, to find one of the rear tires had gone flat. Maybe an hour later, we had changed the tire, only to find out that the spare was also flat. Fortunately, there was an all night gas station at the corner of Mission and Van Ness that was able to fix the flat. While we were waiting for them to get to the repair, the station was visited by an inebriated fellow who attempted to hold up the station by brandishing a knife. Nonplussed, one of the two gas station attendants smoothly relieved him of the knife and, I believe, sent him on his way without calling the authorities. This may have been business as usual for a gas station south of Market, but it was quite a drama for us kids from the suburbs. The sun was just coming up when the tire was back on the car, just in time for my father, who my brother had called after the spare proved to be flat, drove up in his Austin Healy Sprite. He didn’t seem to mind having gotten up in the middle of the night for nothing, but I think he wished he at least could have heard the concert.