Eric Clapton was tired of the guitar-god stuff. He wanted to focus on singing and on a relaxed vibe. There was some momentum to build on after his comeback recording, 1974’s 461 Ocean Boulevard. He also wanted to keep exploring a newfound interest in reggae.
Clapton initially figured There’s One in Every Crowd, released in March 1975, checked every box: “I wanted a laid-back feel,” he said in a contemporary interview from Michael Schumacher’s Crossroads: The Life and Music of Eric Clapton. “I love it. Everyone in the band loved every track on the album.”
Unfortunately, critics – and many fans – didn’t. There’s One in Every Crowd couldn’t match its predecessor’s gold-selling, chart-topping success, failing to even crack the Billboard Top 20. Instead, the project sometimes felt like slumping, tossed-off retread of everything that once worked on 461 Ocean Boulevard.
Still stinging from a scary bout with heroin, Clapton took it all in stride.
“For most of the ’70s, I was content to lay back and do what I had to do with the least amount of effort,” Clapton told Rolling Stone in 1988. “I was very grateful to be alive; I didn’t want to push it. I was also tired of gymnastic guitar playing. And not only was I tired of it in myself, it seemed the advent of Cream and Led Zeppelin had woken up a whole specter of guitar players who just wanted to burn themselves into infinity. The more I heard about that, the more I wanted to back off.”
Clapton figured he’d have a new comfort level with a returning core band featuring guitarist George Terry, bassist Carl Radle and drummer Jamie Oldaker. He felt There’s One in Every Crowd would connect in the same way as 461 Ocean Boulevard, if only because they’d tried to create the albums in a similar, jam-based fashion.
That’s not what happened.
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“I was talking to Eric about that record again recently, and we both agree that it doesn’t quite cut it,” Oldaker told Record Collector magazine in 2013. “It’s my least favorite of all the records I’ve made with him. I don’t really know why it didn’t work as well as 461, but it was a pretty lackluster effort. It was kind of thrown together in the wake of a plan to go to Bob Marley‘s house in Jamaica.”
In the end, the only sessions where things fell together quickly were held at Dynamic Sounds Studios in Kingston, Jamaica. But those songs – including a pointless sequel to “I Shot the Sheriff” called “Don’t Blame Me” – were arguably the weakest of all.
“No matter where you go, the music’s in the air,” Clapton told Cameron Crowe in 1975. “Everyone is singing all the time, even the maids at the hotel, and it really gets into your blood. But that album took a lot of work, and I think it sounds like it too.”
Under pressure to meet expectations, time spent at Miami’s Criteria Studios became an exercise in musical drudgery. A lengthy studio break with hands-on producer Tom Dowd followed.
“The thing that bothered me about There’s One In Every Crowd was that we were contriving to make a quality record,” Clapton told Sounds in 1976. “Tom kept getting serious about ‘making a record’ when we were having a good time. Like ‘Pretty Blue Eyes’ was done in bits of something like six bars here and there, which is a frustrating way to record. I prefer to work live whenever possible.”
In its own way, There’s One in Every Crowd actually fits together more seamlessly than 461 Ocean Boulevard, maintaining a steadier vibe. It’s just that the vibe is often so uninterestingly modest. In trying not to do too much, Clapton risked not doing anywhere near enough.
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“Song-wise, it wasn’t as strong. There’s a lot of Jamaican influences, maybe too many,” Oldaker told Record Collector. “I think we were trying too hard to be like the Wailers, which was probably not the best idea for a bunch of white guys to have. But we got Peter Tosh involved, along with a few Jamaican percussionists, so it was sort of an attempt to follow up on the vibe we got with ‘I Shot the Sheriff.’ We stayed in a nice hotel; we played music and drank, hung out at the beach. It was a nice vacation, when I look back on it, more than a memorable job of work.”
Clapton tried to play off expectations, even initially suggesting that the album be called The Best Guitarist in the World: There’s One in Every Crowd, before his label nixed it. “I was the only one who thought it would be a good idea,” he said in Conversations With Eric Clapton. “In fact, I’m not sure whether I could have lived with it. Most people would have taken it the wrong way. They would have thought I was being serious.”
By then, he’d resigned himself to this project’s inevitable fate. “I wasn’t surprised the album didn’t do too well,” Clapton told Crowe. “I like the studio, but I just don’t play the same way as I would onstage.”
Only later, after he collapsed eight days into a 1981 American tour, did it become clear that Clapton had simply traded one vice (heroin) for another (alcohol). He eventually kicked this new habit, while admitting that booze had a direct impact on his approach over the course of these late-’70s era albums.
“I can’t look at them in a non-relative way. If it was me now, in a fit, clear state of mind, I would have to say that I could make them better, without a doubt,” Clapton told Rolling Stone in 1988. “But … I know people who even now go into a studio and don’t get that much done and don’t consume half of what we were consuming. So, we did pretty well. Every one of those records has an ingredient of some kind that can move me – and the tracks that embarrass me, I don’t play.”
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