December 1, 2011


Eric Clapton
Cow Palace, Daly City, California
July 21, 1974

Photos by Dan Cuny
Text by Michael Collins Morton

 Eric Clapton

Eric Clapton was born in 1945, in Surrey, England, and began to play the guitar as a teenager. He was especially drawn to the earthy sound of American music, particularly the blues of Robert Johnson, Freddie King, B.B. King, Muddy Waters, and Buddy Guy. At the age of seventeen he joined The Roosters, and later played with Casey Jones and The Engineers. In October, 1963, he joined The Yardbirds, staying with them until March, 1965, and appearing on their first album, Five Live Yardbirds, which was recorded during a performance at the Marquee Club in London and released in 1964. (It was during this time that Eric Clapton gained the nickname of "Slowhand.") When The Yardbirds had a hit in both the United Kingdom and America with "For Your Love" (written by Graham Gouldman), Eric Clapton became unhappy and resolved to quit the band, saying that he wanted only to play authentic blues.

George Terry, Eric Clapton

After Eric Clapton left The Yardbirds, he accepted an offer to play with John Mayall, another strong-minded musician who shared his fervent and unyielding dedication to the blues. The piercingly sharp tone of Eric Clapton's guitar was a pronounced highlight on John Mayall's Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton (1966), an uncompromising album of honest blues that also featured Eric Clapton's first track as lead vocalist, Robert Johnson's "Ramblin' on My Mind." Eric Clapton quickly established a singular reputation as a peerless guitarist during his stint with John Mayall, and one fan was moved to write the words, "Clapton is God," on the wall of a station in the London Underground.

Yvonne Elliman, George Terry, Eric Clapton 

In July, 1966, Eric Clapton parted ways with John Mayall and formed a new band, Cream, with Jack Bruce (vocals, bass, harmonica) and Ginger Baker (drums). By the end of that year, Cream had released two singles, "Wrapping Paper" and "I Feel Free," and their first album, Fresh Cream. Three more albums followed: Disraeli Gears (1967), which featured "Sunshine of Your Love," one of their most famous tracks, Wheels of Fire (1968), a double LP that included four tracks recorded at performances in San Francisco, and Goodbye (1969), their final album. (In 1968, Eric Clapton also added his talent to "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," one of George Harrison's tracks on The Beatles.) Cream had a brief lifetime, but their loud style of electric blues, played in a heavy and extended manner with each of the musicians forcefully pushing the collective sound into new realms, set an unprecedented standard of performance in rock'n'roll.

Eric Clapton, Carl Radle

When Cream ended, Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker joined with Steve Winwood (The Spencer Davis Group, Traffic) and Ric Grech (Family) in Blind Faith. In June, 1969, Blind Faith gave their first performance in public at a free concert in Hyde Park, London, followed by a tour of the United States. After the release of their first and only album, Blind Faith (which included one of Eric Clapton's most eloquent compositions, "Presence of the Lord"), in August of 1969, the band broke up. After Blind Faith, Eric Clapton toured and recorded as a guitarist with an American band, Delaney and Bonnie and Friends, and also made two appearances with The Plastic Ono Band. (He also played on a single by The Plastic Ono Band, "Cold Turkey.") His first album to be recorded under his own name, Eric Clapton, was released on Polydor Records in August, 1970. In addition, his guitar could be heard on George Harrison's All Things Must Pass.

After releasing Eric Clapton, he formed a new band, known as Derek and The Dominos, with three of the musicians (Bobby Whitlock on keyboards, Carl Radle on bass, and Jim Gordon on drums) who had worked on the album. Their first album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (which also featured the guitar of Duane Allman), was released in November, 1970. The most impressive track on the double album was "Layla" itself, a song that Eric Clapton wrote to express his anguished love for George Harrison's wife, Pattie. Among the other tracks on the album were "I Looked Away," "Bell Bottom Blues," "Keep on Growing," "Anyday," and "Tell the Truth." Derek and The Dominos toured the United States and attempted to record a second album, but the band dissolved in 1971.

By the early 1970s, Eric Clapton was at loose ends and had fallen into a reckless habit of using hard drugs, particularly heroin. After the breakup of Derek and The Dominos, he chose to hide himself in the privacy of Hurtwood Edge, his country house in Surrey, and apart from an appearance with George Harrison at the Concert for Bangladesh in New York City on August 1, 1971, he did not engage in any musical activities. He finally returned to action in January, 1973, when he gave two performances (with a band of celebrated friends, including Pete Townshend, Steve Winwood, Ron Wood, Ric Grech, and Jim Capaldi) at the Rainbow Theatre in London. Eric Clapton's Rainbow Concert, a live recording drawn from both performances, was released in September, 1971.

In 1974, having turned away from the harmful burden of heroin (and having finally succeeded in enticing Pattie Harrison away from her husband), he released a new album, 461 Ocean Boulevard, and commenced another tour of the United States. 461 Ocean Boulevard was recorded in Miami, Florida, and among its best tracks was a faithful cover of Bob Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff," which became a hit (#1 in America) when it was released as a single. The album and the single marked the beginning of Eric Clapton's rise to worldwide stardom, not merely as a guitarist in a band, but as an eminent performer in his own right, as he became more assured of his skills as a singer and a songwriter.

At the Cow Palace in July of 1974, Eric Clapton performed with a band that include Yvonne Elliman (who had become well-known as Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar) on vocals, along with Carl Radle, George Terry (guitar), Dick Sims (keyboards), and Jamie Oldaker (drums). "Legs" Larry Smith of The Bonzo Dog Band also made an appearance, holding a toy guitar and providing an element of offbeat comedy. During much of the performance, it seemed that Eric Clapton, wearing a hat and sunglasses, was not fully at ease being in the spotlight. He tended to keep to himself while he was onstage, but in spite of his withdrawn demeanor, there still were moments when the feeling that he conveyed with his guitar was as strong and as true as ever.

David: It was very exciting news when my friends and I learned that Eric Clapton was going to perform at the Cow Palace, near San Francisco. When I first heard his new single, "I Shot the Sheriff," it sounded strange. I was not familiar with the music of Bob Marley and The Wailers. Eric Clapton was back, but with a new sound.

I remember going to the basement of the J. C. Penney department store to buy tickets with my friend, Gary. There was a small crowd already lined up when we arrived. I overheard an older man talking to his wife and saying, "These kids are all here to buy tickets for some guy named Clampett."

I don't remember if the opening acts were announced before the concert. I recall that it was a surprise when "Legs" Larry Smith, from The Bonzo Dog Band, was introduced. He bounce out onto the stage in a polka-dot outfit. I don't remember much of his performance, but I did enjoy getting to see an original Bonzo!

Eric Clapton casually walked onto the stage to loud cheers and opened with some acoustic numbers. I think the opening song was "Smile" by Charlie Chaplin. Not what I expected. Buried in the vast audience on the Cow Palace floor, it was difficult to stand through the slower numbers. The show picked up with some classic numbers from Cream, Blind Faith, and Derek and The Dominos. When he announced that the next song was "Layla," the audience went wild. He said the the guitar part by Duane Allman would not be played. That was a touching tribute, but left the song missing some of its power and was a bit of a disappointment.

The whole concert was a mix of great moments with some letdowns. At times Clapton seemed to be uncomfortable with his star power and tried to step back, not really taking the lead. Yvonne Elliman performed very well, as did the rest of the band. They all seemed to have a good time playing together.

The end of the concert is the part that I remember best. When the band left the stage, instead of the usual stomping and clapping for an encore, the audience held up cigarette lighters as a silent tribute to the late Duane Allman. I cannot verify this, but I believe that is when the tradition began.

When the band returned, I looked at my watch. It was just one or two minutes "after midnight." Eric had not performed that song. I felt that this was the moment I had waited for. What could be better than that song, performed at that moment? Unfortunately, he finished with another song, and the evening ended with disappointment.

Gary: As I remember, this Cow Palace concert was one we arrived late for, and it seemed like we were way in the back of the hall. I remember not enjoying this concert so much, although I liked Eric Clapton, and I really liked the 461 Ocean Boulevard album, with "I Shot the Sheriff" that was all over the airwaves, and especially the change in style, combining some reggae and country influences and putting a lot of rhythm guitar percussive effects into the music, which was very different from his other periods. From John Mayall's Bluesbreakers to Cream to Blind Faith to Delaney and Bonnie to Derek and The Dominos to George Harrison, a lot of pretty amazing periods, and I really liked all of it. He probably had crammed more lifetimes into his eventful career than most performers, and was no doubt searching for a real change.

Recently I turned up the car radio listening to "Layla" on the oldies station, and was still very impressed by that piece of music and the teaming with Duane Allman. The slide work was incredible and the long buildup of the piano just soars. I guess any music would pale in comparison, and his new album at the time was very laid back, with his guitar almost taking a backing role.

I remember Eric Clapton's career being managed by RSO, because I remember listening to Ross as one of the opening acts at the Cow Palace, and Yvonne Elliman singing backup for Eric Clapton. (I liked Ross, who were kind of rhythm and blues, with soulful singing.) All these artists were signed to RSO, and this was a big push in a new direction.

It also was great to see "Legs" Larry Smith, a member of the spectacular Bonzo Dog Band. My memories of the actual music at this concert are a bit dim, but I didn't think it was one of the better concerts that we went to, although in retrospect I am glad to have seen Eric Clapton at least once in my life.

"Legs" Larry Smith

Dan: I have always been a big fan of Eric Clapton from his Cream and Blind Faith days, but after that, when he was with Delaney and Bonnie, I lost some interest in him and his music. I liked Derek and The Dominoes, but I wasn't a big fan of Duane Allman, so I had mixed emotions in regard to that album. I remember that when "I Shot the Sheriff" came out, I liked the song, but it seemed very odd, and I wasn't familiar with reggae or with Bob Marley. Nonetheless, Clapton was coming to town, and I didn't want to miss an opportunity to see him.

Walking up to the Cow Palace, which was considerably larger than Winterland, the venue where we saw the majority of bands, I remember taking a photo of the marquee with Clapton's name. I wanted to remember this night for a long time. I was very excited to see the "best rock'n'roll guitarist in the world," who at that time was "God" in the eyes of many people.

The band Ross opened for Clapton. I had never heard of them, and to this day I still have no idea who they were or who was in the band. (Editor's Note: Ross released two albums in the 1970s and served as a showcase for the guitar and vocals of Alan Ross.)

I can remember when Eric Clapton came onto the stage. He was dressed in very baggy overalls, a floppy white hat, and sunglasses. I thought this was odd. I really wanted to see Clapton at his best. I don't remember Clapton playing lead on any songs. His band included George Terry on guitar, and to this day I'm convinced that George Terry played all the leads. Eric Clapton looked like he was either drunk, or stoned, or both, but in any case he was very laid back, and from what I remember he never took the lead, musically or emotionally.

They played "Let It Grow," "Can't Find My Way Home," "Badge," and "Layla," which sounded pretty odd, as Clapton only played his own part and was silent for the part originally played by Duane Allman, who had recently passed away. It was a disappointing show for me. I have seen Eric Clapton a few times since then, and he's really shined, but at this show, he was not at his best.

"Legs" Larry Smith in polka dots

Michael: Because I never saw Cream, Blind Faith, or Derek and The Dominos, this show was my first experience of seeing a performance by Eric Clapton. After listening to his music for many years, and reading about him in Melody Maker and Rolling Stone, I had high hopes for the concert at the Cow Palace. Eric Clapton had just become active again, after several years of being sidelined by drugs, and he had a current hit ("I Shot the Sheriff") on the radio, so his tour in 1974 was regarded was a major happening, with a lot of interest from the public and the press.

When he stepped onto the stage at the beginning of his performance, with his face hidden under a hat and sunglasses, and started to sing "Smile" while playing an acoustic guitar, it was quite surprising. I remember thinking, "Is that actually Eric Clapton?" He certainly did not look as he usually looked in photographs. For a minute or two, as I watched in confusion, I suspected that some kind of mischief might be afoot. Was it someone pretending to be "Slowhand," while the guitarist himself lurked out of sight? It slowly became clear that the figure onstage was, indeed, Eric Clapton. (The hat finally came off toward the end of his set, but the sunglasses remained.)

Things became more lively (and much louder) after he exchanged his acoustic guitar for his Telecaster. He proceeded to perform some of his strongest songs, including "Let It Rain," "Badge," "Tell the Truth," and "Blues Power." He also performed a handful of songs ("I Shot the Sheriff" among them) from his new album, 461 Ocean Boulevard. When Eric Clapton played the introduction to "Layla" in the middle of the show, the crowd roared with unbridled delight. As he played the famous riff (with Duane Allman's part omitted as a tribute to the late guitarist), a huge wall of lights lit up behind him. That song was undoubtedly the highlight of the evening.

For the most part, it was an unusually low-key performance for a such a famous musician. Eric Clapton, for his own reasons, did not want to come across as a "star" at that time. He said only a few words while he was onstage, and he appeared to go out of his way to diminish his own stature as a performer (I presume that is why he chose to have Yvonne Elliman share the vocal duties with him), but as the familiar tones flowed from his electric guitar, he could not diminish the overwhelming effect that his music had on the audience.

More about Eric Clapton at David's Rock Scrapbook

Next: Elton John


  1. Nice pictures, and I enjoyed reading your collective recollections of the show. I saw and photographed Clapton 5 years after this, on his Backless tour in 1979 at The Augusta Civic Centre in Augusta, Me. Clapton was going through his country-rock phase at the time, so much of the show was kind of laid back. He did play some great solos though, and moments like Badge and Layla really made the night. Albert Lee was Clapton's "backup" guitarist (yeah right!) and played some pretty nifty lead parts himself. Muddy Waters was the opening act, and while I don't consider myself to be a fan as per say, I am happy that I got to see the blues legend live.
    Keep the photos and stories coming!
    Ian S.

  2. I saw the show at Madison Square Garden in NYC on that same pretty much stunk....everyone was excited that EC was back, but at that point , the EC everyone loved was gone.....I still have the T-shirt from that show somewhere !

    1. if you want to sell that t-shirt that you got at m.s.g,i will be interested......jed

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