Bluesman Eric Clapton Mixes Styles On Upcoming LP

First studio album of new material in nearly 10 years shows influence of hip-hop and techno.

Guitar giant Eric Clapton will break his nearly decade-long silence in March

with his first studio album of new songs this decade, a 14-track effort that finds

the blues great experimenting with different styles, even showing the influence of

hip-hop and electronica in his signature sound, according to an industry source.

"He's exploring a number of styles on [the album]," said the source, who

preferred to remain anonymous. "And it's obvious he's been listening to hip-hop

and electronic music as well. His guitar playing is very emotional."

The long-awaited album, Pilgrim (March 10), also features two tributes to

his son who died tragically at age 4 after a 1991 fall from a Manhattan, N.Y.,

high-rise apartment window.

Clapton's first album of almost all original, new material since 1989's Journeyman, Pilgrim includes

the songs, "My Father's Eyes" and "Circus," both written around the same time

as his 1992 Grammy award-winning track "Tears in Heaven," also a tribute to

son Connor. Clapton, a former member of Cream and the leader of Derek & the Dominos, also won a Grammy last year

for his collaboration with Babyface on "Change the World."

"My Father's Eyes," which Clapton performed during his 1992 MTV "Unplugged"

performance, will be the first single from Pilgrim, hitting the air in mid-

February.

The source, who has heard the album, described the single as "a very moving"

tribute to both Clapton's relationship with his son and his feelings about never

having known his own father, which Clapton sums up with the lines "when you

were here with me/ I looked into my father's eyes."

Although everyone involved continues to deny participation, Clapton is believed

to have been the musical force behind last year's Retail Therapy album

by a mysterious techno trio known only as T.D.F.

The group, who wore motorcycle helmets to obscure their faces, fused dance

and rock on many of the album's 11 tracks, including the opening "Blue Rock,"

which featured distorted bluesy and flamenco guitar flourishes over an insistent

dancefloor beat. Other tracks, such as the sea-breeze acoustic jazz of

HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/T.D.F./Angelica.ram">"Angelica"

(RealAudio excerpt) and "Prom-Sen," featured what sounds like Clapton's

signature note-bending blues lines over subtle, programmed beats and

keyboard washes.

Clapton fan Brian Davies, 26, of Evanston, Ill., said it goes without saying that

he's excited about the new album. Davies, who runs the Eric Clapton Lyric

Archive website, said he already was familiar with "My Father's Eyes" from both

the MTV "Unplugged" performance and from other hard-core fans who trade

outtake and concert tapes. "It is a really beautiful song," Davies said, "and I'm

glad that more people are going to get a chance to hear it."

Davies said he was surprised to hear that the album was going to contain so

many original songs, since "Clapton has never been a particularly prolific

songwriter." But, as far as he was concerned, he said Clapton is more relevant

now than he's been since the late '70s. Explaining himself, Davies said: "His

concerts at [London's] Royal Albert Hall have become a tradition.

Unplugged was the biggest commercial success of his career. From

The Cradle was the album he's always wanted to do, and it topped the

blues charts. The "T.D.F." techno album he did incognito, under the alias X-

Sample, shows that he hasn't fallen into the classic-rock rut. He's exploring

new styles, gaining more artistic freedom, doing projects that he feels close to,

his fan base is growing, and he's playing very well."

And as Clapton ages, his songs seem to be turning more reflective. The title

track, according to the industry source, is a musical homage to former

Impressions leader Curtis ("Superfly") Mayfield, an influence acknowledged

again on the closing track, "All Things Considered."

The album features another tribute, "You Were There," which this time honors

Roger Forrester, who has managed the 52-year-old guitarist since he was 18.

Clapton wrote 12 of the songs on the album, including "Needs His Woman" and

the 7 1/2-minute "River of Tears." He also recorded a version of Bob Dylan's

"Born In Time," off the folk legend's 1990 album Under the Red Sky.

As for what he expects from the album, given the songs he's heard -- "My

Father's Eyes" and "The Circus Left Town" -- Davies suspected the album would

be a bit "melancholy and reflective ... Which will probably irritate the people that

really prefer his Cream-era stuff, but personally, I think it's nice to see Clapton

aging gracefully." [Tues., Jan. 20, 1998, 9 a.m.

PST]