Classic one-off collaboration between old friends
While the 1960’s is often celebrated as the golden era of modern rock (and pop), for many of those who were the agents of such a radical social experiment, otherwise known as the counter-culture, the times were often anything but all dope and daisies. Sure, there were moments of bliss to be had. Yet what started out as the Summer of Love in 1967 soon turned into that generation’s Winter of Discontent just a few years later. And in the midst of this maelstrom was Blind Faith, one of the shortest-lived supergroups ever to have blessed man’s mortal ears, and which somehow managed to record an album during their brief and ephemeral existence.
When Cream imploded under the weight of ego and artistic pressure in 1968, the last thing Eric Clapton wanted to do was to form a rock band, or any band for that matter, at least not one in his own image. But when he began hanging out with Steve Winwood, whose own group Traffic had embarked on an indefinite hiatus that same year, things began to gel, so much so that Clapton’s old gang mate from Cream, Ginger Baker, also wanted in (much to Eric’s disinclination), along with a relatively unknown bassist by the name of Rick Grech, from Family, who had actually jammed with Clapton when he was in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers back in 1966. So following a period of drugging, drinking and jamming, all members convened at London’s Olympic Studios in February of 1969, to begin what would become over the next few months their eponymous debut.
Opener “Had to Cry Today”, written by Winwood, starts things off in a loose and casual fashion, more of a jam really than an actual song, and not a bad thing as it gives the listener an indication of what to expect from the album overall. Built around a central, basic blues riff, Clapton overdubs his parts to perfection, while Winwood sings in sensitive aching mode, as Baker pounds away in complex primordial fashion.
“Can’t Find My Way Home” is another Winwood composition, and a decent one at that, and one which Clapton would ultimately adopt and perform regularly throughout the 70s. It’s a plaintive, touching piece, with some lovely acoustic Celtic strumming and more of those cherubim vocals from Winwood, a tune which would not have seemed out-of-place on a Traffic album. A remake of the old Buddy Holly tune “Well All Alright” follows, but not that you’d notice, as the arrangement here bears little resemble to the original. It’s a superb interpretation, having been culled from one of their earliest recording sessions. Also, Clapton chose to revisit the swirling sound he produced on Cream’s “Badge”, by plugging his guitar through a rotating Leslie organ speaker, which gives it a warm and warbling feel. While the jazzy piano is also a welcome addition (I bet Buddy would never have thought of that!).
“Presence of the Lord” is the only tune that Clapton contributed here, and is an important one, in that it saw him beginning to express his more spiritual side, something that would become quite important to Eric later on. Although I’m sure that at this point in his life, it was more a case of St. Augustine syndrome, in other words “Lord give me chastity and continence, but not yet!” And although the guitarist formally known as “God” doesn’t sing lead vocals (in fact Clapton doesn’t sing lead at all on the LP), he does put in a super-charged electric solo, proving that he hadn’t gone into Robbie Robertson mode completely. And another thing, apparently a total of seventy-seven takes were put to tape before a final master was achieved (take seventy-two in fact), which gives you some indication of how much sweat went into the making of this record.
The Winwood written “Sea of Joy” is a delight. What starts off with a heavy almost Cream-like riff, soon transforms into an enchanting journey, a sort of rock sea shanty if you will, where Winwood sings “Following the shadows of the skies/Or are they only figments of my eyes… Waiting in our boats to set sail”. Baker’s drumming reminds me of the rocks that every seaman tries to avoid, while Clapton’s guitar represents the stormy waves. Rick Grech also provides some excellent violin work, for what is most definitely another album highlight.
The last track “Do What You Like” is an extended number reminiscent of some of the lengthy soloing Cream was famous for. Written by Baker, almost the entire composition is a vehicle for his outstanding drumming skills. Many have often found the song to be too self-indulgent, the drum solo too long, and the chorus too meandering. And while I agree that drum solos in themselves can become rather tedious, testing the patience of even the most fervent of music lovers (“Moby Dick” on Led Zeppelin’s live album The Song Remains the Same is one case in particular), Baker’s rhythm work here remains for me one of the few exceptions (and I do mean one of the few). Ginger belongs to that rare breed that seems capable of turning mountains into marbles while at the same time playing with finesse and subtlety. John Bonham was another drummer who had those qualities, who could demolish a whole suburban block one moment, and the next be tapping on eggshells.
The 2cd deluxe edition is obviously the one to own, as it contains a healthy number of outtakes, alternate versions along with several lengthy jams, just to give the listener an idea of what was being laid down in between some of the more serious stuff. The most notable of these are “Sleeping in the Ground” (two versions) a slow blues, and an electric version of “Can’t Find My Way Home”, which was actually put aside as a working master, until an acoustic rendition was recorded at a later date, and chosen instead. The remaining tracks are, as mentioned, predominately meandering jams that are interesting but probably don’t warrant further investigation after more than a couple of listens.
Perhaps in another time Blind Faith might have gone on to achieve great things, and been comfortable with whom they were and what they were doing. But it was not to be. Clapton was destined for other journeys, as were Winwood and Baker, especially when the former’s old band Traffic reformed and began touring/recording again. However, we should be grateful that this album exists at all, even in its current form, because for 1969, there was nothing else quite like it.