Jerry Lynn Williams and I first crossed paths in 1985 though I didn’t know it at the time. Rather, the first single and MTV video off Eric Clapton’s Behind the Sun was one of three songs on the new effort bearing his brand. The name meant nothing to me then, but I noted it because that’s who was credited on “Forever Man.” That was the song, too. Slowhand’s classic 461 Ocean Boulevard tones rippled through it on a Caribbean lilt lined with a steel-drum guitar stutter. Cream-y.
Unfathomably, “She’s Waiting,” the album’s second single, hit instead. As I sniped in a record review for my college newspaper, “She’s Waiting” sounded like she’s waiting for the disc’s producer to sing the song, and not one note of music back then didn’t feature Phil Collins. Behind the Sun radiated two other Williams compositions, and taken with “Forever Man,” they fueled the platter. Three years later on Crossroads, the second CD box set after Dylan’s Biograph, “Wanna Make Love to You,” an outtake from Sun’s follow-up August, left another forget-me-not. “Running on Faith,” one of five Williams contributions to 1989’s Journeyman, Clapton’s post-Crossroads rebirth, later showed up on the sole Jerry Lynn Williams CD I’ve come across: 2001’s The Peacemaker. That was at Waterloo Records mainstay Martin Coulter’s table at an Austin Records Convention a couple years ago.
Last night, halfway through a two-hour main set at the America Airlines Center in Dallas – Williams’ hometown – Clapton launched “Forever Man” like a three-minute time capsule from somewhere deep inside my last quarter-century. When Steve Winwood sang the second verse, a circle closed; it’s the organist who suggested unearthing the song as both Blind Faith veterans attest in the new Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood Live From Madison Square Garden DVD.
Mostly, the pair stuck to the DVD and its audio compliment, jiggering the song order and making substitutions. Opener “Had to Cry” crossed Winwood’s powder blue-green Strat with Clapton’s Blackie, their snake pit of lead lines loosening the two UK bluesmen’s digits as a backing rhythm section, auxiliary keyboardist, and a pair of back-up singers flexed their instruments. Son House’s “Low Down Dirty Shame” did the same, followed by Clapton’s lithe, yet chunky “After Midnight,” both prepping Blind Faith’s “Presence of the Lord,” though it was Winwood at the piano on Traffic jam “Glad,” which then segued into a strutting cover of Buddy Holly’s “Well All Right,” that proved the evening's point of no return.
“Too Bad,” the b-side of “Forever Man,” prompted Clapton’s best Albert King, flash needle point from a sewing machine. “Forever Man” encore turned out to be Winwood’s signature solo vehicle, “Georgia on My Mind,” lead into a four-song acoustic set highlighted by “Layla” and then “Can’t Find My Way Home.” The full arena wasn’t quite wasted enough not to find their way home to classic rock heaven. Closer “Voodoo Chile,” on whose 1968 original Winwood guested, went the distance at 13 minutes, slow, steady and speared by Clapton whenever he unleashed a spasm of solo with the force of the Mississippi. Winwood’s portions were calm, blue ambiance compared to Clapton’s gushing bursts.
Dueling axes slung the first encore, “Cocaine,” the duo snorting solos fat and fast, Winwood’s sharp and mean, and the ever competitive Clapton’s proving which of the two had been shredding six strings for living. “Dear Mr. Fantasy” then climaxed with a crescendo of Clapton rock and Winwood soul. Second comings don’t come any more first rate.
“Forever Man,” though. That was one. Clarion Clapton, genius A&R by Winwood. Jerry Lynn Williams lives.
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