Eric Clapton is a living legend—we all know that. His fabled music career spans more than five decades and too many albums to name. Recently, though, time has caught up with the guitar god. In 2014, he stopped touring, stating that “the road has become unbearable” and even hinted that “odd ailments” might force him to eventually forego guitar playing altogether. 50 odd years of moving your fingers at breakneck speeds in the name of rock takes a toll, and people expect a certain level of excellence out of Slowhand’s guitar playing—once that capability is gone, is it worth continuing?
A nervous system disorder discovered last month hasn’t helped things. He is still going though, and fellow legends, The Rolling Stones, just announced that Clapton would appear on a “couple of numbers” on their upcoming record. It’s yet another prolific collaboration for Clapton in a career that’s been built atop countless high profile partnerships and a number of seminal bands: The Yardbirds. John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers. Cream. Derek and the Dominos. Just to name a few.
One of his bands, though, is a little less recognizable than those aforementioned. And the short-lived super-group Blind Faith, who released their only record at this time back in 1969, deserve remembering.
Blind Faith was formed in 1969 by Clapton, Steve Winwood, legendary Cream drummer, Ginger Baker, and Family bassist, Ric Grech. It grew largely from the ashes of Cream, which had become a blues-rock powerhouse, helping to shift heavy, psychedelia-inflected blues-rock into the mainstream. The genre’s newfound popularity and financial viability would go on to inspire bands like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and Black Sabbath.
With Blind Faith, Clapton wanted to explore a less commercially driven form of blues rock, one with more room for experimentation than Cream’s now entrenched mainstream identity would allow. So did Winwood, who left the Spencer Davis Group in 1967 and was on hiatus with his latest project, Traffic. The two were good friends from their time together in yet another super-group, Eric Clapton and the Powerhouse, and the band was soon birthed from jam sessions held in Clapton’s basement.
After Blind Faith was fully assembled, buzz spread of a new mega group that media outlets labeled, “super Cream.” Clapton, whose goal was to forge a separate rock identity, wasn’t happy about the connection. In an attempt to establish Blind Faith as Blind Faith, the foursome shifted into high gear, hurrying through songwriting sessions and, before they were fully prepared, they hosted a free concert in London’s Hyde Park in June, 1969. Clapton was underwhelmed by the performance and thought they didn’t deserve the plaudits they received from fans, but they continued to tour, nonetheless, interjecting recording sessions with quick jaunts to Scandinavia and the United States.
The band still didn’t have enough songs to fill a full set, though, and so they were forced to append original material with old Cream and Traffic songs—much to the pleasure of audiences and much to the chagrin of Clapton, who felt like his new band was sliding into the very territory he’d been trying to avoid. In response, the guitarist began spending more time with tour opener, Delaney & Bonnie, than Blind Faith, in turn making Winwood the de facto band leader. Baker said it was obvious that Clapton was intending to leave the band following the tour, which he did, ending the super-group’s brief tenure.
Still, their time together was hardly fruitless. They’d put together a modest compilation of sumptuous blues-rock tracks rife with each player’s respective instrumental mastery. Clapton’s fiery solos. Winwood’s distinctive voice and lively piano playing. Baker’s rhythmic prowess. Grech’s rolling basslines. In the summer of ’69, six songs were pressed to vinyl, and, thanks to its enduring second track, “Can’t Find My Way Home,” Blind Faith continues to linger on our airwaves.
“Can’t Find My Way Home” is gorgeous, a masterpiece marked by acoustic guitar counterpoint, Baker’s inventive percussion, and Winwood’s soaring falsetto. Its defining lyric, “And I’m wasted and I can’t find my way home,” nicely contrasts the song’s beauty, evoking a sense of amused inebriation on some moonlit road—a pleasant place to find oneself in such a state, or at least an idyllic setting to imagine the next time you forget where your house is. The song has been covered by everyone from Joe Cocker to Bonnie Raitt to Swans.
Blind Faith’s self-titled record would top the UK and Canadian charts, as well as the Billboard 200. It also rose to number 40 on the Billboard Soul Albums chart, which was unprecedented for a British rock band. Aside from the album’s success, its most notable attribute is its contentious cover. The art features a topless pubescent girl holding the phallic hood ornament of a Chevrolet Bel Air. Photographer Bob Seidemann, best known for his photographs of Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead, created the image. After gaining permission from her parents, Seidemann photographed Mariora Goschen—reported to be 11 years old at the time—and built the cover art from there. He released this explanatory statement to Badcat Records:
“I could not get my hands on the image until out of the mist a concept began to emerge. To symbolize the achievement of human creativity and its expression through technology a space ship was the material object. To carry this new spore into the universe, innocence would be the ideal bearer, a young girl, a girl as young as Shakespeare’s Juliet. The space ship would be the fruit of the tree of knowledge and the girl, the fruit of the tree of life.
The space ship could be made by Mick Milligan, a jeweller at the Royal College of Art [sic]. The girl was another matter. If she were too old it would be cheesecake, too young and it would be nothing. The beginning of the transition from girl to woman, that is what I was after. That temporal point, that singular flare of radiant innocence. Where is that girl?”
The cover was, of course, controversial, and Atlantic Records, who released the album in the US, replaced the image with a picture of the band. Rumors swirled that Goschen was perhaps Baker’s daughter, or, more outrageously, a child slave kept by the band against her will. She wasn’t, of course, and her agreement to partake in the shoot was predicated on her asking price: a young horse. Goschen was instead compensated with £40 and a lifetime of infamy. And when all was said and done, Seidemann decided to call the piece, “Blind Faith.”
Blind Faith is but a blip on the tour de force that has been Eric Clapton’s career. In that brief stint, though, Slowhand helped craft some of the finest music attached to his illustrious name. When Clapton does eventually decide to hang up his axe, hopefully Blind Faith gets its proper due. Because sometimes, when roads become unbearable, and when finding our way home is more difficult than it should be, blind faith is all we’ve got.
Image: Island Records