As his countless devotees remember, the early 1970s were a difficult time in the life of Eric Clapton. Brought low by heroin addiction, he entered a downward spiral after appearing at his friend George Harrison’s Concert For Bangla Desh in August 1971, and the following year was devoid of any new material.
So it was a huge moment when, at the encouragement of Pete Townshend, Clapton stepped back on stage at the Rainbow Theater in London on January 13, 1973. The all-star event became known as his comeback concert, even though the guitar hero still had much more work ahead in the personal recovery that manifested itself in 1974.
All that EC fans had to go on during 1972 was catalogue and live material. The History of Eric Clapton compilation reached the US Top 10, and another American compilation, Eric Clapton At His Best, followed later in the year. In the UK, the belated release of “Layla” as a single from Derek & the Dominos’ 1970 Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs album took it into the Top 10. The Cream vaults were mined for the Heavy Cream compilation and the Live Cream Volume II album.
When it came to the Rainbow concert, Clapton was certainly left in no doubt about the depth of support he had among his fellow rock stars. Townshend’s callout to their mutual friends in the business led to appearances by Ronnie Wood, Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi, Ric Grech, percussionist Rebop and drummer Jimmy Karstein. They were all present for the two shows that took place that evening, in a celebration of Clapton’s recorded work to that point.
While the album that followed in 1973 (which reached the UK and US Top 20) was limited by the vinyl capacity to six songs, the 1995 remaster was a 13-song selection including several more Derek & the Dominos tracks in addition to the opening “Layla.” It concluded with a version of the Robert Johnson number that became a Clapton staple, “Crossroads.” Eric was indeed at the crossroads of his life, but the Rainbow event was the beginning of the road back to health and renewed superstardom.