Perhaps unsurprisingly, when one alternative music’s leading names walks into the studio to record a new album they do so with an army of collaborators. Eric Clapton in 1976, however, set the bar monstrously high when he began laying down tracks for his fourth full-length studio album No Reason to Cry.
The recording of Clapton’s new material at the iconic Shangri-La Studios in Malibu, California, would happen to coincide with his 31st birthday and, in doing so, some of his closest and high profile friends began flocking to the studio with unrelenting frequency.
Given the fact that The Band were leasing the studios for a prolonged period of time, it should come as no surprise that they were regularly on hand but, as word of Clapton’s open-door policy began to spread, more names began to enter the building with their instruments in hand.
With The Band, Levon Helm, Van Morrison, Rick Danko, Billy Preston, Marcy Levy and countless others settling into the studio surroundings, it would be the astonishing addition of the great Bob Dylan that is remembered most fondly about the star-studded meeting of minds. “Dylan dropped by and was just hanging out, living in a tent at the bottom of the garden,” Clapton would later say in reflection. “He would sneak into the studio to see what was going on,” he added. In fact, rumour has it that Dylan even offered his latest unrecorded song ‘Seven Days’ to Clapton who, after some consideration, passed on the opportunity and allowed Ron Wood to take the lead.
“I had a magnificent birthday party right in the middle of the sessions and we decided to record everything and everybody that came into the studio,” Clapton once explained. “There’s Billy (Preston) singing a couple of Ray Charles songs with The Band backing him along with Jesse Ed Davis, me, Robbie (Robertson) and Woody (Ron Wood) on guitars. Bob (Dylan) showed up about eight o’clock in the morning and it went on from there.”
While the group rolled through a number of different tracks during that birthday session, including the likes of ‘It’s Eric Clapton’s Birthday’, ‘Who Do You Love?’, ‘Adios Mi Corazon’ and more, it would be Dylan’s decision to steer the group away from the Spanish songs and into ‘Water Is Wide’, a track he originally recorded alongside Joan Baez for his 1978 film Renaldo and Clara.
Stream that recording and the full effort, below.