How a message from David Bowie helped Eric Clapton name his album
We’re digging into the Far Out Magazine vault to share with you a curious tale between the Starman, David Bowie, and Eric ‘Slowhand’ Clapton; two of Britain’s most cherished musicians. One was a powerhouse guitarist, the other a struggling musician trying to find his feet, but Clapton and Bowie were both musical artists in the sixties even though it would take a while before they inspired one another.
David Bowie was one of those artists who seemingly managed to have influenced an endless list of musical icons at some point in their lives. Whether it was introducing Lou Reed to Britain back in 1972 or proclaiming Devo to be “the band fo the future”, Bowie has been involved with some behemoths of rock and roll. Yet, somehow, he and the legendary guitarist and Cream performer, Eric Clapton, never seemed to cross paths—apart from one occasion, of course, a time when the two men would finally meet and it would result in the naming of Clapton’s 21st studio album from 2013.
Eric Clapton has a solid canon of incredible songs. While much of his career was built in the fervent sixties music scene and sprawled over the next few decades as new generations found his music, by 2013 Clapton had reached a new Zen-like state about releasing music. Once a strong-willed performer and creator, unwilling to relent, by this time, Clapton was now releasing music only to please himself but was open to ideas, even from the Starman.
In the clip below, Clapton explains how the event came about. He says that while on holiday, he had taken a snap of himself on his iPhone and had instantly taken a liking to the picture. “I thought that’s a great album cover,” said the guitarist and singer and, with a devilish smile, he continued: “And it will probably upset people at the record company ‘cos it won’t be very well defined when they come to try and process it.”
He added: “I thought it was a good start. But then I had to come up with a title,” says Slowhand back in 2014. “I wanted to call it ’50 years of drift’ because of the 50 years thing people have banged on about. 50 Years of Drift in an Open Tuning it was going to be called.
“It was a homage to Derek Taylor’s book, which was called 50 Years of Drift in an Open Shirt,” but he later recanted saying, “well, you haven’t really come up with it, have you?” It’s a fair point and highlights that the pressure was off for Clapton at this stage.
It was, however, back to the drawing board and Clapton decided to pay it very little focus and, instead, let the idea come to him naturally. Sure enough, it did with the gong of the Ten O’Clock News. Slowhand was watching the television when an old face from past was back releasing new music, David Bowie and his song ‘Where Are We Now?’, with the acclaimed singer performing on a brand new platform. “I thought this is pretty clever, a nifty bit of promotion,” said Clapton.
It wasn’t just the PR Bowie had gathered but the song itself which had blown Clapton away. “I don’t know David at all, I’ve met him once I think,” the guitarist recalls after wanting to reach out. “I’ve got to say I’ve never been 100% fond of everything he’s done. But this song took me by the scruff of the neck and I just went for it. But the album, pre-ordered, everything.
“The construction of the song gave me cold chills. It was seriously good,” he remembers. Clapton then called Bowie’s office desperate to convey a message of gratitude to the Starman, literally having a note sent to his office with his thanks “for writing such a beautiful song,” something Clapton likes to do when songs really strike him, and has often done before.
Never one to let down a fan, Bowie replied: “Thanks for the shoutout, old sock. Really appreciate it.” It was a lightbulb moment for Clapton, “I thought ‘there it is!’ I sent him a message saying ‘Is it ok if I use that as my new album title?'” Bowie thought it was a lovely idea and even agreed that Clapton could share the story too.
Old Sock would be one of Clapton’s finer works in the latter stages of his career. As well as covers of his favourite songs from childhood there were also two entirely new compositions in ‘Gotta Get Over’ and ‘Every Little Thing’ and was lucky enough to have a host of gifted musicians working on it, including Steve Winwood, JJ Cale and Paul McCartney.
The question remains, however, why Clapton enjoyed the phrase so much. He explains: “What’s good about it is, it’s come from someone I respect who’s been around the same time as me, and we know what that kind of phraseology is, y’know. It’s very apt.” It’s a great title and comes with a Bowie seal of approval which means it instantly gets ours too.