Two major rock figures of the 1960s and 1970s, George Harrison and Eric Clapton forged a strong friendship and creative partnership that survived drug and alcohol abuse and even Clapton’s notorious affair with the wife. by Harrison, Patti Boyd. They composed songs together, guest on each other’s albums, and helped each other through dark times.
1970 would be a pivotal year for the two, as they would release albums that would define their careers and establish them as towering artistic figures. Authors Kenneth Womack and Jason Kruppa examine this pivotal year – and the time that came before it – in their book All Things Must Go: Harrison, Clapton & Other Matching Love Songs. What emerges is a portrait of two musicians whose backgrounds show striking differences but possess one key similarity: an undying desire to establish themselves as independent, original and confident artists.
Womack and Kruppa begin the story by comparing the childhoods of George Harrison and Eric Clapton, which were different; While Harrison’s family lived on modest means, they largely supported their son’s musical ambitions and remained close. Clapton’s childhood, on the other hand, was turned upside down due to the fact that he was raised by his grandparents and for years believed his birth mother to be his sister. Abandonment issues would plague Clapton for much of his life. Music would prove his escape, however, and by the time he met Harrison during the Beatle years, he established himself as a respected guitarist.
As the authors point out, the two artists struggled in their respective groups. Clapton resisted the pop leanings of the Yardbirds and joined John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, only to get restless and form the power trio Cream and later the supergroup Blind Faith. Meanwhile, Harrison was still hugely successful with The Beatles, but grew increasingly frustrated with John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s failure to take his job seriously. As he increasingly worked on his own projects, produced various Apple artists, and continued to study with Ravi Shankar, he was expressing his reluctance to break away from The Beatles altogether.
By 1970 Clapton had left Cream and the Beatles disbanded, leaving the two friends at a crossroads. Here, the book takes off as Womack and Kruppa detail the making of the two albums that would define the career of the two musicians. The two struggled with insecurity, but found their place creatively, albeit in different ways.
Authors contrast their work ethic: Harrison painstakingly designed All things must pass, while Clapton, Duane Allman and the rest of Derek and the Dominoes recorded Layla in two impressive weeks. Harrison remained largely sober during the sessions, while Clapton switched to heroin and other drugs. When the albums are released, All things must pass received instant cheers and commercial success while Layla has encountered decidedly mixed reviews and more modest sales. Today, of course, it is considered a classic.
Wisely Kenneth Womack and Jason Kruppa largely avoid the more outrageous aspects of Harrison and Clapton biographies, especially when it comes to Patti Boyd. While they do mention Clapton’s affair with Boyd, the Harrison / Boyd divorce, and Clapton and Boyd’s subsequent marriage, they describe the triangle only in relation to how the situation affected the music.
Part of the material on Layla (especially the title song) fulfills his continued desire for her, so their doomed romance relates. It’s refreshing, however, that the book doesn’t dwell on the most salacious details. They also provide a fascinating examination of Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” production style, explaining what makes him unique and how attitudes towards him have changed over time.
All Things Must Go: Harrison, Clapton & Other Matching Love Songs will encourage readers to reconsider the legacy of the two musicians, especially with regard to their two masterpieces. Womack and Kruppa, two accomplished musicologists and historians, invite fans to regard George Harrison and Eric Clapton not only as legends, but as emerging artists making their own way in music, experiencing the thrills and anxiety that accompany the process.