ERRIC CLAPTON has made his reputation as a blues guitarist by borrowing wisely from his betters. As one-third of Cream, Capton's best moments were his copies of Robert Johnson's "Crossroads" and Howlin' Wolf's "Spoonful." Capton's famour high-pitched guitar solos were derived from B. B. King. Clapton's career, was carried by Duane Allman's slide guitar.
Since his 1974 comeback, Clapton has extended his "reach" to reggae (Bob Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff") and country boogie (J.J. Cale's "Cocaine"). This kind of stealing is a long-honored tradition in rock 'n' roll, provided it is done with taste, skill and energy. Clapton has always shown taste and skill and occasionally the necessary energy for great blues recordings of his own.
But energy is what is missing from Clapton's new album, "Another Ticket" (RSO RX-1-3095) -- although it can be found on the new albums by two of his sources of inspiration: J. J. Cale and B. B. King.
With "Another Ticket," Clapton attempts to return to his old blues borrowings. He turns in professional copies of Muddy Waters' "Blow Wind Blow" and Sleepy John Estes' "Floating Bridge." Four of Clapton's six originals are also traditional electric blues.
Unfortunately, these blues tunes never catch fire. Clapton lays the groundwork for a grand climax and then just lays more groundwork. He is content to simply lie back and play tasteful, clever guitar licks between his rather listless vocals.
The album's title tune is a rather schmaltzy pop love ballad. The best tracks are the George Harrison-influenced gospel of "Hold Me Lord" and the J. J. Cale-influenced country-blues of "Black Rose". The born-again gospel tune details sins in the verses and sizzling slide guitar and salvation in the choruses and submissive vocals. The interracial love story of "Black Rose" is carried by a stubborn Cale-like vocal backed by feisty guitar fills.
A much better album than Clapton's is J. J.Cale's "Shades" (Shelter MCA-5158). It cracks the lid on one of rock 'n' roll's best-kept secrets: Few people who have appreciatd the subtly insinuating country blues of Clapton and Dire Straits realized that the sound originated with J. J. Cale. Every guitar move that Dire Straits' Mark Knopfler ever made has its precedent on a Cale record. Clapton not only covered Cale's "After Midnight" and Cocaine," but quoted his style effectively in his own compositions like "Lay Down Sally." Santana's new album, "zebop!" (Columbia FC37158), contains Cale's "The Sensitive Kind." Though Cale understates everything he does, his darting, dodging guitar phrases imply far more than most guitar solos ever state.
For all his far-reaching influence, though, Cale has received little credit. He's hardly helped his own cause by giving few concerts and fewer interviews. He's only released six albums in 10 years and has never allowed his photograph to appear on a cover.
On "Shades," Cale's soft-spoken vocals contain the calm confidence of a man who expects to be listened to. The guitar solos take their time to pause and search for the right phrase as if the record were a musical confession. In many ways it is. Though the lyrics are fairly standard, Cale's self-possessed personality -- which expects no response but respect -- soaks through every song.
"Carry On" is a song of quiet but fierce determination. Cale whispers sympathetically to his girl about her problems. He patiently urges her not to cry but to "Carry On." As a model, he offers her his own guitar solo which snakes around the relaxed shuffle with an unharried, unstoppable sense of direction. "If You Leave Her" is a whispered warning to an uncaring man. The quietest threats are often the most intimidating, and this song clearly implies dire consequences. By contract, "Wish I Had Not Said That" is a tenderly intimate apology.
An impressive cast of guests seized the rare chance to play with Cale. The album's one cover, the traditional "Mama Don't," features the cream of Nashville's studio musicians. Glen Hardin and James Burton of Elvis Presley's band trade one-upmanship solos with Cale on "Play My Jack." The album's biggest revelation, though, is Cale's protege, Christine Lakeland. She plays keyboards and guitars with her mentor's sturdy understatement.
B. B. King's last two studio recordings were written, produced and performed by the Crusaders. His new album, "There Must Be a Better World Somewhere" (MCA5762), is written, produced and performed by New Orleans pianist Dr. John. Doc Pomus (who once collaborated with Mort Shuman on golden oldies like "Little Sister" and "Hushabye") collaborates with Dr. John in writing all but one of the songs for "There Must Be a Better World." Unfortunately, they fall far short of the standards Pomus and Dr. John have set in the past.
With so-so material, King is not pushed to the heights of which he is capable. Instead the album features King's flashy guitar playing in an amiable jam with old friends like Dr. John, drummer Pretty Purdie and pop-jazz saxophonist Hank Crawford. All these performers are experienced at keeping late-hour roadhouse crowds hopping, and that is the feeling here.