Philadelphia Inquirer: January 28, 2001
Blind Faith Remaster

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"The Rise and Fall of Blind Faith:
New Set Tells the Tale of a Rock Supergroup"

It began under the radar, just a few rock-star friends looking for kicks.

They gathered to jam at Eric Clapton's house in Surrey in February 1969, and judging from tapes made shortly afterward, the union that came to be called Blind Faith was magic. Steve Winwood, stuck too long in Traffic, was there. So was Clapton and his longtime compatriot Ginger Baker. In a few weeks, bassist Rick Grech, of the hot U.K. act the Family, would be invited in.

Seven months later, after making its debut before 100,000 people in London's Hyde Park and selling out a U.S. tour before its album even reached stores, Blind Faith dissolved. Rock's first supergroup gave the world its first supergroup spinout, leaving behind one timeless studio album, several sad cautionary tales about the business of music, and an entire curriculum on the fine art of jamming.

A just-released two-disc "Blind Faith: Deluxe Edition" (Universal) fills in some of the legend's gaps, and, through previously unreleased material, offers an interesting view of the group's evolution from a casual diversion into one of the most adventurous rock bands of all time. In addition to remastering "Blind Faith's" six songs, the new set, which features the controversial original cover (a bare-chested pubescent girl holding a gold airplane), contains an alternate "electric" version of "Can't Find My Way Home", several blues standards, and four extended early jams.

Listening to this treasure trove in chronological order, in one sitting, is like reconstructing a historical event. Blind Faith came together first as frustrated musicians. Its members felt limited by their "day jobs" and were determined to shed old habits, if not find entirely new sounds. Winwood recalls in the CD's accompanying booklet that "Eric and I were searching to a degree, and Blind Faith had been a vehicle in which we could create something that had its own identity."

To do that, they began with open-ended exploration (the four jams on Disc Two) and from there developed intricate tapestries that depended on haunting melody and unusual chord sequences, Winwood's cryptic prayers, and Baker's tantric, shape-shifting beats.

"The heart, the core of what Blind Faith could have done was all wrapped up in the time before we were actually exposed," Clapton said in a 1970 interview excerpted in the liner notes.

Indeed, the sessions that Clapton, Winwood, and Baker recorded on March 2, 1969, are adventures in riffing that, while not uniformly brilliant, were essential to the development of Blind Faith. Clapton, then 23, starts with an ordinary two-bar blues guitar phrase, which the 20-year-old Winwood, playing bass or organ with bass pedals, picks up and embellishes. Sometimes just the basic phrase is enough: On "Jam No. 1" (subtitled "Very Long & Good Jam"), there are expanses when the riff is all that's happening, with Clapton changing accents and emphasis, landing hard on some notes and almost swallowing others.

Where today's jammers twitter nervously from one technical high-wire feat to the next, these guys took their time. They let ideas percolate and relished the empathy, achieving a level of interaction most often attained by jazz musicians of the period.

In the months that followed, the group continued that patient approach. Though several of Blind Faith's cuts - the cover of Buddy Holly's "Well All Right" and Clapton's majestic hymn "Presence of the Lord" - were recorded in February, the rest of the album didn't come together until after the jam sessions, in May and June.

That's significant, because the heart of the classic record - Clapton's "Presence", "Had to Cry Today", "Can't Find My Way Home", and especially Winwood's galloping, ecstatic "Sea of Joy" - represents the reconciling of two worlds: the rip-it-up jamming ethos that swept rock beginning with Cream, and the disciplined song aesthetic of the Band and the Beatles. Blind Faith was the rare moment when inventive songwriting was expanded by equally inventive instrumental elaboration.

Typically, just as the group was coalescing musically, business forces began to meddle. Sensing the group's enormous cash potential, Winwood's and Clapton's managers planned a large U.S. tour before the album was complete.

That put everyone on a schedule: There were sessions in late June and early July to meet an August release date. And before the band had much chance to rehearse its show, it was thrust onto the road.

The musicians felt less than prepared to tour - Blind Faith's songbook was so small that its live set included hits by Cream ("Sunshine of Your Love") and Traffic ("Dear Mr. Fantasy") - and were unhappy with the results.

There was also controversy over the album cover: In the United States and the U.K., retailers refused to stock the disc, and the labels in each country quickly replaced the photo of the girl with a black-and-white of the foursome taken in Clapton's rehearsal room. (Subsequent pressings of "Blind Faith" in 1976 restored the original image.)

In the notes, Winwood says of the tour: "As soon as we got started, we realized that this really wasn't happening." The group disbanded immediately after the last date.

And though Blind Faith's demise left fans disappointed and musicians wondering how something so inventive could unravel so quickly, the group did move mountains. It demonstrated ways to expand ordinary verse-chorus songs with gorgeous, deeply melodic instrumental work. It set the stage for an outbreak of supergroups, from Crosby, Stills, and Nash through the Traveling Wilburys and beyond. It proved that even revered musicians can step outside their comfort zones to create new, and challenging, work.

And, remarkably, the band did it at warp speed, moving from blank-slate origins to high-profile dissolution in the time it takes many artists to document a single song.

--- Tom Moon

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Page created February 5, 2001.
Last updated February 5, 2001.
© 1997 by the author; reproduce only for non-commercial purposes and with full attribution.