Perhaps the best way to describe guitar legend Eric Clapton in July 1974, as he prepared to unveil his watershed solo LP, 461 Ocean Boulevard, was as a "wanted man."

After laying low for the better part of three years while struggling with substance abuse, Clapton was sought after by his fellow musicians, by the countless fans of his prior exploits (the Yardbirds, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith and the short lived Derek & the Dominos) and by the savvy music industry suits, who knew they were dealing with a golden goose – sure to fill their coffers regardless of what music he put his name to.

But rather than reemerging as the famed blues purist, or even the psychedelic warrior of old, Clapton's new work trafficked in mellow.

461 Ocean Boulevard was bookended by an urgently paced re-working of the traditional "Motherless Children" and the renewed vigor of "Mainline Florida." In between, however, the ensuing laid-back fare ranged from the hymn-like "Give Me Strength" to the easy-grooving "Willie and the Hand Jive" to a slippery slide across Elmore James' "I Can't Hold Out" and an acoustic "Please Be with Me."

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Sprinkled among these were three key tracks in "Get Ready" (a cowrite and duet with Jesus Christ Superstar alum Yvonne Elliman); Clapton's own, earnestly hopeful "Let it Grow" (an emotional reflection of his recent rebirth from the shadows of heroin addiction); and, most striking of all, a relatively straight cover of Bob Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff" that went to No. 1, pulling the rest of the album right along with it.

Throughout the sessions, Clapton was aided and abetted by bassist Carl Radle (late of the Dominos), drummer Jamie Oldaker, keyboardist Dick Sims, guitarist George Terry – and, perhaps most crucial of all, Tom Dowd. The dean of record producers, he'd worked with Clapton since his Dominos and Cream days, and contributed much to shoring up his shaky confidence.

Together, these players helped Eric Clapton fulfill most of the tall expectations harbored by his previous groups alluded to earlier, once his incomparable talents and this inspired song set were finally captured in the grooves of 461 Ocean Boulevard.

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