Eric Clapton admitted he was off track. He came into sessions for Another Ticket without his most consistent '70s-era backing band or any real direction. He left the project behind in even worse shape.

"I used to do crazy things that people would bail me out of, and I'm just grateful that I survived – but the music got very lost," Clapton said, of the late '70s, in a 1994 talk with Music Radar. "I didn't know where I was going and I didn't really care. I was more into just having a good time, and I think it showed."

Just One Night, released the year before, had showcased his new collaborators – minus keyboardist Gary Brooker – in a live setting, but it necessarily felt more retrospective than forward looking. Another Ticket would arrive on Feb. 17, 1981, as their first clear statement of purpose.

The goal seemed to be to get more rustic, get more real. But it was taking forever, as sessions broke down in March and April 1980 at Surrey Sound Studios in Leatherneck.

"It took a long time to make that album because I was totally fed up with writing ditties and pleasant melodies," Clapton told Musician in May 1982, "and I thought it was time for me to reconnect myself with what I know best."

A different guitarist might have nudged Clapton in ways the departed George Terry often didn't, setting up another run at the twin-guitar glories of his Layla sessions with Duane Allman. But Another Ticket – thanks to the more country-leaning Albert Lee – seemed to be heading toward a rootsier, turn-of-the-'70s Bob Dylan and the Band vibe, rather than the muscular blues rock of Derek and the Dominos.

Clapton's label hated it. RSO Records' rejection only added to Clapton's sense of aimlessness and depression. He attempted to distract himself by attending soccer games or fly fishing. But the truth was, Clapton was getting lost in the bottom of a brown bottle, reportedly drinking multiple fifths of brandy a day. His previous studio album dated all the way back to 1978.

Listen to Eric Clapton's 'I Can't Stand It'

So, he fired Glyn Johns – Clapton took a swipe at his ex-producer in the Musician interview, saying Johns "was always very aware of what he was selling" – and simply started over. Clapton's first call was to Tom Dowd, his collaborator on the Dominos sessions. Dowd suggested they change recording venues, so Clapton relocated to Nassau, completing Another Ticket at Compass Point Studios.

Together, they reenvisioned some of the earlier rejected material, transforming "Rita Mae" from a flagging shuffle into a riffy rocker that eventually became a platform of extended solo adventures in concert. Clapton and Lee thrillingly tangle in the closing moments, creating sparks not seen since "The Core" from 1977's otherwise pretty mellow Slowhand.

The album got tougher, and that created its own momentum. A rejuvenated Clapton wrote five of the album's nine tracks (including "Catch Me If You Can," perhaps its best moment), and cowrote a sixth. He pointedly returned to old blues, covering Muddy Waters and Sleepy John Estes rather than his own contemporaries.

In fact, he could have taken yet another page out of the songbook of J.J. Cale, a mentor and author of "After Midnight" and "Cocaine," but instead created his own version: "I Can't Stand It" went on to become Clapton's only Top 10 hit of the '80s – and the first No. 1 song on Billboard's Top Tracks chart for rock songs, which debuted in March 1981.

"I don't get any reward for that – but that's okay. See, he's getting to a point where he can write that way," Cale told Vintage Guitar in 2007. "It's not in the song; it's in the feel. And once you've figured that out – well, he's figured that out, so he doesn't need to use my words anymore."

Not all of it caught fire, and the weakest songs were unfortunately stacked up front: "Something Special," another of the reworked tracks that Clapton placed as the album opener, sounds like a leftover from George Harrison's creatively lethargic late-'70s period. "Black Rose" is a country-inflected misfire.

Still, the change in venue, the changes in the lineup and the change in the producer's chair seemed to have done some good. Another Ticket went gold, while avoiding the obstinately low-key potholes that always seemed to slow Clapton's solo career.

Then disaster struck, and then it struck again.

Listen to Eric Clapton's 'Catch Me If You Can'

His take on Estes' "Floating Bridge" was more than a perfectly languid journey that followed and then built upon Elmore James' lead. It's part of what appears to be a weirdly prescient three-song meditation on death that begins with the dark gospel of "Hold Me Lord" (where Clapton cries, "I'm slipping through") and ends with the closing line of "Catch Me If You Can": "You'd better find a shovel, 'cause I've gone to ground."

He got close. Clapton ended up collapsing a few dates into a U.S. tour promoting Another Ticket and was diagnosed with a potentially deadly bout of ulcers brought on by his alcoholism. That led to a lengthy hospitalization in Minnesota.

"There was one point there where they were flying me to hospital in St. Paul, and I was dying, apparently," Clapton told Classic Rock in 2017. "I had three ulcers and one of them was bleeding. I was drinking three bottles of brandy and taking handfuls of codeine, and I was close to checking out – and I don't even remember. It's amazing that I'm still here, really."

Then, after finally being discharged, Clapton promptly got into a Seattle-area car accident, suffering "bruised ribs and a lacerated chin." At the same time, Another Ticket marked the end of Clapton's 15-year association with Polydor, which absorbed RSO Records. They had no impetus to continue promoting the record.

Clapton returned to the U.K. beaten and battered, descending further into addiction. He finally surfaced again in September 1981, participating in Amnesty International benefit concerts in London.

But his next album wouldn't follow until 1983, and by then Lee was the only member left of the all-British Another Ticket band. It took two tries, but Clapton finally sobered up. He didn't release another Top 10 LP, however, for more than a decade.

"What saved me was music," Clapton noted. "Before I was introduced to the 12-step philosophy, which is a community of people meeting to share their identities and their difficulties, before that I just thought: 'Well, as long as I can play. … I'll just stay alive long enough to play.'"

 

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