35 Years Ago: How Label Pressure Helped Eric Clapton to a Big Hit With ‘Forever Man’
"Forever Man" helped bring Eric Clapton into the '80s, though the process didn't always go smoothly.
In fact, "Forever Man" was one of three songs that weren't originally part of his ninth studio project, Behind The Sun. Clapton submitted the album before its March 1985 release with a different running order, but Warner Bros. executives came away unimpressed with what they were hearing.
"They said it had no singles and no relevance to anything else that was out there, and I needed to wake up and get with what's going on," Clapton later told the Edinburgh News. "Instead of getting arrogant and outraged, I did the shrewd thing."
Warner Bros. called in producer Ted Templeman and label president Lenny Waronker to oversee the addition of three new tracks to Behind the Sun, which was otherwise helmed by Phil Collins: "See What Love Can Do" "Something's Happening" and, most notably, "Forever Man," all written by Jerry Lynn Williams.
Clapton admitted that he felt like there was no other choice: "Faced with the prospect that [the album] would be a flop, that it would be hard to promote and that it was self-indulgent, I agreed to re-record a third of it," he told Q magazine in 1990. "So, Warners sent me some Jerry Williams songs, which I really loved, and off I went to Los Angeles."
Still, he lost control of the process, and a significant part of the album. Rather than bringing in Clapton's backing band, Waronker hired members of Toto – co-founders Steve Lukather and Jeff Porcaro, along with band contributors including keyboardist Greg Phillinganes, bassist Nathan East and congo player Lenny Castro – to help with the additional material.
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Lukather told Classic Rock Revisited in 2013 that he would have been happy simply meeting Clapton. He never dreamed that he'd have the chance to perform on one of Clapton's songs.
"I talked my way onto that album," Lukather said. "I knew the producer on that one and I really wanted to meet Eric because I was a lifelong fan. I was so fucking nervous when I met Eric — I have never been that nervous meeting any star in the world. I played for free on that album because I just wanted to meet him. We played 'Forever Man' and I froze up and I didn’t know what to play, and that never happens to me. I would play a little bit, but I didn’t want to play too much."
Like so many other young guitarists, Lukather had spent a lifetime closely following Clapton's work.
"I can’t tell you how many hours I spent picking the needle up and down off of Cream records, trying to learn those solos when I was a kid," Lukather remembered on his official website. "He was very gracious and very kind to me, and we had a good time. I didn’t really contribute any earth-shattering parts to those songs, but it was a great experience to hang around and be around one of my all-time heroes."
In yet another nod to label pressure, "Forever Man" subsequently became Clapton's debut music video. "It was fun, but it goes against the grain for me," Clapton said in Crossroads: The Life and Music of Eric Clapton. "It's a concession to the star-making machinery."
The only consolation was how well it all worked. "Forever Man" became Clapton's fourth U.S. Top 40 hit of the '80s, and the second of four chart toppers on the Billboard Top Rock Tracks charts over the course of the decade.
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