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Legends of the Road showcases Eric Clapton

Craterian Music Hall's Legends of the Road Series will pay tribute to the music of English rock and blues guitarist, singer and songwriter Eric Clapton.

Clapton is the only three-time inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: as a member of the Yardbirds and Cream and once as a solo artist. He's been noted as one of the most influential guitarists of all time, ranking second in Rolling Stone magazine's list of top 100, fourth in Gibson's top 50, and he's No. 5 in Time magazine's list of top 10 best electric guitar players.

The phrase “Clapton is God ” originated during Clapton's tenure with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Clapton was a member of the Bluesbreakers from April to late August 1965 and again from November 1965 to July 1966. It was during this time that he rose to prominence on the burgeoning British blues scene.

The phrase was spray-painted on a wall in the underground station in Islington — a borough of the greater London area — by a fan. It then began to appear in other areas of the city. The graffiti was captured in a now-famous photograph.

Clapton left The Yardbirds to play with the Bluesbreakers in the mid-'60s. Then he formed power trio Cream with drummer Ginger Baker and bassist Jack Bruce, playing blues improvisations and blues-based psychedelic rock. He also formed blues-rock band Blind Faith with Baker and multi-instrumentalists Steve Winwood and Ric Grech. During the '70s, Clapton's was influenced by the laid-back style of J.J. Cale and reggae artist Bob Marley. Two of his most popular recordings were "Layla," recorded with Derek and the Dominos, and Robert Johnson's "Crossroads," recorded with Cream. Following the death of his son Conor in 1991, Clapton's grief was expressed in the song "Tears in Heaven," which was featured on his "Unplugged" album.

Rogue Valley musicians — Gene Black, Jennifer DePuglia, Bob Evoniuk, Greg Frederick, Don Harriss, Bret Levick, Matt Terreri and Doug Warner — will pay homage to Clapton with performances of such songs as "Tears of Heaven," "Bell Bottom Blues," "Sunshine of Your Love," "After Midnight," "Crossroads" and more at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, May 11-13, at the Craterian Theater, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford. Tickets are $24 and can be purchased at craterian.org, at the box office, 16 S. Bartlett St., or by calling 541-779-3000.

"We'll take Clapton's music from it's beginnings with the Bluesbreakers and follow it throughout his career," Frederick says. "His career is amazing, and he played with other amazing musicians, like the Beatles."

Levick and DePuglia will tackle Clapton's vocals throughout the show, and Black — a newcomer to the Rogue Valley — will play the guitar leads.

"It's great for us," Frederick says. "Gene played guitar on all those Joe Cocker tours. He is familiar with British rock 'n' roll."

Black played the rock clubs of Detroit in the '70s, the clubs and recording studios of Southern California in the '80s, and ultimately a 17-year stint with Cocker.

This past year, Black and his wife, Diane Doyle, have lived a quiet life in the Rogue Valley. Black met Frederick and Levick when he attended a L.E.F.T. show at RoxyAnn Winery. The opportunity led to Black's new project, Gene Black and The Pack, which debuted in late April at Hilltop Music Shop in Phoenix. Black wanted to start his own project here, but didn't know how to go about getting a lineup together. Frederick, who knows every musician in the Rogue Valley, helped him, and a new band fell into place. 

"It just all came together," Black says. "Nick (Garrett) was wanting to play keyboards outside The Fret Drifters, and I wanted a piano player on the project. Nick's also got a wonderful voice, and Matthew (Kriemelman) is a great drummer. We all got together, and the timing was perfect.

"I've always worked backup behind amazing singers, Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, Cocker," he says. "When I did write songs, I would write them out of my key, which I tend to do for some reason. So I've never really got out front to see what I could do. I don't have the range Rod Stewart or Bryan Adams have, but there's a place where I'm comfortable. Over the winter, I was listening to great songs by my favorite writers, and I want to go out and play that music.

"Part of that comes from me playing loud rock for so many years," Black says. "I'm enjoying a break from that. It's easier on the ears, and you don't have to sing as hard."

Born Gene Bloch in Ohio and raised in Toledo, as soon as he reached adulthood, Black relocated to Detroit and began working as a musician.

"It was a great music city, a great rock 'n' roll town in the '70s," he says. "There were tons of rock clubs. We played gigs with Bob Seger, Iggy and the Stooges. You could work all the time."

Black eventually worked with hard rock, glam and heavy metal band Marcus, named after its lead singer. The group signed with United Artists in '77 and went to California.

"We'd do stuff by Bowie, Zeppelin, and our own material," he says. "Our success was very much because we had a black singer, Marcus Malone. I have to say, with the right management, he could've been a heavy metal version of Prince. But people didn't quite know how to take a black guy dressed like Bowie who sounded like Robert Plant. We were an anomaly.

"But that label is what took us to L.A. It never gave us true support, and the band broke up. Some of the guys went home. I thought, 'If I'm going to be out of work, I'm going to be warm and out of work. Instead of freezing and out of work.' "

Black played clubs and in recording sessions with Stewart, Eddie Money, Berlin and others. Later he wrote songs with Holly Knight and played and recorded with techno-pop band Device. It released one album, "22B3," produced by Mike Chapman, in 1986 on the Chrysalis label.

He worked on Tina Turner's album "Simply the Best," released in 1991 on Capitol Records. It was Roger Davies, manager for Turner and Cocker, who hired Black in '97 to tour with the "Sheffield Soul Shouter." Black can be heard on Cocker's live albums from that time until 2014.