By Christopher Scapelliti
A lawsuit claims Eric Clapton misidentified the author of a song featured on his 1992 Unplugged album.
The song is “Alberta,” which the album’s liner notes credit to blues guitarist Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter. The suit notes that the song is actually based on the blues song “Corrine, Corrina,” which was written by singer Armenter Chatmon, popularly known as Bo Carter, who recorded it in 1928.
The lawsuit was filed in Nashville by Chatmon’s estate. Chatmon died in 1964.
“Corrine, Corrina” has a twisted history that may account for the error. Chatmon didn’t copyright the song until 1932. By then it had been covered by the Mississippi Sheiks, whose 1930 recording “Alberta Blues” substituted Alberta, Alberta for Corrine, Corrina. (Chatmon had himself performed briefly with the Mississippi Sheiks.) It’s the Mississippi Sheiks’ version of the song that Clapton covers on Unplugged.
So how did it come to be credited to Lead Belly?
As it happens, Lead Belly has an entirely different song titled “Alberta,” which apparently caused the two songs to be confused when the album’s credits were created.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Chatmon’s step-grandson Miles Floyd, is seeking $5 million from Clapton, Warner Music Group, Rhino Music, and MTV and Viacom, which broadcast the Unplugged performance.
Clapton’s Unplugged album has sold more than 7.7 million copies since its release, according to Billboard. The album helped revitalize his sagging career and earned three Grammy’s for Album of the Year, Best Rock Male Vocal Performance and Best Rock Song for his acoustic reworking of “Layla,” originally written and recorded with Derek and the Dominos in 1970.
Miles Floyd tells the Tennessean he was unaware that his grandfather’s song was significant until recently. “I didn’t realize how important it was until I started looking at it the last couple of years,” Floyd says. “This song is a well-known song. I was really surprised.”
Barry Shrum, Floyd’s attorney, tells the Tennessean his client is suing Clapton and the other defendants for receiving royalties and for failing to give proper credit.
“This is a situation where you have the estate, the rightful owners of Bo’s intellectual property, just trying to get what’s rightfully theirs and get credit where credit is due,” Shrum said. “Bo created this song and started, in essence, a genre in music and influenced many performers in the future, and he deserves that credit.”
Clapton and the other defendants have not responded to the suit.
The origins of Chatmon’s “Corrine, Corrina” are likely rooted in other songs of the period that refer to a woman named Corrine or Corrina. The song opens with the verse:
Corrine, Corrina, where you been so long?
Corrine, Corrina, where you been so long?
I ain’t had no lovin’, since you've been gone.
Similar sentiments were expressed in the tune “Has Anybody Seen My Corrine,” first recorded and published in 1918, some 10 years before Chatmon composed his song:
Has anybody seen my Corrine?
No matter where Corrina may be
Tell my Corrina to come right back to me.
I want some lovin’ sweetie dear.
In April 1926, blues guitarist Blind Lemon Jefferson recorded a version of “See-See Rider,” also known as “C.C. Rider,” titled “Corrina Blues,” which concludes with the verse:
If you see Corrina, tell her to hurry home.
I ain’t had no true love since Corrina been gone.
Interestingly, Clapton wouldn’t be the first modern recording artist to confuse the origins of “Corrine, Corrina.” Bob Dylan did it first in 1964 when he recorded the song, slightly retitled as “Corrina, Corrina,” for his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Like some artists before him who covered the song, Dylan rewrote the lyrics, even lifting a line from Robert Johnson’s “Stones in My Passway.” He credited the resulting tune to “Traditional.”
Rod Stewart followed Dylan’s example when he recorded his own version of “Corrina, Corrina” as a bonus track for his 2013 album, Time. Chatmon’s estate filed a suit against Stewart in 2015, which was subsequently dismissed. According to Miles Floyd’s agent, W. Patrick LeBlanc, the dismissal was done to allow the lawsuit against Clapton to proceed.
It’s unclear if “Corrine, Corrina” was still protected under copyright at the time Clapton recorded it for Unplugged on January 16, 1992.
Below, you can check out various versions of “Corrine, Corrina” from Chatmon (as Bo Carter), Big Joe Turner, Bob Dylan (an alternate take from the Freewheelin’ sessions) and Clapton. We’ve also included the Mississippi Sheiks’ “Alberta Blues.”