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This Album Changed My Life: Ben McNeil on Eric Clapton’s 'Unplugged'

23 September 2021 | 9:43 am | Mallory Arbour

To get to know singer-songwriter Ben McNeil a little better, we asked him to tell us about an album that changed his life.

Born in Nowra NSW, singer-songwriter Ben McNeil began playing guitar at twelve years old, inspired by The Beatles and Eric Clapton ’s Unplugged album. He quickly began writing songs and, by the age of fourteen, started gigging with his high school punk band. After joining the Navy at twenty, Ben’s music career was on hiatus, all the while absorbing as much information he could on songwriting during his time off. He left the Navy in 2016 after moving to Adelaide, South Australia.

In 2018, he released Set In The Back, a collection of collection of songs he’d written over a period of five years. All of them recorded, mixed and mastered at home. His latest release, Delilah, is another self-produced effort, this time taking an alt-country turn. Like all great country songs, Delilah tells a story of the imperfect lives of imperfect people. It features Bill Chambers on electric guitar, banjo and lap steel, Nicole Brophy on backing vocals, and Syd Green on percussion and bass.

To get to know Ben a little better, we asked him to tell us about an album that changed his life.

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Ben McNeil on ‘Unplugged’ by Eric Clapton

This story has to start back when I was 12. As a kid form a small coastal town, backyard BBQs were a weekly occurrence. One particular event set off a life-long deep dive into music. A family friend came in with a guitar and, after all the adults had a few beers the guitar was brought out and the entire party were singing along to American Pie and Layla. I was entranced, completely. It was magic to me, that music could bring calm and unity to the chaos of a big backyard bash.

Fast forward a couple of months, I was gifted a nylon string classical guitar. I plucked away at that thing every moment I could, trying to emulate the songs on a cassette borrowed from the library, Eric Clapton’s Unplugged. For Christmas that year, my parents battled to find the last remaining copy of the sheet music book for the album. For the next two years, I poured over that book and album, teaching myself how to play Tears in Heaven, Layla and Old Love. The effort paid off playing Tears In Heaven at a school recital. From then on, I was addicted. Playing music for people was worth all the frustration and hours of practice. I took that lesson to heart and still practice every day on my songwriting and recording techniques.

But that wasn’t all I learned from that album, it’s a masterclass in the blues, and an introduction to all the greats, Robert Johnson, Big Bill Broonzy etc. It showed me there is more to music than what you hear on the radio, and studying those greats introduced me to Hank Williams, Merle Travis and Chad Morgan. It fostered a love for the stories of country music and songwriting itself. So, thanks Eric for the tunes, Mum and Dad for listening to countless hours of me practising and big thanks to Matt for getting that guitar out all those years ago.

For more of our This Album Changed My Life series, go here.
Keep up to date with Ben McNeil on his Facebook page here.

Image: via Facebook