A lawsuit filed against Eric Clapton claims the guitarist mistakenly credited the wrong blues musicians in the liner notes of his 1992 Unplugged album.
The song in question, “Alberta,” credited blues legend Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter as the songwriter behind the traditional tune.
However, in the lawsuit filed in Nashville, the estate of blues singer Armenter “Bo Carter” Chatmon argues that Clapton improperly credited Ledbetter for the track, and that the performance is actually a rendition of Chatmon’s “Corrine, Corrina.”
As evidence against Clapton’s mistake, the Chatmon estate provided the 2011 live album Wynton Marsalis & Eric Clapton Play The Blues, which correctly attributes “Corrine, Corrina” to Chatmon; for the Unplugged performance, Clapton took the “Corrine, Corrina” melody but replaced that title phrase with “Alberta,” which is the name of a Lead Belly track and likely sparked the confusion over the song’s pedigree.
Further complicating the situation is the fact that Carter briefly performed along the Mississippi Sheiks, who performed “Corrine, Corrina” with “Alberta” in place of “Corrine” in the lyrics. It’s this version of “Alberta” that Clapton covers on Unplugged and not Lead Belly’s.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Chatmon’s step-grandson Miles Floyd, seeks $5 million from Clapton, Warner Music Group, Rhino Music and Unplugged broadcasters MTV and Viacom over the mistaken credit. Clapton’s Unplugged sold over 7.7 million copies, Billboard reports.
A representative for Clapton declined to comment on the suit.
Bo Carter, Chatmon’s alias, first licensed “Corrine, Corrina” in 1929, according to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) copyright database, the Tennessean writes.
“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,” Floyd’s lawyer Barry Shrum told the newspaper. “Bo created this song and started, in essence, a genre in music and influenced many performers in the future, and he deserves that credit.”
Bob Dylan also recorded a version of the song, titled “Corrina, Corrina,” that also implemented elements of Robert Johnson’s “Stones in My Passway” on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan in 1963. That version was also simply credited to “Traditional.”
Despite the Chatmon estate’s evidence in the matter, the lawsuit could face an uphill battle for numerous reasons, including the fact that “Corrine, Corrina” may have already entered the public domain by the time of Clapton’s performance.
In July 2015, the estate filed a similar lawsuit involving Rod Stewart’s version of the song – slightly retitled “Corrina, Corrina” – that appeared as a bonus track on the singer’s 2013 album Time. That lawsuit was ultimately dismissed in November, although Floyd’s agent W. Patrick LeBlanc told the Tennessean that was done in order to make way for the current lawsuit against Clapton.