It’s an issue of the gray area between “traditional” music and actual copyrighted material: Billboard reports that Eric Clapton was slapped with a lawsuit today over the songwriter credits to “Alberta,” a blues cover on his widely beloved 1992 Unplugged album.
Best known for the Clapton original “Tears in Heaven,” the album also features several renditions of blues standards. The song “Alberta” interpolates the melody of the widely performed “Corrine, Corrina,” a song written in 1928 by Delta blues musician Bo Carter (born Armenter Chatmon), with new lyrics (“Alberta, Alberta…”). It was published back then by Mitchell Parish and J. Mayo Williams. However, Clapton credits iconic blues singer Lead Belly as its songwriter on Unplugged, though Lead Belly’s “Alberta” (published by Folkways) is a different composition.
Chatmon’s estate is now suing Clapton for unpaid royalties. A major component of their case against Clapton—and co-defendants Viacom, MTV, Rhino Records, and Warner Brothers—is that the composition was credited correctly on a 2011 live recording he made of the song with trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. (It’s worth noting, though, that the track was listed as “Corrine, Corrina” on that album, and sung with different lyrics than the Unplugged version.)
Judge for yourself and listen to the different versions of the song(s) below: