It’s the 2016 A to Z Blog Challenge, so I thought I’d focus on one of my favourite subjects: Guitars. Care to join me?
True confessions: I almost chose “Electric” as my “E” topic today, but then I started thinking of all the guitarists I love and how many of them play electric guitar (and there are a lot of them). Why not choose one of the best electric guitarists ever? Why not choose Eric Clapton? And so here we are.
I won’t bore you with the history of Eric Clapton’s accomplishments. The only three-time inductee of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (once as a soloist and once each with Cream and The Yardbirds), the “bloke” hasn’t done at badly for himself by playing the blues. The list of bands he has played with reads like a “Who’s Who” of blues-inspired bands that swept America in the British rock invasion of the ‘60s and early ‘70s.
Though predominantly a blues-inspired musician (anyone who has heard him trade licks with the great BB King can attest that “Slowhand” knows his stuff), his version of Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff” demonstrates his versatility and his recognition of truly great music, regardless of genre.
I heard an interview Eric Clapton gave as part of a radio show called the Bluesmobile (now available online) in which he admitted to being a bit of a blues snob. Early in his career, he insisted on strict adherence to the forms and structure of American blues, particularly Chicago blues, almost to the point of being obnoxious. He believed himself to be a kind of curator for the blues, channeling the likes of Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, and Buddy Guy among others. In a related interview, BB King said he believed if not for the influence of the blues rock artists coming out of England, including Eric Clapton, the blues as we know it would have died out.
As to his nickname, “Slowhand”, there is some debate as to its origin. Early in his career, he was known to break a string from playing so aggressively, and not yet being flush enough to be able to afford a spare guitar, he had to take time out of the performance to replace the broken string. Those early audiences, it is said, started a slow clap to pass the time. Eric himself said the nickname was given to him by a nightclub owner and manager as a pun on the idea that Eric Clapton is anything but a “slow hand” when it comes to playing blazing riffs.
I’ve loved him in collaboration with the late greats JJ Cale (“Road to Escondido”) and BB King (“Riding With the King”) and I’ve loved him as a solo artist. Whether as a member of a band or as a solo artist, Eric Clapton has been nothing short of a wizard, his magic wand a collection of wood, glue, circuits, transistors (or tubes) and switches.
I could put together a play list that would run for days but here is a sample:
About two weeks after this post was published, Prince,one of the original “bad boys” of soul, funk, R&B and rock, died. I had not heard this story before but thought it appropriate to update this post.
Eric Clapton was asked how it felt to be the best guitarist in the world. He is said to have answered: “I don’t know. Ask Prince.”
Whether this story is true or not, it speaks to both the excellence of Prince, and the generosity of Eric Clapton.