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Eric Clapton

 

Eric Patrick Clapton is a name that should resound with every fan of blues, rock, or pop music from the last half century, and everyone who appreciates a well played guitar. The Englishman has quite possibly been a part of more influential bands than any other person on the planet, evidenced by his unprecedented three inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Cream, Yardbirds and solo). He also played lead guitar for the innovative blues-rock band John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers and had commercial success with the song �Layla� and the band �Derek and the Dominos�. In 2004 he was ranked fourth in Rolling Stone magazine�s list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of all-time. What exactly was it that made Mr. Clapton so great? That is a great question a question that I, through examining his inspirations, training methods, and practice routines, hope to answer.
 
Eric Clapton was born in Ripley, England on March 30, 1945. He joined his first band at the age of 17, a forgettable R&B ensemble named The Roosters. After six months with The Roosters he joined The Yardbirds. It was with this band that Clapton forged a distinctive bluesy sound and quickly became one of the most talked about guitarists in the emerging British rock scene. The graffiti, �Clapton is God,� could frequently be seen on British walls and tunnels during the sixties. The popularity of this proclamation always embarrassed Eric, as he said in a 1987 interview, �I never thought of myself as the greatest guitar player in the world, I always wanted to be the greatest but that�s an ideal and I accept it as an ideal.�
           
It was during his time with The Yardbirds, 1963-65, that Clapton acquired his nickname, �Slowhand�. Whenever Clapton broke a guitar string he would immediately stop playing and start restringing his guitar himself. The crowds often would start a slow handclap until he had his guitar restrung and could resume playing. This phenomenon coupled with the irony of calling a man with such nimble fingers Slowhand gave rise to the nickname Clapton carried the rest of his life.
 
In April 1965, feeling that The Yardbirds were moving away from their blues roots and more towards mainstream pop, Clapton left that band and joined John Mayall and The Bluesbreakers. The Bluesbreakers generated a cult following in London that evolved into worldwide recognition for Clapton as one of the finest blues guitar players in the world. Despite playing for two of the most influential blues bands in history Clapton still was a relative unknown in the US and had little to no commercial success with his studio work. That would all change when he formed Cream.    
 
Cream was a super-group consisting of the power trio of Clapton, bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker. Cream was one of the most talented ensembles ever assembled and they made a profound impact on the music scene during the three years they were together. Cream found success in both the UK and, a first for Clapton, in the US. They also were a commercial smash, as they had three songs reach the Billboard top-30, Sunshine of your love (#5, 1968), White Room (#6, 1968), and Crossroads (#28 1969). Cream made Clapton a full-fledged superstar, a musician who could easily sell out any venue; however the man was not comfortable with his new\found fame. He went from the lead guitarist and vocalist with Cream. to playing guest guitar on a number of his contemporaries� albums notably providing the licks for a song on The Beatles White Album and several of George Harrison�s solo numbers.
 
During this period Clapton also played rhythm guitar for a band called Delaney & Bonnie. When Clapton felt the need to front another group he collected the rhythm section of Delaney & Bonnie and formed a group named Derek and the Dominos. The group received an unexpected boost when Duane Allman, the legendary guitarist of Allman brothers band fame, and Eric had a chance meeting at an Allman Brothers concert. They became fast friends and Duane agreed to become the fifth member of Derek and the Dominos. The band recorded an LP with the name Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. The title track was written by Clapton about the anguish he felt being in love with the wife of his good friend Harrison. It is considered one of the greatest guitar riffs ever and might be the quintessential Clapton song, however at the time the album received only lukewarm reviews. Tensions within the band reached a breaking point early in 1970 with Clapton and keyboardist Bobby Whitlock separating. The band was dissolved for good following Duane Allman�s tragic death due to a motorcycle accident in 1971.
 
Following his friend�s heartbreaking demise, Eric decided to focus on a solo career. He has been soloing now for over 35 years and continues to release albums; his last being Road to Escondido released in 2006. Some of Clapton�s better known solo songs include �Wonderful Tonight�, �Cocaine� a cover of a JJ Cale song, �Change the World�, �Through My Fathers Eyes�, an acoustic version of �Layla� and maybe best known of all �Tears in Heaven�. Written about the tragic death of his four-year-old son Connor, �Tears in Heaven�, won the Grammy for best song and the album in which it appeared, Unplugged, won for best album. Clapton stopped performing the song in concert in 2004 saying, �I didn�t feel the loss anymore which is so much a part of performing.� It is #353 on Rolling Stone�s list of 500 greatest songs.
 
Thus far I have provided a brief overview of Eric Clapton�s career as a musician. I think I have established that he is in fact one of the greatest guitarists ever to live. What I haven�t done is expound on why he is so great. So I must now try to answer the question I posed earlier, what made Mr. Clapton such a great musician?
 
Clapton got his first guitar at the age of 13, an acoustic Spanish Hoya. He found learning the instrument very hard and nearly gave up. It was only his unwavering devotion to blues that kept him practicing chords and listening to tape recordings of blues musicians. At an early age his attention to schoolwork waned and he became more and more obsessed with reproducing the sound of the Chicago Blues scene and such artists as Buddy Guy, Freddie King and the aforementioned B.B. King. In 1961 at the age of 17 he quit school for good and decided to pursue music as a career. He has stated that by his eighteenth birthday he had listened to as much music as anyone else in the world. He continued to listen to every recording of good music that he could get his hands on. 
 
Clapton has always attributed his evolution as an artist to the inspiration he received from musical contemporaries and friends. Undeniably he has crossed guitar picks with some of the most revered figures in music history. Jimi Hendrix, B.B. King, Duane Allman, Pete Townshend, Jimmy Page, Frank Zappa, Santana, Stevie Ray Vaughan and virtually every great guitarist of the past four decades have collaborated with Clapton at some point in time. However, even with all of these greats to learn from, Clapton credits one man in particular with inspiring him, Robert Johnson.
 
Robert Johnson was born as the illegitimate son of a Mississippi sharecropper in 1921. He died 27 short years later after a life of abject poverty, oppression by racists, wandering and womanizing. He poured every ounce of his personal pain into his intense blues riffs and anguished lyrics. His catalog includes a mere 29 songs cut in 1936 and �37; however it is the foundation for every blues artist that followed. His classic songs include �Cross Road Blues� and �Sweet Home Chicago.� Cross Road Blues was adapted by Clapton and Cream and was a hit under the name �Crossroad�. This quote from Clapton says it all, "Robert Johnson to me is the most important blues musician who ever lived. He was true, absolutely, to his own vision, and as deep as I have gotten into the music over the last 30 years, I have never found anything more deeply soulful than Robert Johnson. His music remains the most powerful cry that I think you can find in the human voice, really. ... it seemed to echo something I had always felt."
 
  Another facet of the legend of Eric Clapton is his guitars. The guitars he used are almost as famous as the music he used them to make. During his days with The Yardbirds he played a Fender Telecaster and a Gibson ES-335. When he left for The Bluesbreakers he bought a 1960 Gibson Les Paul Sunburst. Coupled with a Marshall amplifier Clapton continued to play the 1960 Gibson Les Paul�s exclusively until 1967 when he bought the most famous guitar from this era, a 1964 Gibson SG. In 1968 he switched back to the Gibson ES-355, a guitar that sold for $847,500 at an auction in 2004. In late 1969 he returned to Fender, this time playing a Stratocaster. The first model of the Stratocaster was nicknamed �Brownie� and was used when recording his first solo album Eric Clapton. In 1974 �Brownie� became the back up to the most famous of all Clapton guitars, �Blackie�. In 1970 Clapton bought 6 Fender Stratocaster; he gave one each to George Harrison, Steve Winwood of Traffic, and Pete Townshend, then used the best pieces of the other three to create �Blackie�. It was his favorite stage guitar until its retirement in 1985. It was sold at auction for $959,500. In 1988 Fender honored Clapton with the introduction of his signature Eric Clapton Stratocaster.
 
The C.F. Martin Company, a famous American guitar maker, has created a Clapton signature-model that Clapton now uses in concert. His 1939 000-42 Martin that he played on the Unplugged album sold for $791,500. The model he currently uses is a 000-ECHF custom model. He uses Ernie Ball Slinky and Super Slinky strings.
 
Eric Clapton has had arguably the greatest musical career of anyone of the past forty years. I hope I have shed a little light on how this musical savant got to where he is today, and where you should start if you intend on replicating his success.

     

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Eric Clapton
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