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 Eric Clapton: From the Cradle to the Crossroads 
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Post Eric Clapton: From the Cradle to the Crossroads
Eric Clapton: From the Cradle to the Crossroads
by: Greg Bahr

Few guitarists, if any, have been as influential as Eric Clapton. He started by learning the riffs of blues masters Freddie King, B.B. King, Albert King, Buddy Guy, and Robert Johnson, among others. Combining this encyclopedia of blues licks with his own original phrases, he developed a style which has become the template for blues/rock guitar playing.

Eric first became known in 1963, as the lead guitarist for the Yardbirds, a virtual university of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame guitar players, whose graduates also include Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck. The solos on early singles "I Wish You Would" and "Good Morning Little School Girl" provided a glimpse of the stem cells from which Clapton's body of work would emerge. The voices of this stylistic DNA were the Fender Telecaster, Fender Jazzmaster, and Gibson ES-335 guitars, played through Vox AC-30 amplifiers. In 1964 Yardbirds manager Giorgio Gomelsky gave Clapton the nickname "Slowhand". The legend is that when Eric broke a string onstage, the audience would engage in a "slow handclap" until Clapton had finished changing it.

In 1965, following the release of the hit single "For Your Love", Clapton left the Yardbirds because of artistic differences. Instead of the pop stardom the rest of the Yardbirds desired, Clapton wanted to play music that was true to his blues roots. He joined forces with John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, whose alumni also include original Fleetwood Mac guitarist Peter Green and Rolling Stones' guitarist Mick Taylor. Mayall and Clapton recorded "Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton", nicknamed "The Beano Album", because Clapton was pictured reading a Beano comic book on the cover. Highlights included a smoking version of "Hideaway", Freddie King's instrumental classic, and Robert Johnson's "Ramblin' on my Mind", which is Clapton's first recorded vocal performance. With the Bluesbreakers, Clapton combined Gibson Les Pauls and Marshall amplifiers to produce a guitar sound noted for high volume, feedback, and sustain. Eric's reputation grew to the point that fans began to write "Clapton is God" on the walls of buildings around London as a tribute to his guitar playing prowess.

After a year in the Bluesbreakers, Clapton decided to further expand his musical horizons by forming his first "supergroup" with bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker in 1966. They chose the name "Cream" because they were considered "the cream of the crop" of British blues musicians. Their debut album, "Fresh Cream", was followed by the classic "Disraeli Gears". Clapton and Bruce shared singing and songwriting duties, and in the hit single "Sunshine of Your Love", they traded vocal lines. The tune was their tribute to Jimi Hendrix, and included a spectacular solo by Clapton that quoted the 50's song "Blue Moon" in the opening phrase. The ingredients for Clapton's Cream recipe were the Gibson Les Paul, SG, ES-335, and Firebird, plugged into two 100-watt Marshall stacks. Eric was one of the first guitar players to popularize the Vox Wah Wah pedal, which was heard on "Tales of Brave Ulysses", from "Disraeli Gears", and "White Room", from the studio disc of the two-record set, "Wheels of Fire". The live disc of "Wheels of Fire" contained a reworking of Robert Johnson's "Crossroads", in which Clapton took the colors of a Mississippi delta blues Rembrandt and painted a psychedelic rock guitar Picasso. "Badge", from "Goodbye Cream", featured the use of a Leslie rotating speaker to create a phasing effect during the bridge section of the song. The DVD "Cream's Farewell Concert" offers a taste of Cream's live perfomances, which were flavored with extended jams cooked up by the three instrumental virtuosos.

During his time with Cream, Clapton jammed with several other British rock bands, including the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. As a guest in the studio, he contributed the solo to George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", from the Beatles' "White Album". The DVD "The Rolling Stones' Rock and Roll Circus" contains Clapton's performance with "The Dirty Mac", a group lead by John Lennon, which included Jimi Hendrix Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell and Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards on bass.

After Cream's breakup, Clapton formed Blind Faith, a congregation which included singer/ songwriter/ keyboardist Steve Winwood, bassist Ric Grech, and former Cream drummer Ginger Baker. The highlights of Blind Faith's self-titled album were the hit single "Can't Find My Way Home", and "Do What You Like", in which Baker contributed a devastating drum solo. Clapton's instruments of "Faith" were a Gibson ES-335, a Gibson Firebird, and a Fender Telecaster with a Stratocaster neck, played through a Fender Dual Showman or Marshall amp. The DVD "London Hyde Park 1969" documents the band's debut concert.

While touring with Blind Faith, Clapton became friends with the opening act, Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett. He recruited their backup musicians, keyboardist Bobby Whitlock, bassist Carl Radle, and drummer Jim Gordon, to form his next band, Derek and the Dominos. With Allman Brothers guitarist Duane Allman sitting in on slide guitar, the Dominos recorded "Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs". The two record set featured extended guitar workouts on "Keep on Growing", "Tell the Truth", "Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?", the blues standard "Key to the Highway", Jimi Hendrix' "Little Wing", and "Layla", on which Clapton and Allman overdubbed interweaving slide parts onto an extended coda written by drummer Gordon. Eric's main guitar at this time had become the Fender Stratocaster. His amplifiers of choice were a Fender Champ in the studio, and either a Fender Showman or a Marshall onstage.

Clapton's solo career bagan in 1970 with "Eric Clapton", mainly written by Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett, with the Dominos providing the musical backing. "461 Ocean Boulevard" followed, featuring Bob Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff", which was Eric's first foray into reggae. Other highlights of his solo career were "Slowhand", which included a cover of J.J. Cale's "Cocaine", "From the Cradle", an album of blues standards, "Unplugged", a Grammy winning acoustic album, "Riding with the King", recorded with B.B. King, and "Me and Mr. Johnson", a tribute to Robert Johnson. Clapton's main axe during his solo years was a hybrid Stratocaster nicknamed "Blackie", which was put together from the parts of three different 1950s Strats. In 2004 "Blackie" was auctioned for $959,500, with the proceeds going to Clapton's "Crossroads Centre, Antigua", a charity he formed to help victims of alcoholism and substance abuse. The DVDs "Crossroads Guitar Festival" and "Crossroads Guitar Festival 2007" chronicle concerts in which Eric was joined by guitar players Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Hubert Sumlin, J.J. Cale, John McLaughlin, Steve Vai, Joe Walsh, Carlos Santana, Johnny Winter, Albert Lee, Jeff Beck, Robbie Robertson, Robert Cray, and Jimmie Vaughan, among others.

With his impressive resume of musical accomplishments, beginning in the 1960s and continuing to the present day, Eric Clapton's incredibly wide ranging influence reverberates throughout the guitar playing community.

About The Author
I've been playing guitar for thirty years. I've recently begun writing articles about the guitar and related topics. To read more visit my blog at

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Fri Nov 26, 2010 11:52 am
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