He’s been slinging his guitar for the better part of six decades now. And, as far as we’re concerned, Eric Clapton is still god.
One of the great guitarists of his generation – if not all time – old Slowhand has built up an immense back catalogue of stone-cold classics during his career.
And, to chart that, we thought it’d be fun to pick out a track for each decade that Eric Clapton has been performing.
Was it an easy task?
While writing this article, debate raged around the Thalia offices as to which tracks were fit for inclusion.
Harsh words were exchanged, a not insignificant amount of blood was spilled and a surprising number of windows were broken in the process. But, finally, we’ve compiled our list, and we’re (mostly) happy with it.
So, without further ado, let’s dive in!
The 1960s – “Crossroads” (Cream)
Clapton’s impact on the ‘60s British rock scene was nothing short of seismic. Evidence of his phenomenon status, “Clapton is god” became the graffiti of choice for self-respecting music connoisseurs across London during the time.
And, if you want evidence of Clapton’s deity-like prowess on the six-string, you need only listen to “Crossroads” from Cream’s 1968 album “Wheels of Fire.” Recorded live at the Fillmore, Eric takes the work of Robert Johnson, electrifies it, and makes it entirely his own. In a word: spectacular.
The 1970s - “Layla” (Derek and the Dominos)
Really, was there ever any doubt?
Eric Clapton released many classic recordings during the 1970s, but nothing can top his signature riff. Eric’s declaration of love for Patti Boyd – then wife of the Beatles’ George Harrison – didn’t set the charts alight upon release. It was only two years later, in December 1972, that the track finally made its mark. Since then, it’s gone on to become an anthem, and an enduring showcase for the guitar work of both Clapton, and guest slide player Duane Allman.
The 1980s - “The Shape You’re In”
Clapton’s shuffling guitar on this track – taken from 1983’s “Money and Cigarettes” – is a Bo Diddley-inspired masterclass that reminds you just how deep Clapton’s knowledge of the blues goes.
Credit also has to be given to Albert Lee on this one. Playing second guitarist on the track, he propels Slowhand’s playing, providing some tasty guitar dueling that will have the blues faithful enraptured.
The 1990s – “Before You Accuse Me”
Eric Clapton’s 1992 “MTV Unplugged” Session stands out as one of the show’s all-time highlights. Given his association with amplified rock, it’s easy to forget just how consummate an acoustic guitarist Slowhand can be, but “Unplugged” proves that he’s not just an electric warrior.
There are many highlights across the album – the acoustified “Layla” and the heartbreaking “Tears in Heaven” to name but two. But, for our money, it’s Clapton’s version of Bo Diddley’s “Before You Accuse Me” that comes out on top.
He’d done it before, electrified on ‘89’s “Journeyman” album. But, the raw, stripped back version on offer here is the superior version – it’s simply stellar.
The 2000s – “Riding With the King” (with BB King)
Clapton has duetted with some phenomenalguitarists during his lifetime. Heck, we’ve already highlighted two such performances on this list. But, “Riding With the King” - his 2000 album with B.B. King – pushed things into wet dream territory for blues aficionados.
Some critics at the time said “Riding…” wasn’t the sum of its parts. Some said it sounded too polished. But, listening back to it with the benefit of hindsight, what comes through more than anything, is two of the world’s best blues guitarists having a blast riffing off each-other. It’s joyous, and nowhere is that conveyed more clearly than on the album’s title track.
The 2010s - “Rockin’ Chair”
Clapton’s 2010 album – titled simply “Clapton” – was a re-affirmation of old principles for a new decade. Slow burning blues and New Orleans jazz collide across a series of standards that feel fresh and vibrant, yet unmistakably, well… Clapton. There are plenty of highlights, but the version of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Rockin’ Chair” is the standout, going down smooth like a mellow scotch and fitting like an old, cozy overcoat.
What are your favorite Eric Clapton moments? And what are your memories of his music over the past six decades? Share your stories in the comments.
That the instrumental Albatross was a mammoth hit for Fleetwood Mac is testament to the lyrical nature of Green’s guitar playing. One of the biggest selling instrumental songs in English history, it’s the track that the Beatles wished they’d written. As Rolling Stone notes: “Its heavily reverbed guitar partially inspired the Beatles’ “Sun King.” “We said, ‘Let’s be Fleetwood Mac doing “Albatross,” just to get going,’ ” George Harrison recalled. “It never really sounded like Fleetwood Mac … but that was the point of origin.”
My heroes at the time were guys like Hendrix, Slash and Jimmy Page. Chet Atkins did not feature. Today, though, it would be a different story. Not only was Chet a fantastic guitar player; his sage wisdom on the subject of pickin’ was most definitely bedroom wall worthy. So, with that in mind, I’ve compiled a selection of my favorite Chet Atkins quotes for your reading pleasure. If these speak to you, then I’d heartily recommend printing some of them out and putting them up in your practice space. They’ve been motivating me these past few weeks; hopefully they’ll do the same for you.