Eric Clapton is a Guitar God, if there’s any concrete definition for it! Clapton is 71 today, and to celebrate his birthday, today’s 5 @ 5 theme is “Got the Blues.”
Tweet @FM96Rocks with the hashtag #BurkesGotTheBlues or call 519.643.9696 with your request.
It can be a Clapton song anywhere from The Yardbirds to Cream, Derek & The Dominos to solo. It can also be a request for a band INFLUENCED by Clapton’s style (which of course, begins with other dynasties of the Blues.) The Black Keys, The Glorious Sons, Ian Thornley and Big Wreck…there are many FM96 bands who’ve got their own version of Blues-based rock.
While Clapton’s rock and roll resume is long and dynamic, the best part about him may be the changes in style over the years, based on observations and inspirations of other musicians. He is the best, and borrows from the best.
“Eric Clapton has continually re-defined his own version of the blues. From the start, he caught audiences’ attention with his fiery, adventurous and precise playing. In late Sixties London, his worshippers advocated the slogan, “Clapton is God,” a phrase that originated with a now-famous piece of graffiti spray-painted on a London Underground.”
He is #55 on Rolling Stone’s Greatest Artists List:
Eric Clapton is the most important and influential guitar player that has ever lived, is still living or ever will live…Before Clapton, rock guitar was the Chuck Berry method, modernized by Keith Richards, and the rockabilly sound — Scotty Moore, Carl Perkins, Cliff Gallup — popularized by George Harrison. Clapton absorbed that, then introduced the essence of black electric blues: the power and vocabulary of Buddy Guy, Hubert Sumlin and the three Kings — B.B., Albert and Freddie — to create an attack that defined the fundamentals of rock & roll lead guitar.
Maybe most important of all, he turned the amp up — to 11. That alone blew everybody’s mind in the mid-Sixties. In the studio, he moved the mic across the room from the amp, which added ambience; everybody else was still close-miking. Then he cranked the f*cking thing. Sustain happened; feedback happened. The guitar player suddenly became the most important guy in the band.
“You could sing his solos like songs in themselves.”
“When his creativity, passion, frustration and anger all came together, it was frightening. His solo in “Crossroads” on Wheels of Fire is impossible: I don’t know how he kept time while he played.”
“Layla was, for me, the last time everything — the singing, songwriting and guitar playing — were all at the same high intensity level. It’s Clapton’s most original interpretation of the blues, because the hellhounds on his trail had a face: unrequited love. But Clapton’s guitar playing is still terrific. The thing is, he had seven years of the most extraordinary, historic guitar playing ever — and 40 years of doing good work. Being the best has got to wear you out. So he pulled back, like Dylan and Lennon did. The sprint is cool — the marathon is better. Clapton has followed in the footsteps of his mentors: He’s become a journeyman.”
“Anyone who plays lead guitar owes him a debt of gratitude. He wrote the fundamental language, the binary code, that everyone uses to this day.”
Funny too, looking back at the Best Rock Song category at the Grammys in 1993 when Eric Clapton beat out Peter Gabriel, Bruce Springsteen, and two (kinda big..) up and coming ‘Grunge’ acts we know as Nirvana and Pearl Jam with the acoustic version of Layla, a song that was hardly successful when initially released in 1970.
He’s a really interesting, well-spoken man, too. Back to this candid interview from 1968:
What do you feel about the charts?
Personally I don’t think they’re amoral, you know, musically. I think they’re anti-music and anti-progress. They’re obsolete.
Are they really detrimental to the groups?
It brings the whole thing down to a very immature level. I mean, the chart is there to serve one purpose — to indicate to everybody what is best and what is worst. But it really doesn’t go that way, because good music idiomatically is good, and bad music is bad and it really doesn’t matter what people say about it. It doesn’t matter what people’s tastes are. People can go out and buy a record, you know, like an Englebert Humperdink record, then everybody can say it’s the best record available. Which is rubbish. Doesn’t mean to say because it’s popular it’s the best music.
How much do the charts hang up the musician?
Well you see, in principle it’s still not a bad thing if it were on a small scale. If the charts weren’t so overwhelming then it wouldn’t be bad. It’d be like those occasional little polls they have for the best musician, and so on, and it’s be all right. But the thing is everybody nowadays is brain-washed to accept what the charts say as right.
So there is no room for anything else. There is no room to play good music. I mean, we may be doing it now, but it’s only just changing. Up until now there was no room to be able to play without making a single. You had to make a hit single to be able to go out and play somewhere. Otherwise you were just rejected. The hit single is a lever. I mean, everyone says — We’ll do a commercial record for the first one. We’ll get a hit and then when everyone likes us, we’ll do what we want. That’s what a hit single up until now has been for. You make something that’s really crappy and formulated and stereotyped that will get to No. 1, and then when you’re there you say, look everybody, this is what we’re going to do now. I don’t think that should be necessary. I can see that it has been necessary, but I don’t think you should waste any of your time doing that kind of thing.
Is there anyone doing what he wants to do?
Yeah. I guess there are quite a lot of people. But you see it isn’t easy to know what you want to do anymore. Because everyone is so screwed up by the presence of the hit parade that it’s not really clear in their minds what they want to do. They’ve been hammered into thinking what is right and what is wrong and it’s not really clear in their minds. They are not that many people who are really straight enough to know. I mean, if you’re going to consider it from a business angle, at the moment the public isn’t getting any kind of value with records. Singles are too expensive for what they are and LP’s are too expensive for what they are. What I would like to see is an LP for the price of a single and an Extended LP for the price of the present LP. That may never happen. It’s optimistic dreaming maybe, but that’s what I would like to see. I think it would be much better for the public. I mean, with a single what have you got? You’ve got the A side and the B side and if you’re lucky, in three weeks’ time you might still like it.
What we’re doing now is simply concentration on LP’s. And if by accident a single should some out of an LP session, then we’ll put it on the market. Whereas before you’d have two sessions; you’d conscientiously go to an LP session or you’d conscientiously go to a single session. And single sessions are terrible. I can’t make them at all. They’re just like you go in there and the whole big problem is whether it’s commercial. That is the problem. No matter what the music is like, it’s got to be commercial, it’s got to have a hook line, you’ve got to have this and that and you just fall into a very dark hole. I can’t take it a’tall.
What we eventually would like to get into is using LPs in place of singles. Record an LP every two months, or every month and record an extended LP which would be on 16 rpms. Do that twice a year. That would be like a complete concert.
Locally you are known as one of the world’s top blues or rock guitarist. Do you think that they’ve found you lived up to this?
Everybody seemed to be pleased. I haven’t met any major criticism of our group. Musically we seem to have done very well.
Where do you get your energies?
Well, it’s a vicious circle thing. I mean, if I hadn’t ever played an instrument then I wouldn’t ever need to play one. But now that I’ve been playing, I need to play. I’ll make it more clearer: When I come off the stage, you know, I’ve just expressed myself as much as I could that particular time. And I know that if I’ve got a gig the next day, that somehow or other I’ve got to store up enough energy to play the next day. It’s like, you know, you spend it, then you get it back again, then you spend it, then you get it back again. You’ve got to do this. It’s like a basic reaction that goes on subconsciously the whole time … I’m taking note of things, I’m expressing myself about them. It’s almost forced a lot of the time when we have to work really hard.
Who do you feel are the best groups in the British scene, excluding the Beatles and Rolling Stones who aren’t performing any more?
Yes, recording music has become so far out that you can’t relate it to live music at all. I don’t think you have to. If you’re curious about performers, the Pink Floyd is one I like very much among live groups.
What about the Who?
I haven’t seen them for a long time, but that did impress me at one time, that kind of act.
Aside from that thing.
If I can’t see the Who, then I’m not really bothered and I won’t listen to them very much. They’re tight and they’re all very heavy, but musically I don’t think they are going in a very extreme direction. They stick to their records and things like that.
What does the Pink Floyd do?
Very strange group. The nearest thing you would have to them here — well, I can’t even think of a group you can relate them to. Very freaky. They’re not really psychedelic. They do things like play an hour set that’s just one number. They are into a lot of electronic things. They’re also very funny. They’re nice, they really are a very nice group. They’re unambitious and they give you a nice feeling watching them. They’re not trying to put anything over.
What do you think about Jimi Hendrix?
I don’t really want to be critical about it. I think Jimi can sing very well; he just puts it around that he can’t sing and everyone accepts it. I think he can sing very well. I also think he’s a great guitarist. I don’t like to watch him too much ’cause I prefer to listen to him.
When he first came to England, you know English people have a very big thing towards a spade. They really love that magic thing, the sexual thing. They all fall for that sort of thing. Everybody and his brother in England still sort of think that spades have big dicks. And Jimi came over and exploited that to the limit, the fucking tee. Everybody fell for it. Shit.
I fell for it. After a while I began to suspect it. Having gotten to know him, I found out that’s not where he’s at, not where he’s at at all. That stuff he does on stage, when he does that he’s testing the audience. He’ll do a lot of things, like fool around with his tongue and play his guitar behind his back and rub it up and down his crotch. And he’ll look at the audience, and if they’re digging it, he won’t like the audience. He’ll keep on doing it, putting them on. Play less music. If they don’t dig it, then he’ll play straight ’cause he knows he has to. It’s funny. I heard that here he came on and put on all that shit in his first set and people were just dead towards it. And in his second set he just played, which is great.
He had the whole combination in England. It was just what the market wanted, a psychedelic pop star who looked freaky, and they’re also still hung up about spades and the blues thing was there. So Jimi walked in, put on all the gear, and made it straight away. It was a perfect formula. Underneath it all, he’s got an incredible musical talent. He is really one of the finest musicians around on the Western scene. If you just scrape away all the bullshit he carries around you’ll find a fantastically talented guy and a beautiful guitar player for his age. I just can’t take it all, all the plastic things.
AND, No big deal, he’s putting out record #23 in May: