Nothing needs to be said about a human being like Eric Clapton; he’s too great to sum up into simple words. And as a fellow guitarist myself, Clapton’s influence on me is quite immense; his stellar blues rock credentials during the Cream-era was too much for the peripherals of my young ears to properly contain. But personal musings aside, Let’s not take up too much more filler with this introduction; with lists like these, the excitement of delving into an artists work and sharing your personal favorites with others to enjoy tends to override the superfluity of these introductions. So it’s time to for ClassicRockHistory.com to once again compile another list of exciting guitar solos and just some great songs overall.
After Cream split up, Clapton decided to branch out on his own and take up more projects; Derek and the Dominoes was one of them. They only put out one album, 1970’s Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, but that was enough to cement their legacy. The thing about the record, and this song in particular, is that Dune Allman played with Derek and the Dominoes; Clapton invited Dune to come jam with them after witnessing an Allman Brothers concert that night, and that pretty much sealed the deal.
Anyday was one the first songs where Dune sat in on, lending his powerful bottle-neck slide as Eric Clapton dukes it out with his multilayered guitar riffs and a rock solid guitar solo about three minutes in that commands your attention.
10.) Bell Bottom Blues
Here’s another Layla cut; this one is one of the many songs dedicated to the woman who inspired the entire album: Pattie Boyd. She was, of course, George Harrison’s wife at the time; she’d go on to leave him for Clapton. But during this time period, Clapton became absolutely infatuated with this woman; she was somebody whom he couldn’t have, so what better way to profess one’s undying love for somebody than by using the medium of art. You have to give this woman credit. She’s been the inspiration behind Rock’s most iconic songs; George Harrison’s Something, Clapton’s Layla, Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad?, our number 9 slot, and the Beatles’ I Need You, For You Blue, and It’s All Too Much, just to name a few.
Bell Bottom Blues is one of Clapton’s most poignant, and features a soft and delicate solo at around the two minute mark that pretty much speaks volumes about the agonizing love he was feeling for Pattie; those pinch harmonics he integrated within the solo also adds to it.
9.) Only You Know and I Know
In 1970, Clapton began touring with the music duo Delaney & Bonnie, who had their own rock ensemble named Delaney & Bonnie and Friends; some of the musicians who played with them included the likes of Duane and Greg Allman, George Harrison, Leon Russell, Dave Mason, Rita Coolidge, King Curtis, and Bobby Whitlock. After the departure of Blind Faith, Clapton shared the stage with the duo for their live record, On Tour with Eric Clapton. It’s also worth noting that Delaney Bramlett was a major influence on Clapton; encouraging him to sing more, and even produced his debut solo album. Another fun fact: Delaney also taught George Harrison how to play slide guitar.
Anyway, Only You Know and I Know is a fine example of Clapton utilizing both rhythm and lead playing without making it all about him; this time period for Eric was him at his peak.
8.) Had to Cry Today
And now that we’ve mentioned Blind Faith, let’s take the time to reflect on their incredibly interim career that consisted of just one album: their self-titled debut. The record itself was quite successful, despite being infamous for its banned cover art involving a topless young woman holding a plastic airplane. But despite that, the music here is incredible; especially the opening track, Had to Cry Today.
It not only has a nasty riff, but a wonderful cluster of blues runs that only highlighted Eric Clapton’s colossal transformation as one of the very best of his generation, starting with that rude-sounding solo at the 2:30 mark, and ending at the 6:45 mark with those baying overdubs of guitar solo viciously going at it with one another.
7.) Presence of the Lord
But with one Blind Faith deep cut comes another; this one is an overall amazing song. It’s accompanied by a nice piano progression, along with Steve Winwood’s bellowing vocals that really brings to life the sentimentality of the soul-searching lyrics. But what truly pumps life into this sweet, solemn, and resolute composition is Clapton’s guitar solo around the 2:30 section of the song. The stylistic efficacy he executes with the wah wah pedal properly punctuates Presence of the Lord in a big way.
We couldn’t make an Eric Clapton guitar solo list without throwing in this electrifying cover of Robert Johnson’s classic. It’s a classic; simple and plain. And the provenance of that kind of statement lies within Cream’s status as a premier jam band. When a band like that performs on stage, anything can happen; the kind of chemistry Baker, Bruce, and Clapton harbored was the kind of spontaneity that made their improvisation so exciting. This guitar solo, along with that erratic blues riff, continues to liquefy faces forty years later.
During his tenure with the Yardbirds, Clapton soon became weary of the band’s newfound success; he thought that their more pop-oriented sound would deter from the Blues/R&B style that he was more accustomed to. So he decided to call it quits and join up with John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers in 1966; the record was aptly titled, Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton, but it’s also known as the Beano album because of the fact that Clapton is seen in the album cover reading a British comic called Beano.
This record saw Clapton doing what he was born to do: play the Blues. And this instrumental cover of Freddie King’s version of Hideaway demonstrates an equilibrium of homage, originality, tribute, and infectiousness. Even though it’s an instrumental, those gritty licks he puts forth should be more than enough proof that he had the ferocity of the blues inside of him.
4.) Sunshine of Your Love
Just like with Crossroads, the acclamation for Sunshine of Your Love speaks endlessly for itself. There’s really nothing to emphasize that you all probably already know. It’s one of the giants of classic rock, and this psych-studded, bluesy guitar solo opened up the minds of millions who would go on to proclaim Clapton as “God.”
3.) White Room
Here’s the epitome of Clapton’s wah wah pedal dexterity. It’s one of Cream’s big hits, and for various reasons, but it’s perhaps most lauded for the amazing closing guitar solo Clapton unfolds without any effort whatsoever. It creates The fully established understanding for the guitar, piled on with his volatile energy and the added confection of the wah wah effect, makes this solo one of the pinnacles of his five decade-long career.
2.) While My Guitar Gently Weeps
The Beatles rarely had other musicians share the spotlight with them, but since this was George Harrison’s opus, it was only fitting to recruit his best friend, Mr. Clapton. During the White Album session, things were quite manic between the four men; musical and personal differences clouded their ability to work with one another. When it came time to record this brilliant tune, Harrison was having trouble recording it. So one day him and Clapton were driving around when George floated the idea to him that he should come to the studio and play guitar on the record; Eric was hesitant at first, but he ultimately agreed. The result? A timeless classic with some of Clapton’s greatest licks ever put to wax. Those two solos he unleashes from the depths of his soul have long been hailed as his most treasured work; the minimalist approach he utilizes puts more emphasis on his beautiful string bends and vibrato as opposed to his usual soloing technique.
For this list, we could have just as easily added exclusively live performances, because let’s face it, Clapton is at his best when he performs live and off-the-cuff. But for the number one slot, Cream’s 16 minute rendition of Howlin’ Wolf’s version has to be singled out for Clapton’s guitar work. Going back to the statement that was made in reference to the sheer power of Crossroads, all three men are in full control of their rapport, and they create a force field of vivacious harmony that’s so cool and fresh that everybody else who soon came after just couldn’t help but adopt those traits from a band like Cream; and every guitarist just couldn’t help but aspire to keep up with Clapton……even the greatest guitarist of all time: Jimi Hendrix.
This Fillmore East performance is beyond what one could ever come to expect out of Clapton. The entire 16 minutes is the equivalent of one big guitar solo, and that’s what makes it so great. Clapton’s mercurial attitude when it comes to picking out all of the right licks and passages, all the while getting you to move to the rhythm, is why he’s in the top five.
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