18 Oct 23
Eric Clapton, one of the world’s all-time greatest guitarists, marks 60 years as a professional musician this month.
Like many teen boys in the late 1950s, Eric asked for a guitar for his 13th birthday to emulate the new rock ‘n roll heroes like Buddy Holly. Finding it difficult to play, he put the instrument aside for a time. But, by the time he turned 16, his waking moments revolved around playing the guitar and listening to blues records. Late in 1962, he began to play in the folk pubs, clubs and coffeehouses in Kingston and Richmond, Surrey, sometimes accompanied by his friend Dave Brock (later of Hawkwind).
In January 1963, Eric was introduced to Tom McGuinness of The Roosters by Tom’s girlfriend as a possible guitarist for the band. As Eric wrote in his autobiography, The Roosters rehearsed more than they gigged and only played a handful of times before the band folded in summer. That September, Tom recruited Eric to go on the road with Casey Jones and The Engineers as they were both at loose ends. Eric only played about seven gigs with the outfit but, it gave him much needed touring experience and the sure knowledge that his path was in music.
At the beginning of October 1963, Eric was invited to see The Yardbirds at the Crawdaddy Club in Richmond, Surrey by their singer, Keith Relf. The band’s guitarist, Anthony “Top” Topham, would soon be leaving. Eric went to see them on October 13. Impressed with what he heard, he agreed to join. A contract was quickly signed “in the front room of Keith’s house in Ham, with all the parents of the band present,” as Eric recalled in his book. With this, his first full-time job in a band, Eric’s career as a professional musician began.
His first official gig with The Yardbirds took place on October 18 at Studio ’51 in Great Newport Street, London. The band was soon playing several nights a week in venues like the Crawdaddy, Star Club, Marquee, Ricky-Tick, and village halls and ballrooms. On December 7 and 8, they recorded a live album with the American blues harp player Sonny Boy Williamson and on the 10th, were in a London studio recording their first tracks. The band’s first television appearance, on “Ready Steady Go,” happened within months of Eric’s joining on May 22, 1964 and by September, they embarked on their first U.K. package tour. Despite the success, Eric would leave the band in March 1965, when they moved in a more pop direction in search of a hit with “For Your Love.”
Only 18 when he invented the lightning attack guitar solo in The Yardbirds, Eric has continued to innovate while exploring blues, rock, pop, jazz, country, orchestral music, standards, R&B, trip-hop, and techno as a solo artist and in groundbreaking bands like John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith, Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, Derek & The Dominos, Legends and TDF. A sampling of Eric’s accomplishments over the last 60 years looks like this:
– Eric Clapton is the only triple-inductee into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a member of The Yardbirds (1992), Cream (1993) and as a solo artist (2000).
– Eric has been awarded 103 Gold, Platinum, Multi-Platinum, and Diamond Sales Awards by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for singles, albums, multi-disc sets, and long-form videos as both a solo act and band member. His U.K. and worldwide music awards are equally impressive.
– Eric founded Crossroads Centre Antigua to help individuals in the Caribbean and around the world recover from alcohol and drug dependencies. It opened its doors in 1998. To support its work, he sold his most treasured guitars across 3 guitar auctions plus organized a concert (1999) and six Crossroads Guitar Festivals (2004, 2007, 2010, 2013, 2019 and 2023). His personal commitment to sobriety has also made him a role model to those battling addiction around the world.
– Eric’s work with John Mayall’s Blues Breakers established the electric guitar as the sound of rock music. “John Mayall’s Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton,” recorded when he was 21, still serves as the instruction manual for rock guitar. The thick tone, distinctive vibrato and sustain delivered with biting attack and raw emotion were revolutionary upon the album’s release in 1966.
– The groundbreaking work of Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker in Cream changed the direction of popular music, established new standards for musical freedom of expression and set the stage for heavy metal. His lead on “Crossroads” from “Wheels of Fire” is the benchmark for guitar players that few have truly mastered it. While in Cream, he also wrote the primer on how to use a wah-wah pedal. Listen to songs like “Tales of Brave Ulysses” and “White Room.”
– Eric was brought in as a “ringer” by George Harrison to nail the solo on The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Despite best attempts to make it sound “Beatle-y,” it is undeniably Eric.
– Eric is a founding member of the first “super-group,” Blind Faith, along with Steve Winwood, Ginger Baker and Rick Grech
– In the Sixties, Eric singlehandedly revived the popularity of the Gibson Les Paul and caused it to be put back into production.
– Jim Marshall (founder of Marshall Amplification) has said Eric is primarily responsible for the combo amplifier being added to the product line in the mid-sixties. Eric asked to have one built that would fit in the boot of his car but be powerful enough for stage use. The model was later nicknamed “The Bluesbreaker” in a nod to his contribution.
– Both The Beatles and the Rolling Stones considered Eric as a replacement.
– Eric pioneered the slow bend with vibrato.
– Derek and The Dominos’ “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs” (1970) is one of the defining albums of the classic rock era.
– In 1970, Eric Clapton radically changed his guitar tone with his debut solo album, “Eric Clapton.” He abandoned Gibson guitars and Marshall amps for Fender Stratocasters and amplification. Although his tone became brighter, his phrasing, string bending and vibrato remained an unchanged signature. His extensive use of Fender Stratocasters from this point revived the model’s popularity.
– Although best known for his pioneering electric guitar work, Eric’s acoustic, slide guitar and Dobro skills are equally impressive. Check out “Mean Old World” with Duane Allman from “Crossroads,” “Motherless Children” from “461 Ocean Boulevard,” “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” from “Unplugged,” “Stones In My Passway” and “Love In Vain” from “Sessions for Robert J.,” and “Running on Faith” from “Journeyman” for examples of these styles.
– Eric Clapton’s association with Martin Acoustic Guitars is as strong as that with Gibson and Fender electrics. The standard Vintage Series Eric Clapton Signature Model has been in continuous production since 1996. The guitar maker has also honored Eric with more limited-edition signature models than any other guitarist.
– Eric’s cover of Bob Marley’s “I Shot The Sheriff” on 461 Ocean Boulevard (1974) brought reggae into the mainstream. Incredibly, it is Eric’s only U.S. #1 single.
– Eric is one of music’s great collaborators and one of the most prolific session players of his generation with well over 200 recording credits to his name. Check out “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” with The Beatles, “Good To Me As I Am To You” with Aretha Franklin, “I Wish It Would Rain Down” with Phil Collins, “It’s Probably Me” with Sting, the albums “The Road to Escondido” with J.J. Cale and “Riding with the King” with BB King and live performances of “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” with The Allman Brothers Band, “All Along The Watchtower” with Lenny Kravitz, and the long form videos “Legends: Live at Montreux 1997,” and “Live From Madison Square Garden” with Steve Winwood.
– Eric dealt with the grief of his son’s death by cowriting “Tears in Heaven” with Will Jennings for the “Rush” soundtrack in 1991. The song’s first public performance took place on January 16, 1992 during filming for “MTV Unplugged.” In the months following the show’s broadcast, the song became a worldwide hit as millions of people connected with the feelings it expressed. It was number 1 in 9 countries and top 10 in an additional 9. It garnered numerous awards, including three Grammy Awards for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, Song of the Year, and Record of the Year.
– With his 1992 MTV special, Eric defined the “unplugged” genre of recording artists playing stripped down versions of their songs. The resulting album, “Eric Clapton: Unplugged,” became the biggest seller of his career.
– In 1993, Eric won 6 Grammy Awards including Record, Album and Song of The Year. Over the course of his career, he has won or shared in 19 Grammy Awards plus picked up a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award for his work with Cream. Four recordings have been honored with Grammy Hall of Fame Awards: “Layla” (1970 recording) and “I Shot The Sheriff” in the Rock Single Category and Cream’s “Disraeli Gears” and Derek and The Dominos’ “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs” in the Rock Album Category,
– When musicians come together for a cause, Eric is there. From stepping on stage with George Harrison at the very first rock benefit – The Concert for Bangladesh in August 1970 –- he has shown up at dozens of benefit concerts held everywhere from small village halls to the world’s largest stadiums.
– Eric has written or co-written enduring rock anthems, blues, pop songs, gentle ballads, and touching love songs. For his efforts, he was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame on June 14, 2001.
– Eric has also composed several soundtracks for television and film including “Edge of Darkness,” “Rush,” “Homeboy,” “The Van,” and all four “Lethal Weapon” films.
– Eric has kept the blues alive for six decades and introduced mainstream audiences to the music of Robert Johnson and other early blues pioneers. He is the only artist to have repeated major chart success with blues-only albums like “Me and Mr. Johnson,” “Riding with The King” (with BB King) and “From the Cradle,” which reached number one on the Billboard charts in 1994.
– In 2015, Eric was the first British musician inducted into The Blues Foundation’s Blues Hall of Fame in Memphis, Tennessee.
– Unable to read music, Eric memorized the 30+ minute “Concerto For Electric Guitar and Orchestra” and “Edge of Darkness” then performed them with a symphony orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall in 1990 and 1991, along with a selection of his biggest hits.
– Eric received a BAFTA for “Best Original Television Music” for “Edge of Darkness” in 1986.
– Fender introduced the Eric Clapton Signature Stratocaster in 1988 which recreated the look and feel of his favorite Strat, “Blackie.” He suggested an innovation: the addition of modern electronics (active mid-boost / TBX tone control) to fatten the sound. The guitar is still in production.
– Eric Clapton’s association with Martin Acoustic Guitars is as strong as that with Gibson and Fender electrics. The standard Vintage Series EC model has been in continuous production since 1996 and the company has honored Eric with more limited-edition signature models than any other guitarist.
– Eric has played more than 3,400 gigs in 54 countries.
– Eric has appeared on the stage of the Royal Albert Hall 218 times since 1964 and has performed 186 solo headlining concerts at the venue since 1987.
– Eric became the first foreign artist to reach 100 performances at Tokyo’s Nippon Budokan on April 21, 2023.
– For 60 years, Eric has inspired people to learn to play guitar. David Crosby once said “The Beatles made every young boy want to go out and buy a guitar but Eric Clapton made them all want to learn how to play it.” Many have honed their skills by playing along to his records, including Richie Sambora and John Mayer. In 2014, Ed Sheeran said that Eric inspired him to learn guitar after watching him perform at Queen Elizabeth II’s 2002 Jubilee Concert.