(Photgraph byMartyn Ashton)
‘Clapton is God' proclaimed the graffiti daubed around mid '60s London - and Eric Clapton has been there or thereabouts in pretty much every Top 10 guitarists poll ever since then, thanks to virtuoso playing with the likes of The Yardbirds, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith, Derek And The Dominos and his own solo work. Although the man from the heart of the Surrey Delta has enjoyed plenty of mainstream success over the years, for many, including himself, he'll always be a bluesman.
As a songwriter, Clapton has a highly practical solution to the problem of how to write an original blues - he doesn't. Unlike Stevie Ray Vaughan, Clapton has written very few of his own blues. Of his three most dedicated blues albums; John Mayall's BluesBreakers With Eric Clapton ('66), From The Cradle ('94), and Ridin' With The King ('00) with BB King, only BluesBreakers contains a Clapton-penned track - Double Crossin' Time - co-written with Mayall.
Even on his non-blues albums he has been reluctant to include his own material, the notable exception being the recent Pilgrim ('98). ‘I would always want no more than two or three of my songs on an album because I just didn't want to reveal myself,' he told TGM in vol 8 no 7. ‘Maybe it was a mixture of cowardice and insecurity, or just low self-esteem - I used to think: "What have I got to say that's better than, say, [songwriter] Jerry Williams?"'
‘But on Pilgrim I started developing a really healthy respect for my own talent... it's all about perspective and proportion. I felt, going in, that the guitar should never be allowed to overshadow what the song was about.' This wasn't always the case, especially during his time in the power blues trio Cream. Clapton himself said that the band - himself, bassist Jack Bruce and maverick drummer Ginger Baker - was like three soloists all soloing at the same time, and in the live cover of Robert Johnson's drastically reworked Crossroads from Wheels Of Fire ('68), generally regarded as containing some of Clapton's best soloing, Clapton confesses to actually being lost at points. ‘I'd forget where the 1 was, and I'd be playing the 1 on the 4, or the 1 on the 2 - that used to happen a lot.' (Guitar Player, July '85).
Several Clapton songs are based on standard progressions. For example, the intro and chorus of Wonderful Tonight from Slowhand ('77) is based on a I/V/IV/V chord progression, ie D/A/G/A in the key of D and G/D/C/D in the key of G. The chorus of Lay Down Sally, also from Slowhand, is based on a I/IV/V/I progression - that's D/G/A/D in the key of D and A/D/E/A in the key of A. The main riff of Layla from Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs ('70) is based on the standard rock progression of Im/VI/VII/Im in the minor key, which is Dm/Bb/C/Dm in D minor. This progression is being even more obvious in the stripped down acoustic version on Unplugged ('92).