eric clapton taught me to play guitar! Not personally, you understand; but via my initially fruitless attempts to copy what he was doing on Cream records. Since I had no other distractions at the time ( job, car, girlfriend), the hours of solid practice I put in, playing to those vinyl LP s, eventually began to pay off.
Our turntable had a 16rpm setting which meant I could slow 33rpm albums down so they played at half speed, pretty much in pitch but an octave down. It was brilliant! I heard all Eric’s inflections; I could tell which notes were picked, which ones were hammered on, which ones were bent, and how that whole vibrato thing worked. I’m sure that learning everything he did at half tempo taught me how to play – and weirdly, that’s often what we in GT tell readers to do, either to a metronome or to click tracks.
I was one of thousands of people struck by Clapton’s style, and wanting to be able to do the kind of thing he did. Gary Moore told me the same story, and I know Van Halen and Eric Johnson were equally captivated by that EC era. You can hear it in the work of guitarists as different as Mick Ronson and Marc Bolan, too. There was something ‘perfect’ about his whole thing – the phrasing, the tone, the timing; everything was dead right in Cream.
My choice of first Gibson guitar was as a direct result of Clapton, too. I bought a red mid-60s ES-335 in 1972, and it was my main instrument for many years. Like a fool I sold it, but recently ‘replaced’ it with the one you see below – a reissue ’63, just like Eric’s, and as hard to tell from an original as I’ve ever seen.
Jon Bishop is a genuine Clapton fan too, as you will hear from his rather superb examples in our main feature this month. If you’re not that big on EC , for whatever reason (I know he has his detractors), I’d ask you to try a few of the ideas presented in the feature. Then think about the impact that this brief period (two-and-a-bit years) had on modern guitar playing. You might then understand why Jon, Gary, Eddie, Mick, Marc, and so many other players (including me), hold Clapton, and that period in his long and rather distinguished career, in such high regard. See you next month…