Cream of Eric Clapton
Jon Bishop looks at the soloing style of blues-rock virtuoso Eric Clapton, one of the most influential and best-loved guitar players of his generation. This lesson is designed to unlock many of those ‘early Eric’ soloing secrets.
Eric clapton’s bluesbreakers debut is one of the most significant milestones in popular music. On this one album, he seemed to lay down the blueprint for a style of playing that influenced guitarists from Mick Ronson to Van Halen, from Brian May to Gary Moore, and from Marc Bolan to Eric Johnson.
Many, though, say his two-year stint with Cream cemented a playing style with superb string bending and vibrato that was fluid, creative, technically impressive, and as sonically perfect as a guitar tone could be.
So it’s this era we’ll be looking at here. We’ll identify many of Eric’s key techniques and soloing innovations from that time, so you can incorporate these now-classic ideas into your everyday lick bag. And so that you can try out your new EC-flavoured soloing ideas, we have two backing tracks complete with tabbed-out solos. The first track features 10 examples that isolate a specific element of
Eric Clapton’s finger vibrato and stringbending technique was very much at the heart of his late-60s style.
the Clapton style. Each example is separated by a two-bar drum fill, so you can change your pickup and effects settings. The second track puts these ideas into context in an all-out, Cream-style blues-rock jam. Both tracks are in A, and the chord progression is a 12-bar Dominant blues, so there will be plenty of scope to try out a variety of new ideas. We’re using the quick-change 12-bar format, so the progression looks like this:
A7 | D7 | A7 | A7| D7 | D7 | A7 |A7 | E7 | D7 | A7 | E7
We can also refer to each of the three chords in the blues as a Roman numeral. A7 is the I chord, D7 the IV and E7 is the V chord. This system allows us to label the ideas that fit each of the three chords and then easily transfer them to other situations, such as playing in a different key. You’ll notice from the examples that Clapton is a master of mixing the Major and the Minor Pentatonic scales in just the right places to fit the chords.
You can play a quite acceptable solo using just A Minor Pentatonic (A, C,D, E, G), but Eric often plays A Major Pentatonic (A, B, C#, E, F#) over the A7 (I chord). The 3rd of A7 (C#) is particularly descriptive, and describes the tonality of the A7 chord well. Sometimes, Clapton hints at this by bending the C in Am Pentatonic slightly sharp in a blues ‘curl’.
The A Minor Pentatonic works nicely over the D7 and E7 chords. This switching between the two Pentatonic scales helps the lead phrases to fit in with the underlying chords, and adds an extra level of sophistication to the sound. After you’ve played through the examples, try playing your own EC-style solo using some of the techniques and concepts showcased. Many thanks to Pete Riley for performing and recording the drums. As ever, have fun, and see you next time.