This month, Stuart Ryan takes a stroll down to the crossroads to uncover the more sensitive acoustic side of blues and rock legend Eric Clapton.
Stuart Ryan looks at the acoustic side of a blues and rock icon – the one and only Eric Clapton.
picture eric clapton and the first images that come to mind are probably the long-haired, 335 toting blues-rocker of the Cream days. Or the be-suited blues troubadour cradling Blackie, his famous Strat, in one of the legendary 24 Nights at the Albert Hall. As we all know, however, he is a multi-faceted player who is equally adept on acoustic and electric guitar. As his career has progressed the steel strung flat-top has increasingly come to the fore – for an entire generation his 1992 MTV Unplugged live album with its heart-rending version of Tears In Heaven was their first introduction to this blues legend. Some would even go so far as to say they prefer his acoustic style to electric.
It shouldn’t come as any surprise that acoustic guitar is at the heart of Clapton’s style – it is the instrument that gave birth to the blues and he would have heard some of his earliest heroes using steel-strung flat-top guitars to accompany themselves. Although we often associate him with the electric blues of the three great Kings (Freddie, Albert, BB) and Buddy Guy, it’s actually an acoustic blues legend that he cites as his main influence, Robert Johnson. In fact, the Johnson influence was so strong that many years after Cream and Derek And The Dominos he would explore his acoustic roots with an album covering Johnson songs: Me & Mr Johnson (2004), which was swiftly followed by another release, Sessions For Robert J (2004).
For this study I’ve elected to look at Clapton’s modern bluesy style rather than his rawer, Robert Johnson-style leanings. To this end we’ll find a sparse fingerpicking part followed by a melodic blues-based Clapton lead line. In essence, we are dealing with a more developed version of the classic 12-bar riff that has been used by every great bluesman over the last 70 years. This riff is also interspersed with percussive slaps on the picking hand which all help to drive the music along. The solo starts in the open position and is based around the E minor Pentatonic scale with some Clapton-esque nods to the major 3rd (G#) as well. Incidentally, if you are an acoustic blues player then knowledge of the open position is essential. As many great solos start off down here to exploit the power and volume that the open position can give before travelling to the higher frets as we do here. Given his incredible career, just one column on Eric Clapton can only scratch the surface of what he has achieved on acoustic guitar. Hopefully this study will help you as a starting point for learning more.
Given his incredible career, just one column on clapton can only scratch the surface of what he has achieved on acoustic guitar.
Eric Clapton in acoustic mode on a Martin 000-28