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Eric Clapton's Triumph Over Trials on His Path to Stardom

Any attempt to encapsulate the extraordinary journey of a man like Eric Clapton is a tall order. After all, much has been said about his tumultuous, yet undeniably impactful road to greatness. This narrative peels back layers beyond the political statements and remarkable remarks frequently associated with Clapton. Instead, it seeks to unravel his prowess, not just as an iconic guitarist, but as a human being who, even in the face of adversity, continues to evolve, grow, and inspire. His imprint on the world of guitar music, starting with his time in The Yardbirds and Cream right through to his flourishing solo career, is one where instrument choice, songwriting talents, and a team player's spirit have prevailed. Not only has he influenced guitar sales for household names like Gibson and Fender, but his insatiable knack for learning and adapting to new styles continues to redraw the musical landscape. This narrative equally recognizes Clapton's battle with substance abuse, a rocky period that underscores his resilience and remarkable commitment to his craft. As such, while he's made several retirement announcements, Clapton remains a luminary figure, continually surprising listeners, and solidifying his enduring contributions to the industry.

You can’t deny Eric Clapton’s self-development as a young man in his learning, living, and breathing the Blues. You didn’t get in a band like The Yardbirds by not having the immense Talent he has always Possessed. You also Don’t get the gig in John Mayall’s Blues Breakers by being anything but a powerhouse talent. Yet we all learn from our peers and our Elder statesmen no matter if you are a guitarist or a Mason or Carpenter. Eric Clapton always brought talent to the table.

As he journeyed down Clapton’s Road, immersing himself in the sensational sounds of Cream, Eric Clapton gained recognition as a virtuoso, leaving an indelible mark on the music industry akin to the booms of his trusted Gibson guitar. Within a brief span of two years, the chords he played and the songs he wrote reverberated around the globe, endowing him with the stature of a maestro. But for this gifted guitar guru, the music spree was far from over. Adept at adapting, he swiftly transitioned post-Cream to a membership with Blind Faith, a group that despite its rocky start and short-lived tenure played a crucial role in shaping his career. Through each string plucked and chord struck, Clapton's influence on the world of music and the sale of Gibson and Fender guitars amplified, as he valiantly battled substance abuse while continually carving his path towards success. Often announcing retirements, only to surprise fans with his resounding comebacks, Clapton remained a relentless source of inspiration and innovation. So, here's to a musician who defied odds and altered the music industry lay of the land through his talent and tenacity.

Yet another group that left a massive impression. Yet the touring with that particular band marked a time of change for the man known as “Slowhand” and even as the Graffiti declared “GOD”. Eric had discovered THE BAND’s album “Music from Big Pink” and was drawn away from the 45-minute Marathon guitar improvisations and was, even still touring with Faith, becoming much more interested in not only being part of a larger collective. He also wanted to learn to craft the art of songwriting. A change in his life energy and purpose was pulling on his Soul. He was about to get that life change as while the Tour with Faith wore on they were being upstaged by an opening act called “Delaney and Bonnie and Friends”. 

Along Clapton’s Road With Delany & Bonnie and Friends and George Harrison

Aligning himself with the undisputed masters of American music, Eric Clapton soaked up the warm atmosphere of southern charm and spiritual vitality that infused their performances. These artists, a blend of the best American musicians, illuminated the stage as they riffed the quintessential Rock 'n' Roll. Yet, drawn from the deep well of Southern American culture, their performance carried a distinct edge—an essence of southern swagger and religious. It reminded Clapton of the raw, emotive power that had first drawn him to The Blues. Just as this American genre had grabbed him previously, this dynamic Rock 'n' Roll Soul review set his spirit ablaze. Mutual curiosity soon turned into a covert evaluation as D.B. and friends, impressed with his talent, studied Clapton from the sideline. Reciprocally, Clapton was strategizing, aiming to carve a pathway into their band. These endeavors synchronized like a dance, hinting at a new chapter in Clapton's sonic journey—a saga that had already seen him contribute his talent to globally-renowned bands like The Yardbirds and Cream, and later blossomed into a successful solo career. His stratagem reflects his adaptive spirit that continually craved growth and the shared synergy a united group of musicians could foster, reinforcing his image as an irreplaceable asset in the tapestry of the music industry.

Much like Frank Zappa was a musicians’ school for members to pass through and graduate. This Group was undoubtedly the most talented in one band you could ask for.

Eric Clapton's impactful journey in the music industry, marked by his unparalleled talent and influence, started with his contributions to bands such as The Yardbirds and Cream. However, it was during his solo career when Clapton truly started to shine as an extraordinary songwriter, creating compelling melodies and powerful lyrics. A pivotal point in his solo career was when he collaborated with White Soul singer Delaney Bramlett, an incredible vocal talent, whom according to Duane Allman's Site, contributed to nearly all the songs for Clapton's first solo album. The beauty of his music was further enhanced by contributions from the talented Bonnie, and the soulful backing vocals of Rita Coolidge. With Carl Radle, a melodic master of the bass, Jim Gordon who cemented his place in history as a great drummer despite personal issues, and Jim Price and Bobby Keys excelling on horns, his songs resonated with an authentic, profound sound. Bobby Whitlock, despite being the youngest member, left an indelible mark on The Hammond B3 Organ and showcased a vocal prowess that demanded attention. Yet, it wasn't until Eric heeded Bobby Whitlock's playful advice to "lose those pink pants" that he was fully embraced by the group. Throughout his career, Clapton's choices of instrument, notably Gibson and Fender guitars, not only reflected his personal style, but also played a crucial role in boosting their sales, showcasing how his influence extend far beyond his music. Despite his struggle with substance abuse, Clapton continued to astound and inspire fans all over the world, constantly adapting and growing as an artist. Even when he announced his retirement, the hope of his return and the thought of what else he might bring to the music industry left us eagerly anticipating more.

At some point after Eric shifted gears to do some travel as a “friend” as well, they pulled the bus to the front door of George Harrison’s house, and after the simple question of “ya wanna go play?” Harrison left with a guitar, told the wife “see ya sometime” and got on the bus. Ready for whatever that adventure held in store.

Collectively known for his work in bands such as The Yardbirds and Cream, along with his stellar solo career, Eric Clapton is truly an icon in the music industry. His influential guitar playing has famously powered the sales of Gibson and Fender guitars. His distinctive style and remarkable abilities as a songwriter further escalated his status among the music-loving public. However, his journey was far from smooth, having encountered numerous hurdles, notably struggling with substance abuse. He was relieved to become a less central figure after bearing the brunt of overwhelming fame and expectation when he joined D&B. His close associates like Bonnie even insisted that this transition saved his life, along with his sanity. Despite his struggles and declarations of retirement, he remained an unparalleled figure being part of D&B, adding value to their profile. Clapton continues to gracefully adapt to the changing dynamics of the music industry, ensuring his tremendous influence on aspiring musicians. His music journey, filled with both tribulations and accomplishments, are a testament to his resilience, serving as an inspiration to many.

clapton's road to guitar great
Clapton with cream

Eric had done some singing in the Bluesbreakers and Cream and had been involved in songwriting in Cream and Blind Faith. The only issue wasn’t his quality of those factors,  it was his confidence.

Delaney Bramlett to his credit encouraged and mentored Eric into taking it deeper and The results can be heard in the video in this article of “I don’t know why” that in short order Eric would step up to the mic and deliver an exceptional emotive vocal. We all learn something from others and in this case, Clapton was learning from one of the best. The discussion came up soon again prompted and supported by Delaney that it was time for Eric to make a solo record and just be “Eric Clapton” and even though he was the same as a child learning to talk from hearing others speak he was learning to sing like Bramlett at first. Not a bad way to go. 1970 saw both an Eric Clapton record and the beginning of Derek and the Dominos.

The Dominos came from the core band of D&B and they were also the band backing Eric’s first album. They were all in a prolific situation as George Harrison had asked Eric to Participate in His “All things must pass” sessions and Whitlock had Left the Bramletts and flown to Eric’s doorstep after one too many fights between the Husband-wife duo. Joe Cocker and Leon Russel had borrowed Radle and Gordon for the “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” tour and when that was done they were asked to England as well and again this core band was neck-deep in Harrison’s project while simultaneously becoming the Dominos.

In the pantheon of legendary musicians that have resonated profoundly with the world, Eric Clapton holds a special place. His journey began modestly. While he charmed audiences as the dynamic frontman in multiple bands, he proved his talent was more than just his magnetic stage presence. His stint of "Derek" in Derek and The Dominos was a shining example of this, as it was a determined endeavor to create a band notable for its own outstanding prowess, and not just because Clapton fronted it. An essential element to understand here is the powerful co-writing partnership with Bobby Whitlock. Whitlock was never just a ‘sideman’ to Clapton during the making of the renowned album 'Layla'. It was an expression of mutual harmony, akin to a symphonic call-and-response exchange. At this juncture, it is crucial to acknowledge Whitlock's musical genius, a man with a voice so soulful, he could make even a phone book sound captivating. Many concur with this sentiment. Incorporating this collaborative spirit was a transformative phase in Clapton's incredible journey, with Whitlock’s solo endeavors after Domino’s dissolution further attesting to his prolificness. Among Clapton's many gifts to the music industry, his influence on the sales of Gibson and Fender guitars holds substantial weight. Much like his evolving musical styles, Clapton has demonstrated impeccable resilience, navigating through personal issues, including substance abuse. Even though he has hinted at retirement multiple times, Clapton continues to surprise and inspire fans and novice musicians alike. His ceaseless dedication to his craft, his ever-evolving style, and his indomitable spirit ensure that Clapton's legacy will continue to reverberate across the music world.

The amount of work that was done in just a 3-year period is staggering. Then came the seclusion. Layla and other assorted love songs were a sonic plea to Patti Boyd Harrison to leave George as Eric had been madly in love with her. Her Decision, although she was admittedly moved by all Eric’s advances, was to for the time remain Mrs. Harrison. 

In many places in the ’70s, if you wanted to buy Cocaine, you also had to buy an equal amount of Heroin..which up to this point had not really been involved, it was tucked away in a dresser drawer each time a Coke purchase was made. That collection became more sizable and the love not returned made the dresser drawer come open and Eric an Addict. He didn’t come out of his house for a couple of years and at one juncture was spending roughly $16 thousand dollars a week on the drug.

Now, this is a guitar site, and much of this story you may already know so my repeating the story ends. The point of this is we have had a full-on “Eric Clapton” with roughly 30 records not counting the work before 1970. This means the Guitar player who caused Gibson to sell more Les Pauls than almost anyone, then change to Fender to the same outcome would not be complete as an artist were it not for having surrounded himself with others of equal talent to work with. Guitars and Guitarists? Well, Eric Clapton inspired millions to pick up the instrument.

Yet Eric was learning right along with those people, as the guitar is an endless learning experience no matter how many decades you spend with it. Duane Allman, Dave Mason, Pete Townsend, B.B. King, J.J. Cale, Robbie Robertson, Keith Richards, Ron Wood, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Jimmie Reed, and the list goes on also were large part and Parcel of why we have such an incredible Eric on the guitar side. Going back to his Teens in the early 60s he had begun a friendship with a fellow named Dave Brock, another solid Guitarist. They did a lot of Busking and hanging around learning from each other. Brock later went on to form a little band called Hawkwind and Eric and Dave came full circle in 2019 when Eric Played on Hawkwind’s “Road to Utopia” Album and played a few shows with Brock and Hawkwind as a guest.

Eric was not beholden to any make or model. Yes, he went at the right time to Nashville and bought four Strats for less than a few hundred dollars each. He in a way created the situation to be able to do that by popularizing Gibson’s to the point when he ventured into Fender they were in a small sales slump. The timing was great for him as there was no “Vintage” Market. They were just used guitars. Eric Had run the Gamut of 335’s, Firebirds, of course, Les Paul’s, and the SG Psychedelic painted by the “The Fool” in the ’60s. He took those Fender Strats apart and picked the best parts of each to build the two he used for the duration of his career “Blackie” and “Brownie” and then reassembled the others and gifted them to friends.  Back in the Yardbirds days he played a Red Fender Telecaster,(owned by the Manager)This “Band Guitar” also played by Jeff Beck was most likely chosen because of Muddy Waters’ heavy influence. Eric stuck with a Tele acquiring another on leaving the Yardbirds.

To give proper credit that many don’t know, Bobby Whitlock when not behind a Hammond B 3 is a GREAT Guitarist as is Coco. Much of “Layla “ was written on Guitars by Eric and Bobby at Eric’s Hurtwood edge estate. 

You are only as good as the musicians you surround yourself with, and This man chose the Best every time. 

Eric was also a team player. During the time working on the road with George Harrison, they eased into a twin-guitar attack. The Lead work overall was a lesser part as they had the Horn Section, but when the leads did come in they were harmonized, tasteful, and to the point but amazing. On His first recordings, he began to apply that theory to his songwriting such as in “Let it Rain”. Razor-sharp twin-guitar tones, with a bit of the older “Woman tone” in the proper places. 

He branched into a more Popular sensibility and accessibility through the solo years but always treated and seasoned these departures with The Blues somewhere. This was not music that was for The Cream fan. There was a more laid-back approach and it did create some division, but it was good solid writing and FM radio brought new audiences. Again be it Leon Russel or Bob Marley Clapton embraced a great song. He became a musical chameleon. About the time he was expected to continue the format, He would bring forth a Blistering Blues album and Tour. Right back to the Roots, he grew from.

Eric suddenly became a  Political lightning rod of the past in support of Enoch Powell and present now in his views of Covid vaccinations. He turns tragedy into song from the loss of his son. He aided Stevie Ray Vaughan during Stevies own drug and alcohol issues. This is a man of many complexities as a human aside from being one of the best guitar players ever.

This is also a man who learned to be more than he thought he could be. A man who overcame the ever-present hand of death, that was HIS hand when he picked up a bottle or a bag of chemicals.  He learned to be all things. As we all do, He is still changing and finding the proper balance of life and his place in it.

He achieved Greatness by listening to those he spent time with, be it on record, in the studio, or on a stage with them. Guitar player lessons are great, Life lessons are Greater even if you learn them on a rocky road. I think He would agree. Point is…The Blues are lived before they are played. That ladies and Gentlemen are why he’s sooo Great at it through the voice of his guitar, the voice of his soulful singing, or the voice that will tell you “You don’t have to do that, I already did it. And it doesn’t work.” 

I think the bottom line of inspiration is “Learn to be confident enough to try and work at it and you can achieve it.” Play on. Play on and then Play some more. Every voice is Valid. Every goal is achievable if you are open to the many roads you may travel to get there. As Boris Zamba said regarding the breakthrough to the Bigtime “It won’t come to all of us, but if you stop trying you Lose.” 

Even at the age of 76 and claiming retirement, never count out Eric Clapton. He’s always full of surprises, be that Joining The Likes of Jimmie Vaughan or Gary Clark Jr. onstage in his now Home of Columbus, Ohio. The possibility always lurks he’s got more to say and play. One never knows with E.C. He may just pull off another work of guitar greatness.

Sunshine of Your Love Riff

This is for anyone intrested in learning to play some clapton style riffs and licks with the help of featured guitarist Paul Wildman of Lockdown licks.