This Historic Day In Music: Eric Clapton

Eric Patrick Clapton was born this day, March 30, in 1945 in Ripley, Surrey, England.

Starting with his first band, The Roosters, then with The Yardbirds in 1963, on through his time with John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith and Derek & The Dominos and continuing over the course of a decades long solo career, the life blood that infuses every note that Eric Clapton has ever played is the Blues.

It was, after all, the Blues of American guitarists Josh White and Big Bill Broonzy that inspired the teen-aged Eric Clapton to spend countless hours painstakingly replicating the music he heard on their records.

It was the Blues of Willie Dixon, Skip James and Muddy Waters that Clapton with his Cream bandmates Jack Bruce, bass guitar & vocals and drummer Ginger Baker reworked into psychedelic Rock anthems for their first album, Fresh Cream, in 1966.

It is the Blues of Lead Belly and the more contemporary artists Taj Mahal and Gary Moore that are included in the tracks of Eric Clapton’s latest (and 20th) solo studio album, Old Sock.   

To be more specific, here are a few of my favorite examples of Eric Clapton playing the Blues.

“Before You Acuse Me” was written and recorded by Ellas McDaniel (aka Bo Diddley) in 1958. Clapton performed his acoustic version of it on January 16, 1992 at Bray Film Studios in Windsor, England, for his episode of the very popular and influential 1990’s MTV series Unplugged. The resulting album, also called Unplugged, won the 1992 Grammy Award for Album of the Year.

“Crossroads” was recorded by Cream in 1969. It was their take on the 1936 Robert Johnson song, “Cross Road Blues.” In the case of “Crossroads” and any old Blues song that Eric Clapton ever recorded a new version of, no matter how much he might have changed and reworked the original, he always gave songwriting credit to the original composer. (This was not common practice among other famous British bands of the time.) The performance below was part of Eric Clapton’s contribution to the 12-12-12 Concert for Sandy Relief broadcast live from Madison Square Garden in New York City in December, 2012. Performing with Clapton is drummer Steve Jordan and bassist Willie Weeks.

“Three O’Clock Blues” was written by Lowell Fulson and released on record in 1948. B.B. King recorded it in 1951. It became a hit and has endured as one of his signiture performance pieces.

In 2000, Eric Clapton and B.B. King collaborated on an album called Riding With The King and cut this version of “Three O’Clock Blues.” As you listen (and I hope you do, with headphones on, if possible), that’s Clapton playing the opening guitar solo (in your left ear) and singing the first verse. B.B. King’s guitar (in your right ear) fills in around Clapton’s vocal and then King sings the second verse. Clapton takes the first long solo in the middle of the track, followed by B.B., taking his solo on Lucille, his famous Gibson electric guitar. Keep listening through to the end to hear these masters trading licks over the last twelve bar progressions.

That’s just a small taste of the music of Eric Clapton. There’s so much more.

Happy Birthday, Eric Clapton.

Long may you play and sing the Blues.

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