Eric Clapton was born Eric Patrick Clapton in Ripley, Surrey on the 30th of March 1945.
The son of 16 year old Patricia Molly Clapton and 25 year old Canadian soldier Edward Walter Fryer, Eric was raised by his Grandparents after his Father shipped off to war then returned to Canada.
During this time Eric believed that his Grandparents were his Mother and Father and his young biological Mother was his older sister. His Mother eventually remarried another Canadian soldier and moved to Germany, leaving Eric with his Grandparents.
At the age of 13 Eric was given a Hoyer acoustic guitar by his Grandparents, but the cheap steel string guitar was difficult to play causing Eric to temporarily lose interest in guitar playing. Eric returned to his guitar two years later and began practising obsessively learning blues phrases and chords by ear from his favourite blues records.
Eric recorded his practice sessions with a Grundig tape recorder, listening back to them obsessively until he was satisfied he had mastered what he was working on.
By 1961 at the tender age of 16 Eric’s advanced guitar playing was gaining attention. For the next few years Eric performed regularly in the pubs around Surrey with such groups as The Roosters and Casey Jones & The Engineers.
By 1963 Eric joined The Yardbirds where he began to develop his distinctive blues rock style incorporating Chicago style blues and lead guitar elements from notable blues guitar players like B.B. King, Buddy Guy and Freddie King, during this time Eric become one of the most talked about and admired guitarists in Britain’s music scene.
During his time with The Yardbirds, Eric earned the nickname “Slowhand”.
If ever he broke a strings, Eric would stand on stage while re-stringing his guitar, while the audience was waiting they would initiate a “slow hand clap”. The nickname was also a friendly play on words seeing as Eric was renowned for his fast guitar playing.
After there 1965 hit “For Your Love” The Yardbirds made a decision to change the bands musical direction to a more pop orientated and radio friendly sound, this decision infuriated Eric who was a loyal blues devotee and was not interested in commercial success.
On the day “For Your Love” was released Eric left the Yardbirds.
Eric originally suggested his friend and fellow guitar master Jimmy Page take his position in the Yardbirds but Jimmy declined out of loyalty to Eric and because he was unwilling to leave his current studio guitarist position, or risk the return of his glandular fever on the road. Jimmy passed the offer on to Jeff Beck who happily filled Eric’s lead guitar position.
In 1965 after his departure from The Yardbirds, Eric joined John Mayall and The Bluesbreakers. During this time Eric swapped his Vox amplifier for a Marshall and his Fender Telecaster for a Gibson Les Paul, developing the raunchy, blues rock guitar sound he would later perfect in Cream.
After the release of the 1966 album “Blues Breakers, John Mayall with Eric Clapton” Eric’s guitar prowess gained world wide recognition and inspired the iconic slogan “Clapton Is God” which Eric always resented.
In 1966 Eric left The Bluesbreakers to be replaced by fellow guitar master and blues devotee Peter Green. Soon after his departure from The Bluesbreakers, Eric was invited by drummer Ginger Baker to join him and bassist/vocalist Jack Bruce in their new supergroup Cream.
Eric Clapton has used a variety of different guitars at different stages of his career.
During his time with The Yardbirds, Eric relied primarily upon a Fender Telecaster he played through a Vox amplifier, he would also play a Fender Jazzmaster, a Gretsch 6120 and a red Gibson ES-335.
He later began playing a Gibson Les Paul which he played through a Marshall amplifier while performing with The Bluesbreakers.
During his time with Cream, Eric played a Gibson SG with a psychedelic paint job, a Gibson ES-335 and a Gibson Firebird.
While playing with Blind Faith, Eric used an assortment of guitars like his Fender Telecaster, Gibson Les Paul and Gibson ES-335. Eric began playing a Fender Stratocaster around 1969 called “Brownie” which had the neck of his previous Fender Telecaster, this switch was inspired by such notable Statocaster players as Buddy Guy and Buddy Holly.
In 1970 Eric bought six 1950’s Fender Stratocaster’s from a guitar shop in Nashville, Tennessee. After giving one to The Who guitarist Pete Townshend, one to Blind Faith vocalist Steve Winwood and one to The Beatles lead guitarist George Harrison, Eric had the best parts of the remaining three Stratocaster’s re-assembled into one Stratocaster he called “Blackie”.
“Blackie” remained Eric’s signature guitar until he retired the instrument in 1985.
Musical Techniques, Concepts and Approaches
Eric Clapton gifted the guitar playing world with many innovative and iconic guitar playing techniques and musical concepts.
Eric has always identified as a blues guitarist and is considered by musicologists to have been one of the first pioneers of the musical genre “Blues Rock”.
His fast and technically proficient renditions of classic Buddy Guy, Albert King, Freddie King and B.B. King licks have helped breach the gap between blues and rock guitar playing.
Eric played with confident vibrato, soulful phrasing, and fast blues rock runs. Eric’s speed was achieved a lot of the time from rapid hammer ons and pull offs.
One of Eric’s signature musical contributions was a guitar setting that achieved a creamy, smooth overdriven tone he coined “Woman Tone”.
Woman Tone is achieved by rolling the tone control off completely and having the volume control all the way up.
The band Cream that Eric was a member of from 1966 to 1968 is considered by musicologists to have been one of the very first supergroups, paving the way for rock supergroups to come.
During his time in Cream, Eric immortalised such iconic rock guitar concepts as the extensive guitar solo, blues rock riffs, use of the wah pedal as well as the volume in which rock music is played. Jimi Hendrix first heard a way pedal being used on recordings of Eric’s playing in the early days of Cream.
Influence In Rock Guitar Playing
He is the only rock guitarist to have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame three separate times, once with The Yardbirds, once with Cream and once for his solo career.
Eric introduced Blues Rock into the rock guitar playing world, contributed largely to the genre of psychedelic rock and his precisely executed blues based guitar solos raised the bar for rock guitar players the world over.
Eric’s work with Cream is considered to be some of the most groundbreaking electric guitar playing in rock history and his playing has had a lasting influence on such notable guitarists as Eddie Van Halen, Toni Iommi, Slash, Brian May and many others.
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