Sunday, May 20, 2007

'Cause I can play this here guitar, Pt. 11

Part 11 in my series of under-appreciated guitarists, spotlights someone . . . well, who seems to already be appreciated. Sadly, I don't think he's appreciated for what he has contributed.

As I've written here before, I was attracted to The Yardbirds as soon as I heard their quirky guitar-driven pop. Thus it should be no surprise that I waited impatiently for the debut album their former lead guitarist Eric Clapton released with his new group: Cream.

Too many know Clapton today as an Armani-clad aging rocker, whose playing, while very nice, doesn't seem to be inspirational, but rather sort-of...well, generic. This is the Clapton of the slow, unplugged version of "Layla", of countless major events like 'The Concert For George".

The reason Clapton sounds generic today is that, simply put, he wrote the book for the modern rock guitarist, and everyone else is copying him. Period. Certainly he studied the black blues masters of the '40s, '50s and '60s, and clearly was influenced by Buddy Guy, but I can remember the '60s very clearly, and no white guy played like that before Clapton.

Before he adopted his famous black Strat, he was a Gibson guitar devotee. Plugging into 100 Watt Marshalls, created the basis for a sound that is still relevant today. Clapton with a fire in his belly, with something to prove, was a force of nature. For a brief time, he was the electric guitar. Of course, quickly on his heels came Jeff Beck, and others, but Clapton was the first of his day.

I offer, as proof, this live "Crossroads" by Cream, 1968:

Here is a clock-stopping "I'm So Glad" from the farewell concert at Royal Albert Hall, '69:

And here is the studio version of Crossroads, from "Wheels of Fire", for comparison:


Here's a brief interview, then "Steppin' Out" from the Farewell Concert. 3 gifted musicians at the peak of their power. Makes many of the "jam bands" of today sound tame: