The famous graffiti proclamation “Clapton is God” first appeared at the Islington underground station in 1967. Today, although recognized as one of the great guitar players of the modern era he would hardly be considered the best, let alone attributed “God” status. So why did the 60’s music fans so idolize Eric Clapton?
In 1965, then popular guitarist with the up and coming group “The Yardbirds” Eric Clapton joined John Mayall and recorded the Bluesbreakers album. His contribution was immediately recognized as being way in advance of any other guitarist up to that time (Jimi Hendrix and the release of “Hey Joe” were still over a year way) his Freddie and Albert King inspired playing was a revelation and established Clapton’s name as the best blues guitarist on the club circuit.
Today, it is difficult to connect with the standards of that era. The most popular British guitarist for many years had been Hank Marvin of the Shadows whose style belonged to a previous, more sedate, safer era. The Stones; Kinks and Animals had all moved towards a more Chuck Berry inspired guitar style but in no group did the guitar dominate. The Bluesbreakers album not only featured Clapton front and centre but included two guitar instrumentals “Steppin Out” and “Hideaway” that were far more energetic; and complex than anything recorded before. Clapton used tones, and sustain that could only be achieved by playing at great volume. There was no precedent; Eric Clapton may as well have arrived from Mars!
By 1966 Clapton had formed “Cream” which provided the perfect platform to showcase his long sustained blues solos and build on his reputation. Cream took conventional blues and interpreted it in a new free form way allowing total expression of the musicians, and heralded a new arty, psychedelic pop trend in popular music. By exporting the sound to the USA before any imitators could master the new techniques, his fame became international.
Soon there would be many imitators, and also a very real, unique alternative in Jimi Hendrix. As is always the case, die hard fans will stick by there heroes especially those that have such a dramatic effect on their lives. In a demonstration of that allegiance the graffiti in Islington appeared.
Has Clapton stood the test of time? Well although the passage of time and the advent of many brilliant guitarists since have lessened our opinion of his playing skills, we should remember that it was he that first perfected the style of Freddie and Albert King and developed it into a new guitar language. Furthermore, his influence is undoubtedly greater than any other electric guitarist, not only in Blues but also Country Rock; Rock and Reggae. His version of “I Shot the Sheriff” introduced reggae to a mass market.
He is a recipient of seventeen Grammy Awards, and is the only three-time inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame In 2004 Clapton was awarded a CBE for services to music.
Yes, I believe he has earned the title.